December is such a magical time! Outside of the classroom, I love all of the lights, the special ornaments on my tree, and the family celebrations.
Inside of the classroom, it’s a really fun time for my students to learn a bit about other cultures by studying how different countries celebrate Christmas (and other holidays) around the world.
One of the things I like to do is to use read alouds along with our Christmas Around the World booklet, to add to our knowledge base for each culture. Some of the books I read to the class are informational about the country’s customs, some of them focus solely on a specific country’s Christmas, while others are simply folktales, which still give us insight into another culture.
Regardless of which type of book we use, these books not only entertain my students, but increase their understanding of people around the world.
1. A Stork in a Baobab Tree: An African 12 Days of Christmas by Catherine House
I love this version of The 12 Days of Christmas set in a small African village. As a couple is expecting, the whole town prepares for the baby’s birth with 12 storytellers, 11 dancers dancing, 10 drummer drumming, 9 grazing goats, 8 wooden carvings, 7 children playing, 6 women pounding, 5 bright khangas, 4 market traders, 3 woven baskets, 2 thatched huts, and a stork in a baobab tree. Lots of information can be gained by looking at the objects and activities pictures too!
2. Tree of Cranes by Allen Say
If you ever teach about Japan, you’ve got to include the author, Allen Say! He has so many great stories set in the Japanese culture and this one is no exception. In this book, it’s a little boy’s first Christmas and his mother makes origami cranes to decorate their unique tree. Very sweet story and the illustrations are stunning!
3. Irish Night Before Christmas by Sarah Kirwan Blazek
In this story set in Ireland, a donkey pulls the cart instead of lots of reindeer pulling a sleigh. This book is filled with Irish customs and tells all about Father Christmas and his seven elves and how they deliver gifts to children’s homes.
4. Christmas in Kangaroo Land by Alda M. Hannon
In this lighthearted book, Santa Claus ends up hitting a meteor and landing in Australia’s Outback! When Santa meets a group of kangaroos, he realizes how much help they can be and he enlists them to carry presents in their pouches. One of the great things about this book is that it has a nice message about kindness and generosity too.
5. The Twelve Days of Christmas in Canada by Ellen Warwick
In this book, Juliette visits her grandmother and her cousin, Theo, who live in Canada. They take her on an informative tour of each province where Juliette sees an ice hockey game, the northern lights, and more! As Juliette travels, she receives gifts which are representative of Canada, like 8 bears a-swimming, 6 Mounties marching, and a loon in a maple tree.
6. Old Befana by Tomie DePaola
This Italian legend tells about an old woman who is so busy with household chores that she fails to follow the Three Kings when they arrive at her home, following a star and looking for a baby. After the Three Kings are gone, she decides to follow the star and to find the baby herself. Although she takes goodies and gifts for the baby, she is unable to find him, so she gives the gifts to children instead.
7. The Elephant’s Friends and Other Tales from Ancient India by Marcia Williams
Although this story is not Christmas related, children can get an idea of culture by hearing classic stories like these. I like to use the illustrations in folktales to highlight different aspects of culture too, such as clothing, architectural style, and food. This book includes several tales from India like an elephant and a dog who became best of friends and a greedy traveler whose love of gold lures him straight into a tiger’s trap!
8. B is for Big Ben: An England Alphabet by Pamela Edwards
This alphabet book is so much fun! It introduces children very quickly to a wide number of facts and features belonging to England from well-known symbols, like Kings and Queens and castles, to the lesser known, like the Earl of Sandwich! If you like the format of this book, it also comes in other versions for lots of other countries such as C is for Ciao (Italy), B is for Bagpipes (Scotland), D is for Down Under (Australia), T is for Taj Mahal (India), and E is for Eiffel Tower (France).
9. France: A Kids Picture Book About France by Jasmine Williams
Students can dive right into the French culture by learning a bit about the history of France, some famous people from France, and some historical sites there too. Interesting information about French food, the Tour de France and animals which are native to France are also presented in this simple but informative book.
10. Living in Brazil by Chloe Perkins
This easy to read book is told from the perspective of a child who lives in Brazil. Your students will enjoy hearing what day to day life is like in another country. Topics such as what clothing is worn, what food is eaten, and what the land looks like are included. The book is part of a series of books about different countries such as Living in South Africa, Living in Mexico, Living in Australia, Living in Italy, and Living in China.
11. Daddy Christmas and Hanukkah Mama by Selina Alko
I really like this book because it tells the story of a little girl named Sadie, whose family celebrates both Christmas and Hanukkah. In Sadie’s home, she has golden gelt (coins) under the Christmas tree, candy canes on eight menorah branches, and sings songs about the Macabees and the manger. While this book shows how some American families may blend traditions from two different backgrounds, if you’d like to showcase Israel and Hanukkah specifically, I would also recommend The Story of Hanukkah by David A. Adler.
Finally, if you need a new holiday resource, I created a very complete Holidays Around the World for Older Kids (3rd – 6th grade). This resource includes 18 countries, traditions passages, and comprehension questions for each country, as well as geography pages, maps, and more! Besides Christmas, it includes Diwali, Kwanzaa, Ramadan, St. Lucia’s, and Hanukkah!
I also have a FREE Italy mini-set for you to sample!
Hope you have a wonderful December!