The winter holidays are always a wonderful time to slow down, spend more time with the family and engage in favorite traditions whether they be taking walks in the snow or drinking hot cocoa by the fire. No matter what holiday you are celebrating this year, it's always fun to learn about other traditions, which is where these multicultural winter holiday picture books come in handy!
It's likely your children have friends from a variety of religious and cultural backgrounds and they are curious about the different holidays. These books will introduce them to diverse celebrations from Christmas to Las Posadas to Tu B'Shevat to Solstice and more!
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Table of contents
Winter Candle by Jeron Ashford, illustrated by Stacey Schuett
I'm starting the list with a book which touches on many different winter celebrations. What links most winter holidays is the celebration of light in the darkest hours. In this story, a diverse group of neighbors live in an urban apartment building. Each family needs a candle to light up their celebration and a lumpy stick of wax makes it around the building before finally lighting the way for a new tenant to find his way home. This is a fantastic book to illustrate the beauty of community in a multicultural, diverse world.
Divali, sometimes spelled "Diwali" is a Hindu festival of light is really more of a fall holiday, celebrated in October or November. It is a festival of harvest and new year.
My Diwali Light by Raakhee Mirchandani, illustrated by Supriya Kelkar
This holiday picture book offers a delightful narrative, while also teaching the reader about different Diwali traditions. Devi loves the vibrant Diwali celebrations and looks forward to the holiday preparations and festivities with her family. However, first things first, she must clean her room in anticipation of the arrival of the goddess Lakshmi! During the festivities, Devi's family invites curious neighbors, sharing food and explaining traditions.
Prince of Fire: The Story of Diwali by Jatinder Nath Verma, illustrated by Nilesh Mistry
This is a short chapter book version of the epic story, The Ramayan. I'll admit, there were a lot of players to keep track of but this is an adventure full of colorful characters and suspense.
MORE: Folktales from India
St. Lucia Day Books
One of my favorite holidays is celebrated on December 13th in Sweden.
Lucia Morning in Sweden by Ewa Rydaker, illustrated by Carina Stahlberg
I wish there were more picture books about St. Lucia Day, but for now, this is a good introduction to the holiday. A family goes through the excitement of getting ready for Lucia morning. There is background information as well as ideas, crafts and recipes families can use to create their own celebration.
Winter Solstice Books
Learning about the winter solstice doesn't have to focus on pagan celebrations. A look at the history and science of this time of year will give kids an appreciation for why so many holidays are celebrated on and around the shortest day of the year.
The Shortest Day by Susan Cooper, illustrated by Carson Ellis
Cooper's marvelous dramatic poem describing rituals surrounding dark and light, originally written for Christmas Revels, is a joy to read as well as to look at. The illustrations follow humans wish to shoo away the darkness and welcome the light from the time of hunter-gathers to today's multicultural gatherings. A must read.
Lucia and the Light by Phyllis Root, illustrated by Mary Grandpré
Find it: Your library
This book is not really about the winter solstice as a holiday, per se, but it fits right into the festivities. One winter, when the sun disappears, the intrepid Lucia sets out to free the sun, held hostage by a group of trolls. A wonderful story about a courageous and clever young girl whose commitment and love for her family help her succeed in her quest. Gorgeously illustrated by Mary GrandPré, whom you might recognize as the illustrator of the US Harry Potter book covers.
Hanukkah, a minor Jewish holiday has been given its celebrity status due to its proximity to Christmas. Learn about the true meaning of the 8 day festival of lights with your kids. There are loads of wonderful Hanukkah picture books at your local library. Here are just two of them.
MORE: Hanukkah Picture Books
Light the Menorah! A Hanukkah Handbook by Jacqueline Jules
I love this Hanukkah book so much! Following a short introduction and the candle blessing, Jules offers up a short poem and a reflection to read aloud for each night of Hanukkah. The readings teach about the rituals of the holiday and connect them to wider tenets shared by many faiths, such as the virtues of kindness and tolerance. The book also includes the Hanukkah story, crafts and recipes. A wonderful book for families to read and share together.
The Story of Hanukkah by David A. Adler, illustrated by Jill Weber
Adler's text gives a clear and straightforward account of the miracle in the Temple of Jerusalem. After the account of the historical story of the Macabees, Adler ends with a brief look at how Hanukkah is celebrated today. This is a great book to read to introduce kids to the holiday.
Las Posadas Books
Las Posadas is a nine day celebration running up to Christmas. It is celebrated in Mexico and by Mexican-Americans.
Nine Days to Christmas by Marie Hall Ets, illustrated by Aurora Labastida
This book won the 1960 Caldecott. Ceci is so excited to choose a piñata for her first posadas celebration in Mexico. She choses the Star of Bethlehem but when it comes time to break it, she doesn't want to! It is finally smashed by the other children and when it opens a lovely miracle happens as the sky fills with stars.
