At our home we celebrate Christmas. I am personally a big Christmas fan, it’s my favorite celebration of the year. It takes me back to my favorite childhood memories and it’s definitely something I want my daughter to experience with the same excitement and love. However, I have to acknowledge that Christmas has been marketed heavily and that I can see how a child could have a hard time understanding that not everyone celebrates it and that people don’t celebrate it the same way. When I was growing up I knew very little about traditions other than mine and I have flagged this as an area to improve. As I start to build my own family I have decided to take a slightly different approach to the holiday season. I think the end of the year is the perfect time to open up the conversation about celebrations beyond Christmas.
My daughter is only two and a half. Nevertheless, I want her to know that the world is huge and diverse. Additionally, I want her to start to understand that other celebrations can be fun and important for the people that celebrate them. I think the following books will help her realize that celebrations around the world can be very different, but that they can also have many things in common: they are special, exciting and hold cultural traditions that are valuable. To start with, these books have already taught me so much as an adult. They have nudged me to learn a little more in order to be prepared for any questions that might arise from my daughter. I am trying to lay a foundation and some prior knowledge that she can make connections to as she gets older.
It’s not about overwhelming my child and “teaching” her about different holidays and religions. I don’t want this to become an isolated lesson. I want to embark on a journey of discovery with her. I believe it is very important to expose them to diversity right from the start. Next time, when she sees someone celebrating something different she might recognize it, or at least identify it as something new and be curious enough to learn more about it. This is just the start of conversations that are endless and that will become more and more complex as she grows older.
I hope some of these books inspire you to learn about other traditions from around the world.
1. ‘Twas Nochebuena by: Roseanne Greenfield Thong and Illustrated by: Sara Palac
2. Our Favorite Day of the Year by A. E. Ali and illustrated by: Rahele Jomepour Bell
This book is about children learning more about each other in their classroom. Their teacher comes up with the idea that they will share what their favorite day of the year is. It is fun to see how all the children think that what they celebrate will surely be everyone’s favorite. However, it turns out that in the classroom there are pretty unique family celebrations such as Las Posadas, Eid Al-Fitr, Rosh Hashanah, and Pi Day. This book allowed us to talk about how we think that what we celebrate is so special and fun, but there can be other celebrations that will be just as special for other children and also super exciting!
3. Daddy Christmas and Hanukkah Mama by: Selina Alko
This book is about a little girl who celebrates both Christmas and Hanukkah at home. Even though they are different traditions and religions they are able to blend them wonderfully. They have latkes placed on the mantel and they are also waiting for Santa to come. Carols are sung about dreidels and mangers. The author and illustrator include key elements of both traditions and blend them beautifully into this home. This book will help us discuss that some families have parents that have different traditions or different religions and that it is possible to celebrate both.
4. Binny's Diwali by: Thrity Umrigar and illustrated by: Nidhi Chanani
This book tells the story of Binny and how she was asked to talk to her class about Diwali. At first, she is very nervous and her mind goes blank, but later she finds the courage to talk about her tradition. The author and illustrator are able to paint Diwali in a light that makes it appealing to any child. Talks about the food, the fireworks, the lights. This is precisely what I was looking for in a book about a different holiday for a toddler. Something that looks amazing and fun to celebrate. This book will reinforce the idea that other traditions can be just as fun and exciting as we celebrate at home. I liked that it is explained to a child by another child, I feel that makes it more powerful for children.
5. Let's Celebrate! Special Days Around the World by Kate Depalma and illustrated by: Martina Peluso
This book talks about different holidays around the world in a very short and colorful way. It is perfect as a way to introduce many different traditions to a small child without overwhelming them with information. Plus, it has a wonderful rhyme that makes it fun and easy to listen to. I like that the illustrations allow for simple discussions about what is happening on that special day. Some of the celebrations they include are the Spring Festival, Inti Raymi, Eid al-Fitr, Dia de Muertos, and the New Yam Festival. At the end of the book, they have a calendar of special days and notes about them. With the help of this book, we can discuss that there are so many special days one could celebrate year-round. The point I want my daughter to grasp is that the world is very diverse, and that is what makes it special. I want her to know that maybe when she goes to school she will learn about another tradition that we didn’t know about.
Finally, I want to point out that it is impossible to cover all holidays and traditions around the world with my child. I don’t want to overload my daughter with information. The idea is that as she grows up, she has more knowledge about how big and diverse the world is. I want her to be more than just “respectful”, I want her to be curious and empathic. It’s also not about celebrating everything, it’s about understanding that what we celebrate is very special to us, and other things can be just as special for other people.