(A version of this article first appeared in Kingston Neighbours Magazine, December, 2022.)
There is no question that November and December are the darkest, dreariest months in the Northern Hemisphere. Yet in the dwindling days of the year, many cultures and religions around the world choose to celebrate light and goodness, including the Pagans (Yule), Christians (Christmas), Hindus (Diwali), Jews (Hanukkah) and African Americans (Kwanzaa).
Stars, outdoor lights, bonfires, candles and fireworks are integral parts of these celebrations, brightening the long nights and bringing hope, joy and a certain magic to this time of year, especially for children. Here are some of my favourite heartfelt picture books that capture the enchantment of these holidays that you can share with your kids.
The Shortest Day, by Susan Cooper — This reverentially-illustrated, mystical poem connects us to the folkloric history of solstice celebrations across “the frosty ages”, with people lighting the darkness and welcoming the sun after the longest night. A must-read with universal messages of hope, peace and renewal.
Archie Celebrates Diwali, by Mitalki Banerjee Ruths — Archana is excited to share the festival of lights, Diwali, with her school friends, but she’s also worried they won’t like it, especially when a storm soaks the decorations and diyas (lamps) outside and causes a blackout.
Red and Green and Blue and White, by Lee Wind — When Isaac’s menorah window display is destroyed in an act of violence by strangers, his friend Teresa puts a hand-drawn picture of a menorah in her window in front of her Christmas tree, inspiring their community to spread the light.
The Christmas Pine, by Julia Donaldson — This gentle rhyming book tells the story of a little pine tree in a Norwegian forest, destined to become the famous Christmas tree in London’s Trafalgar Square. Based on actual tradition, the UK receives a Christmas tree each year from Norway as thanks for sheltering their king during WWII.
The People Remember, by Ibi Zoboi — Written in free-verse, this expansive book covers African American history from the Atlantic slave trade to the Black Lives Matter movement, connecting events and peoples to the 7 Kwanzaa principles: Umoja (unity), Kujichagulia (self-determination), Ujima (collective work and responsibility), Ujamma (cooperative economics), Nia (purpose), Kuumba (creativity) and Imani (faith).
Whatever you choose to celebrate, I hope you experience the hope, joy and magic of this season. May your holidays be truly merry and bright.
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