There is so, so, so much going on in December. When I first thought up this activity, I choose a specific book. As I went through and reworked the activities, this took a new direction and suddenly–there were just SO. MANY. things to read about in December.
(Warning… these are all Amazon affiliate links, which means I will make several cents from each purchase 😉 )
We have actually already read a few things related to the month before this even came up. We recently read “‘Twas Nochebuena“. It was like a remake of “Twas the Night Before Christmas” but detailing Latin American customs and adding a lot of Spanish words where appropriate. We loved it except that now my daughter wants to stay up all night Christmas Eve to open presents!!!
That led me to thinking that there must be some stories about Las Posadas. A quick search turned up “The Night of Las Posadas” by Tomie dePaola. I like a lot of his books and they often focus on Italian heritage rather than Latin American; but I trust him to get it ethnically accurate at this point. So this is going on the list.
But since we are on the topic of Tomie dePaola and his usually Italian heritage books, we will be adding his book, “The Legend of Old Befana“. The legend is about an old woman who gets a knock on the door from the three kings–looking for a baby that has come “for the poor”. They ask her to come with them to see the baby, but she is too busy. Finally, the idea eats at her and she decides to go with gifts in hand, but it’s too late. She follows the star, but never finds the baby. She winds up giving the gifts to local children. The legend is lovely and honors another branch of our family’s heritage (Papa is 100% Italian).
For us, the book we usually read on this day is “The Shortest Day: Celebrating the Winter Solstice“. We have another book on this topic called “The Winter Solstice“–which focuses on historic rituals and celebrations of the day.It has nothing to do with a faith-based holiday but more about honoring the earth and the cycles of nature–with the winter solstice being one of the more notable changes.
But in my search for tales from other cultures, I came across “The Return of the Light: Twelve Tales from Around the World for the Winter Solstice“. It apparently gathers tales about the solstice from North America, China, Scandinavia, India, Africa, South America, Europe, and Polynesia. I’m looking forward to it’s arrival for next year and switching out of our normal routine. We love our tried and true, but I think the kids are getting old enough to move on.
Then there are some books we’ve had in our house for several years about Hanukah. Back east, a lot of my friends growing up were Jewish and I attended summer camp where my brother, sister and I were the only non-Jewish kids for more than one summer. One of my favorite books about Hanukah is “Latkes and Applesauce”–which is now out of print. If you can find it, you’ll want to grab it. For those of you who can’t find it, Amazon is rich with Hanukah stories. One of the better rated was “The Story of Hanukkah” although it was noted that it included killing and being put to death… which is historically accurate, but might be hard for sensitive ears!
I also went to high school with a large number of people that celebrated Diwali. In my hunt for a good book on this, the best rated was “Amma, Tell Me About Diwali!” It was noted as being a bit long, but beautifully illustrated and factually accurate for kids who want to understand the holiday. It includes a major version of the mythological tale attached to the holiday and another “sideline tale”. Although it’s geared to younger children, I found that my high school students always appreciated stories and fairy tales written for younger kids. They were a delightful break from reading that required thought; and they could really just enjoy the story.
We really enjoy the tales of other countries and ethnicities. As I went through the ones listed above, I stumbled on “Lights of Winter: Winter Celebrations around the World“. It’s apparently tales of various December celebrations including Solstice, Yule, Christmas, Kwanza, Hanukkah, Teng Chieh, Diwali, Soyal, Las Posadas, Zagmuk, Saturnalia. I’M SO EXCITED!!!! I’m hoping they lay it out in date order so perhaps we can follow it through the month.
READ to your children! Give them a broader worldview by allowing them to see that the month of December is not just about Christmas. Help open their minds and their hearts to people who are different from themselves. Take this month to lead them to loving and understanding how people in other parts of the world (or their neighborhood!) spend their month and what they believe. When children understand how others view the world, they are better able to connect and find common ground with people who are different from themselves. They are also better able to be ambassadors and leaders themselves–by potentially building bridges between two sides that don’t understand one another.
That is our hope for our own children: that they are able to communicate and have compassion for people of all races, ethnicities and walks of life. Stories from and about other cultures is just one way we do that. We hope you will embrace this experience for your own family!