The Night of Las Posadas by Tomie dePaola
In Sante Fe, New Mexico, Sister Angie is helping to prepare for the nativity play during Las Posadas. Angie falls ill and cannot make it to the performance but it turns out beautifully with the help of a small miracle.
There are hundreds of terrific Christmas books! I chose books that focused on the religious origins of the holiday, as well as one traditional holiday poem.
Lullaby for the King by Nikki Grimes, illustrated by Michelle Carlos
In this gorgeous nativity book, the focus is on a parade of animals, both exotic and ordinary, and their journey to meet the new King. The story begins with the animals learning of the birth. They parade over long distances, bringing gifts of music, perfume and luxury. Grimes is a poet and her text is lyrical, moving and peaceful. Looking for a a nativity picture book? This is the one you need.
One Starry Night by Lauren Thompson, illustrated by Jonathan Bean
A poetic journey as the animals gather to meet the Christ child. I love the way Thompson uses two narrative lines - one for the visual gathering and another for the emotional sway of the story.
The Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore, illustrated by Holly Hobbie
There are countless illustrated versions of this classic poem. I particularly like this one by the creator of the Toot and Puddle books.
Kwanzaa is a 7 day end-of-year harvest festival celebrated in the African-American community.
My First Kwanzaa Book by Deborah M. Newton Chocolate, illustrated by Cal Massey
Find it: Your Library | Amazon
For those unfamiliar with Kwanzaa, this is a great primer. Learn about the key aspects of the holiday as you watch a family prepare for the celebrations.
Seven Spools of Thread: A Kwanzaa Story by Angela Shelf Medearis, illustrated by Daniel Minter
My kids and I really enjoyed this story, which is more a folktale than a story about Kwanzaa. There is a forward which explains the holiday, but the story focuses on how seven brothers learn to cooperate and invent a beautiful fabric that ends up inspiring the entire village.
New Year's Books
Ring in a fresh start!
Shanté Keys and the New Year's Peas by Gail Piernas-Davenpor, illustrated by Marion Eldridge
Eating black-eyed peas at New Year's is a southern tradition signifying good luck for the coming year. When Shanté goes out to her neighbors, looking for the requisite peas, she learns all about how other cultures celebrate New Year's.
Freedom Soup by Tami Charles, illustrated by Jacqueline Alcántara
Don't miss this marvelous picture book about a joyous New Year's tradition! Ti Gran teaches Belle about the Haitian tradition of making Freedom Soup for New Year. Ti Gran shares the cultural history of the revolution as well as the recipe. By the end of the book your kids will be dancing, singing and clapping along with Ti Gran and Belle.
Lunar New Year Books
NYC began honoring the importance of Lunar New Year in our ever-increasing diverse community by declaring it a school holiday. Lunar New Year is sometimes referred to as "Chinese New Year" but it is celebrated in many countries.
Bringing in the New Year by Grace Lin
This is a wonderfully vibrant and joyful book to read to your kids for the Lunar New Year. We watch a family prepare for the celebrations and learn about activities and food traditions. I particularly love the fold out dragon!
Sam and the Lucky Money by Karen Chinn, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu
Sam is excited to be able to spend his lucky New Year money. He has four dollars and his mom has told him he can buy anything he wants. On their trip through the neighborhood Sam notices a homeless man with bare feet. As he contemplates how to spend his money he gets frustrated that the four dollars is never enough to buy what he wants. His mother reminds him to appreciate what he has. During a second encounter with the homeless man, Sam understands how he can best spend his money.
Tu B'Shevat Books
Never heard of Tu B'Shevat? That's okay! Now's a great time to learn about this Jewish celebration of trees.
Happy Birthday, Tree! by Madelyn Rosenberg, illustrated by Jana Christy.
Joni wants to take care of her tree in the best way possible. At first she offers the tree sunlight, water, food but in the end she decides what the tree really needs is a friend! She and her family pick out a new tree and carefully plant it, even offering up a small prayer for the new life in their yard.
Netta and Her Plant by Ellie B. Gellman, illustrated by Natascia Ugliano.
Find it: Your Library | Amazon
In an Israeli preschool, Netta plants a seedling on Tu B'Shevat. She brings it home and over the years both Netta and the plant grow bigger and bigger until it's time to plant the tree in the ground.
Ramadan falls during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. It is not always in winter, and sometimes it is in very early Spring. I still decided to include it in this list of winter holiday picture books.
Lailah's Lunchbox by Reem Faruqi, illustrated by Lea Lyon
by Reem Faruqi. It is the start of Ramadan and Lailah is finally participating in the daytime fast. Although she is excited that she is old enough to fast, she feels anxious that her new classmates will not understand. She goes to the school library during lunchtime where the librarian helps her express how she feels in a way that she can share with her classmates. Not only is this an excellent book to explain the Ramadan holiday, but since most children feel "different" from the peers at one time or another and the message in Lailah's Lunchbox will be understood by all.
My First Ramadan by Karen Katz
Katz has several "My First Holiday" books. They are generally very good primers of information about a holiday and their vibrant illustrations are appealing to young children.