Check out some of the best books for holidays around the world for kids. Read alouds for elementary students including classics from Jan Brett, Tomie dePaola, and more about Christmas, the New Year, Diwali, Ramadan, Kwanzaa and more! Your Kindergarten, first, second, third or fourth graders will love learning about holidays around the world with picture books. K, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grade students will love these holiday read alouds!
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Holidays Around the World For Kids
Christmas Around the World:
Here are some great Christmas around the world books. Many people around the world celebrate Christmas, and while the holiday is the same, the way that each culture celebrates it is a little different. Whether it’s with a special poem introducing Santa, a poinsettia or a Christmas witch, these books will certainly spark an interest in how other cultures celebrate Christmas and the history of Christmas.
The Legend of the Poinsettia
In Mexico, the poinsettia is called flor de la Nochebuena flower of the Holy Night. At Christmastime, the flower blooms and flourishes, the quite exquisite red stars lighting up the countryside.
This Mexican legend tells how the poinsettia came to be, through a little girl’s unselfish gift to the Christ Child. Beloved Newbery honor-winning author and Caldecott honor-winning illustrator Tomie dePaola has embraced the legend using his own special feeling for Christmas. His glorious paintings capture not only the brilliant colors of Mexico and its art, but also the excitement of the children preparing for Christmas and the hope of Lucida, who comes to see what makes a gift truly beautiful.
The Legend of Old Befana
Every morning and every afternoon, Old Befana sweeps with her broom. “Cranky old lady,” the children say. “She is always sweeping!” Sweep, sweep, sweep. But when a brilliant star glows in the eastern sky one night, and Old Befana encounters the glorious procession of three kings on their way to Bethlehem, her little world will never be the same.
The Wild Christmas Reindeer
Little Teeka thought she had to be firm with the reindeer to get them ready for Santa’s important flight, but when her bossy yelling only got their antlers tangled up, she knew she had to try something different.
Who’s That Knocking On Christmas Eve
Every year, trolls knock down Kyri’s door and gobble up her Christmas feast. But this year, the trolls are in for a surprise: a boy and his pet ice bear on their way to Oslo have come in from the cold. And once the ice bear is finished with the trolls, you can bet they won’t come knocking next Christmas Eve!
The Trees of the Dancing Goats by Patricia Polacco
Trisha loves the eight days of Hanukkah, when her mother stays home from work, her Babushka makes delicious potato latkes, and her Grampa carves wonderful animals out of wood as gifts for Trisha and her brother. In the middle of her family’s preparation for the festival of lights, Trisha visits her closest neighbors, expecting to find them decorating their house for Christmas. Instead they are all bedridden with scarlet fever.
Trisha’s family is one of the few who has been spared from the epidemic. It is difficult for them to enjoy their Hanukkah feast when they know that their neighbors won’t be able to celebrate their holiday. Then Grampa has an inspiration: they will cut down trees, decorate them, and secretly deliver them to the neighbors, “But what can we decorate them with?” Babushka asks. Although it is a sacrifice, Trisha realizes that Grampa’s carved animals are the perfect answer. Soon her living room is filled with trees — but that is only the first miracle of many during an incredible holiday season.
Santa in the City by Tiffany D. Jackson
It’s two weeks before Christmas, and Deja is worried that Santa might not be able to visit her–after all, as a city kid, she doesn’t have a chimney for him to come down and none of the parking spots on her block could fit a sleigh, let alone eight reindeer! But with a little help from her family, community, and Santa himself, Deja discovers that the Christmas spirit is alive and well in her city.
December by Eve Bunting
Simon and his mom don’t have much–the cardboard house they built for themselves, a tiny Christmas tree, and a picture of an angel from a calendar pinned to one wall. The angel’s name is December. Simon’s mom says she sings to them when they’re asleep. On Christmas Eve, Simon and his mom take in an old woman who needs a place to keep warm, and the next morning, Simon wakes early to find that the old woman has vanished. Instead, he sees December, their Christmas angel, with her wings fanned out over their cardboard house. Could she be real?
Shooting at the Stars by John Hendrix
Shooting at the Stars is the moving story of a young British soldier on the front lines during World War I who experiences an unforgettable Christmas Eve. In a letter to his mother, he describes how, despite fierce fighting earlier from both sides, Allied and German soldiers ceased firing that evening and came together on the battlefield to celebrate the holiday. They sang carols, exchanged gifts, and even lit Christmas trees. But as the holiday came to a close, they returned to their separate trenches to await orders for the war to begin again.
Christmas in the Trenches by John McCutcheon
An incredible story about the Christmas Truces during World War 1.
The Night of Las Posadas
Tomie dePaola’s glorious paintings are as luminous as the farolitos that light up on the Plaza in Santa Fe for the procession of Las Posadas, the tradition in which Mary and Joseph go from door to door seeking shelter at the inn on Christmas Eve.This year Sister Angie, who is always in charge of the clebration, has to stay home with the flu, and Lupe and Roberto, who are to play Mary and Joseph, get caught in a snowstorm. But a man and a woman no one knows arrive in time to take their place in the procession and then mysteriously disappear at the end before they can be thanked.That night we witness a Christian miracle, for when Sister Angie goes to the cathedral and kneels before the statue of Mary and Jospeh, wet footprints from the snow lead up to the statue.
