five Christmas celebrations from around the world

miracle on 133rd street cover imageMiracle on 133rd Street, by Sonia Manzano, illustrated by Marjorie Priceman
published in 2015 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers

A riot of color, an array of cultures, and a generous helping of neighborliness shine in this swizzling story from New York City. 

José and his mami and papi are originally from Puerto Rico. And every Christmas, Mami is homesick. To make matters worse, this year’s traditional pork roast does not fit in her oven. Oh, for a big, sunny, Puerto Rican yard to roast the Christmas pig in, she thinks.

miracle on 133rd street interior manzano and priceman

So, Papi boxes that roast up and sets out with José for Regular Ray’s Pizzeria where ginormous ovens await. Along the way, these two meet neighbors and friends galore who are not looking very merry. But as they return, the heady aroma of olive oil and garlic beckons one and all to share in their feast, until an apartmentful of DiPalmas and Santiagos and Wozenskys and more are happily celebrating together.

This kindhearted story was written by Sonia Manzano, best known for her decades-long role as Maria on Sesame Street. Marjorie Priceman splashes every page with energy, warmth, and cheer with her hot-tamale, gladsome, effervescent illustrations. Great choice for ages 3 and up.

the christmas carp cover imageThe Christmas Carp, by Rita Törnqvist, pictures by Marit Törnqvist, translated by Greta Kilburn
originally published in Sweden; published in the U.S. in 1990 by R&S Books

Apparently, in Prague there’s an old tradition of cooking a carp for Christmas.

One goes to the Christmas market just before Christmas Eve, buys a fat carp from the fishmonger, hauls it home, and sets it to swimming in the bathtub. There its silveriness stays nice and fresh until it’s time for Christmas dinner. Oy.

This is the story of a little boy named Thomas and his Grandpa. Of Christmas bread and fish-shaped cookies and floating walnut-shell candles. Of carolers and the bridges of Prague and a carp bought by Thomas who he names Peppo which seems destined not to be eaten on Christmas Day.

the christmas carp illustration marit tornqvist

It’s a sweet story of a tenderhearted boy and his understanding grandfather, rich with the atmosphere of this beautiful, historic city. Marit Törnqvist’s delicately-hued, detailed watercolors envelop us in this place and these lives. An appealing, sensitive story for ages 5 and up.

la noche buena cover imageLa Noche Buena: A Christmas Story, by Antonoio Sacre, illustrated by Angela Dominguez
published in 2010 by Abrams Books for Young Readers

Nina is visiting her dad’s side of the family in Little Havana, Miami, for the Christmas holidays. No snowy Christmas scenes here. Instead,  palm trees and parrots and heat.

Her abuela welcomes her into a bustle of women cooking marinade with the old family recipe. Nina quickly becomes a part of the commotion, lugging jars of marinade from the spicy kitchen to her Uncle Tito’s yard where a bathtub and a barbecue pit await their 3-day, pig-roasting extravaganza.

la noche buena illustration angela dominguez

A backyard feast, the Rooster’s Mass, and all-night dancing under the stars make up the traditional celebration of La Noche Buena, the Good Night, Christmas Eve, the best night of the year for this Cuban family. Enjoy a welcoming, vibrant look at these cultural traditions with kids ages 4 and up.

a stork in a baobab tree cover imageA Stork in a Baobab Tree: An African Twelve Days of Christmas, by Catherine House, illustrated by Polly Alakija
published in 2011 by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

On the first day of this Christmas, my true love gives me a stork in a baobab tree. And on day five, he shows up with five bright khangas —  brightly-colored lengths of cloth used as wrap skirts, headdresses, baby slings, or what have you.

Travel around the continent via this traditional carol, gathering carvings from Nigeria, baskets from Ethiopia, dancers from Morocco, and learning a teensy bit about each gift as we go.

a stork in a baobab tree illustration polly alakija

There’s a nice variety of stops, although you’ll have to look in the Note from the Author to identify each place. In the text, they’re all referred to as “Africa.” That’s a small quibble with an otherwise intriguing, informative book, handsomely illustrated. Ages 4 and up.

baseball bats for christmas cover imageBaseball Bats for Christmas, story by Michael Arvaarluk Kusugak, art by Vladyana Krykorka
published in 1990 by Annick Press Ltd.

Inuit storyteller Michael Arvaarluk Kusugak grew up in what is now Nunavut, then Northwest Territories, where he and his family lived a traditional, nomadic lifestyle. 

This story offers a delightful peek into his arctic homeland. In 1955, when he was just seven years old, a beloved bush pilot arrives at Christmastime and delivers a bunch of…what on earth? Green, spindly things. No one is quite sure what they are for, but they come in quite handy for turning into baseball bats.

baseball bats for christmas illustration vladyana krykorka

Get to the bottom of the mystery, meet Michael and his playmates, taste the vastness of Repulse Bay, and learn the generous custom of Inuit gift-giving in this lovely story for ages 4 or 5 and up. The illustrations beautifully portray the handsome Inuit people, blue-cold landscape, and warmth of friendship.