The holiday season—often thought of as the Christmas season—is a time of giving, family, and charity for many people. However, we sometimes forget, as we give thanks for our friends, families, and neighbors, to also celebrate what makes us unique. Many different holidays occur this time of year, and, of course, some cultures and religions don’t celebrate anything this time of year.
Books are one of the best ways to globalize your holidays and learn about how others celebrate winter. Bookstores are filled with Christmas stories. This year, as you look for a holiday read, for yourself or as a gift for someone else, try to find a book about a culture or traditions you don’t know a lot about. Let’s celebrate diverse authors and their backgrounds and have fun reading in the process!
Surprisingly, my search for non-Christmas holiday books was not the most successful. Children’s books are more plentiful, but there are very slim pickings for non-Christmas centric holidays stories for adults. The following are by no means the best examples, but they are a good starting point for anyone who wants to read about a different winter holiday or at least begin the conversation about non-Christmas winter holiday books. And, please, if you have any recommendations for books along these lines, please share!
The Matzah Ball by Jean Meltzer
This book tells the story of a Jewish woman named Rachel, whose love for Christmas earned her a decade-long career as a Christmas Romance novelist. However, when her publisher insists she write a romance novel about Hanukkah, Rachel only hopes she’ll get some inspiration at the Matzah Ball, a music celebration that occurs on the last night of Hanukkah. Rachel soon begins to live out her own Hanukkah romance story when she must work with her childhood archenemy, Jacob, falling in love with both the man and the holiday at the same time.
The Matzah Ball presents the struggle of a Jewish woman in a Christmas-obsessed America to connect with her own heritage in a country that puts Christmas above all other holidays. It’s romance-centered plot is enough to keep the story interesting. Although, do be warned, this book has received negative reviews for a certain, joking comment made by the protagonist in regard to Palestinians, and is, therefore, not the perfectly wholesome, controversy-free read most crave around the holidays.
A Holly Jolly Diwali by Sonya Lalli
A Holly Jolly Diwali is another romance story, but this one takes place in India, where main character, Niki, travels for her friend’s wedding. The wedding occurs right around Diwali, the festival of lights in India, which becomes only more magical when she meets an attractive musician from London. As Niki falls in love, she learns to let go and not be such a “goody two shoes,” to follow her heart and take risks. This book has many good reviews from people who found the romance heart-warming and enjoyed watching the main character grow into herself.
Before finding this book, I had never heard of Diwali before. It is a major festival for Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, and Sikhs, celebrating the victory of good over evil in a five-day festival. I was surprised I had never heard of this celebration before, considering Hinduism and Buddhism are two of the major religions of the world, which only emphasizes the importance of reading books that teach us about our fellow humans.
Unfortunately, those were the only two adult novels I could find about non-Christmas winter holidays. However, there are innumerous picture and children’s books about all kinds of celebrations. It is especially important for kids to read about people who are different from them to foster tolerance and inclusion from a young age, and, thankfully, holiday books offer a variety of diverse reads for young kids. Here are just a few examples:
The Shortest Day: Celebrating the Winter Solstice by Wendy Pfeffer
This book is a great way to educate kids about the winter solstice and the holiday traditions and science that surround it. The book is said to use clear, lyrical language to describe the changing of the season from fall to winter and the way the earth tilts on its axis. It shows both the historical and contemporary cultural traditions involving the winter solstice, many of which I don’t even know about and would be interested to learn about in a book like this. The Shortest Day also includes interactive features, such as at-home science activities, ideas for winter solstice celebrations, and further reading, all of which are great ways to make reading more fun for the kids!
My Family Celebrates Kwanzaa by Lisa Bullard
This book is about a family’s Kwanzaa celebration, providing a fun story for kids who celebrate Kwanzaa to read during their holiday season and an engaging educational read for kids who do not celebrate Kwanzaa. Considered appropriate for ages 5-8, this book is designed to engage its readers deeper, providing critical thinking questions and fast facts prompts to keep its young readers thinking. If you read our article on “the engaged reader,” you will appreciate this addition to this book as it encourage the kids to think deeper about the material they are reading.
My First Holiday Series by Karen Katz
This small series contains three books: My First Kwanzaa, My First Ramadan, and My First Chinese New Year. These books are designed for the younger kids in your life, suitable for ages 2-5, which is a great time to make diversity a part of a kid’s life. And what better way to include diversity than by reading them these fun holiday picture books! Kwanzaa emerged from the American Civil Rights movement, Ramadan is a time of fasting a prayer for Muslims (occurring in the spring), and Chinese New Year is a February holiday celebrating the return of spring. This series, with its cute drawings, introduces kids to a variety of different cultures across the world, and is a great holiday read for any little reader.
As you settle down to a good book this holiday season, or take more time to read with you kids on their holiday break from school, consider using this list as a recommendation to try something new. Books are meant to bring people closer together despite geographical, cultural, or even temporal distance, and there is no better time than the winter holiday season to use reading to connect us to those around us, near and far.