Wombat loves everything about Christmas–especially the Nativity play. He’s wanted to be in it for as long as he can remember. At last he’s old enough to try out. But at the auditions, the first part goes to someone else. So does the next. And the next . . . Will there be a part left for Wombat?
Red and Lulu by Matt Tavares
Red and Lulu make their nest in a particularly beautiful evergreen tree. It shades them in the hot months and keeps them cozy in the cold months, and once a year the people who live nearby string lights on their tree and sing a special song: O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree. But one day, something unthinkable happens, and Red and Lulu are separated. It will take a miracle for them to find each other again. Luckily, it’s just the season for miracles. . . . From Matt Tavares comes a heart-tugging story combining the cheer of Christmas, the magic of New York City, and the real meaning of the holiday season: how important it is to be surrounded by love.
‘Twas the Night Before Christmas by Matt Tavares
This is what I’m going to call the definitive version of the poem. Matt Tavares illustrates one of the most iconic stories for Christmas. Tavares’s edition uses the original wording including the reindeer Dunder and Blixem, and he explains the history of the peom in the Illustrator’s Note. The black and white illustrations tie perfectly to the text published originally in 1823. This is a must have version for lower elementary students up through upper elementary.
Lucia Morning in Sweden
In the busy house of the Svennson family, everyone is getting ready for the Swedish holiday of Lucia Day, December 13. The book tells the story of Santa Lucia through the eyes of three children in modern-day Sweden. It describes their giddy activities, brought to life in colorful, full-page illustrations, and also provides sheet music, recipes, and sewing patterns for the costumes traditionally worn by children on this day, when many Swedish people celebrate the legacy of Lucia and the coming of the light with coffee, saffron buns, ginger snaps, and wonderful singing. One of the most beloved and celebrated traditions of the Swedish people, Lucia Day also signifies that the Christmas holiday is getting close.
A World of Cookies For Santa
A World of Cookies for Santa takes readers across the globe to see all the treats that await Santa on Christmas Eve. Head to the Philippines, where children leave out puto seko cookies and ginger tea for Santa; jet to Russia for a honey-spice cookie; then set out for Malawi for a sweet potato cookie! When you’ve returned home, the journey’s still not over—M. E. Furman provides recipes for children to bake some of Santa’s cookies for themselves.
Join children on a Christmas sleigh ride around the world as they discover traditions from Mexico, Sweden, the Philippines, Poland, Italy, Kenya, and the United States. Best-selling author/illustrator Iza Trapani once again extends a classic song to include new fun-filled adventures.
Too Many Tamales
Christmas Eve started out so perfectly for Maria. Snow had fallen and the streets glittered. Maria’s favorite cousins were coming over and she got to help make the tamales for Christmas dinner. It was almost too good to be true when her mother left the kitchen for a moment and Maria got to try on her beautiful diamond ring . . .
Everybody loves Christmas at Tante’s. The old lady decorates a wonderful tree and makes certain to have something for all who come to visit, be it the nearby village children or the shy animals of the pine forest.
The only creatures Tante overlooks are the spiders she has swept out of her cottage while cleaning. But the curious spiders want to come inside and see Tante’s tree, too. When a midnight visitor lets them into the old lady’s home, they unknowingly spin Tante the very gift she has longed for—a gift that has inspired the draping of tinsel on Christmas trees ever since.
Lights of Winter
Lights of Winter is a children’s picture book about winter celebrations around the world: Solstice, Yule, Christmas, Kwanza, Hanukkah, Teng Chieh, Diwali, Soyal, Las Posadas, Zagmuk, Saturnalia. For ages 3-9. Thirteen color illustrations.
New Year Books For Kids:
Many cultures celebrate new year differently and at different times. Whether it’s with 12 grapes at midnight, a big bonfire, or something else. These books will inspire an interest in ways that diverse cultures have celebated the coming of a new year!
The Shortest Day by Susan Cooper
As the sun set on the shortest day of the year, early people would gather to prepare for the long night ahead. They built fires and lit candles. They played music, bringing their own light to the darkness, while wondering if the sun would ever rise again. Written for a theatrical production that has become a ritual in itself, Susan Cooper’s poem “The Shortest Day” captures the magic behind the returning of the light, the yearning for traditions that connect us with generations that have gone before — and the hope for peace that we carry into the future. Richly illustrated by Carson Ellis with a universality that spans the centuries, this beautiful book evokes the joy and community found in the ongoing mystery of life when we celebrate light, thankfulness, and festivity at a time of rebirth. Welcome Yule!
A Big Mooncake For Little Star by Grace Lin
Pat, pat, pat…Little Star’s soft feet tiptoed to the Big Mooncake. Little Star loves the delicious Mooncake that she bakes with her mama. But she’s not supposed to eat any yet! What happens when she can’t resist a nibble? In this stunning picture book that shines as bright as the stars in the sky, Newbery Honor author Grace Lin creates a heartwarming original story that explains phases of the moon.
Ruby’s Wish by Bao Phi
Ruby is unlike most little girls in old China. Instead of aspiring to get married, Ruby is determined to attend university when she grows up, just like the boys in her family. Based upon the inspirational story of the author’s grandmother and accompanied by richly detailed illustrations, Ruby’s Wish is an engaging portrait of a young girl who’s full of ambition and the family who rewards her hard work and courage.
Other Regional and Cultural Holidays:
There are many other holidays celebrated by different religions that are just as important to introduce to kids to inclusive to all students.
Together For Kwanzaa
Kwanzaa is Kayla’s favorite time of year. But this year, it looks as if a heavy snowstorm will keep her big brother, Khari, from getting home in time for the festivities! Will Khari miss the celebration completely? Or will Kayla and her brother somehow find a way to be together for Kwanzaa? A perfect introduction to Kwanzaa, this book will teach children all about the traditions and practices that make it a special winter holiday.
In the ninth month of the year, when the first crescent moon rises in the sky, it’s time to celebrate Ramadan! In this lovely board book with illustrations from Rashin Kheiriyeh, readers learn that Ramadan is a time to reflect on ourselves, to be thankful, and a time to help others.
Binny woke up happy but nervous. It was her day to share about Diwali, the Festival of Lights! Binny is excited to talk to her class about her favorite holiday. But she struggles to find the words.Taking a deep breath, she tells her classmates about the fireworks that burst like stars in the night sky, leaving streaks of gold and red and green. She shares with them delicious pedas and jalebis. And she shows them clay lamps, called diyas, which look so pretty all the children ooh and aah.Featuring a heartwarming story by Thrity Umrigar, enchanting illustrations by Nidhi Chanani, and detailed information about the Hindu festival of lights, Binny’s Diwali is a holiday treat.
Funny Bones by Duncan Tonatiuh
Funny Bones tells the story of how calaveras came to be. The amusing figures are the creation of Mexican artist José Guadalupe (Lupe) Posada (1852–1913). Lupe learned the art of printing at a young age and soon had his own shop. In a country that was not known for freedom of speech, he drew political cartoons, much to the amusement of the local population but not that of the politicians. He continued to draw cartoons, but he is best known today for his calavera drawings. They have become synonymous with Mexico’s Día de Muertos festival.
Calaveras are skeletons performing all sorts of activities, both everyday and festive: dancing in the streets, playing instruments in a band, pedaling bicycles, promenading in the park, and even sweeping the sidewalks. They are not intended to be frightening, but rather to celebrate the joy of living as well as provide humorous observations about people.
We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga by Traci Sorell
The word otsaliheliga (oh-jah-LEE-hay-lee-gah) is used by members of the Cherokee Nation to express gratitude. Beginning in the fall with the new year and ending in summer, follow a full Cherokee year of celebrations and experiences. Written by a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, this look at one group of Native Americans is appended with a glossary and the complete Cherokee syllabary, originally created by Sequoyah.
It’s time for Carnaval and Clara cannot wait to celebrate her favorite holiday with family, but especially with her great-grandmother. Even if Bisa can’t attend, Clara knows the Carnaval parade will still be special.Costumed lovingly by their bisa, everyone takes to the street for the annual parade. But even among all the colors, costumes, music, and dancing, something is missing . . . or is it someone?With lush, lyrical text and bright, colorful illustrations, this book takes readers to one of the most exciting holidays of the year and reminds us that no matter who or where you are, love is always worth celebrating.
Gracias The Thanksgiving Turkey by Joy Cowley
Young Puerto Rican boy Miguel refuses to go anywhere without his turkey companion, a bird too dear for the Thanksgiving table, and the pair delights everyone in their New York City neighborhood.
Sarah Gives Thanks by Mike Allegra
During the nineteenth century, Sarah Josepha Hale dedicated her life to making Thanksgiving a national holiday, all while raising a family and becoming a groundbreaking writer and women’s magazine editor. Sarah Hale’s inspiring story, accompanied by luscious watercolor illustrations, tells the tale of one woman who wouldn’t take no for an answer.
Balloons Over Broadway by Melissa Sweet
Everyone’s a New Yorker on Thanksgiving Day, when young and old rise early to see what giant new balloons will fill the skies for Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Who first invented these “upside-down puppets”? Meet Tony Sarg, puppeteer extraordinaire! In brilliant collage illustrations, the award-winning artist Melissa Sweet tells the story of the puppeteer Tony Sarg, capturing his genius, his dedication, his zest for play, and his long-lasting gift to America—the inspired helium balloons that would become the trademark of Macy’s Parade.
Conclusion: Holidays Around the World For Kids
What are some of your favorite ways to teach about holidays around the world for kids? Are there any must read books about holidays around the world for kids that I left out? Let me know in the comments, and I’ll add it!