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  • Tanja Nathanael and Olivia Bushardt

Christmas Around the World


Christmas Around the World Collage

The celebration of Christmas in Western culture is often assumed to take a certain form: singing holiday songs, trimming the tree, and giving presents. But not all cultures celebrate this seasonal holiday with the same traditions. Some traditions may be influenced by location, such as whether one lives in a city or in a more rural area. In the Philippines, the city of San Fernando holds Ligligan Parul, or the Giant Lantern Festival, which features dazzling lanterns that symbolize the Star of Bethlehem. In Central America, Christmas is celebrated with fireworks. Some are influenced by historical events and folktales such as the Krampus in Alpine folktales. Sometimes weather is a factor, for half the world is in summer this time of year and so not all Christmases are winter white. In New Zealand, Kiwis often visit the beach and gather round the Pohutukawa, an evergreen tree that blooms red in December. Food, too, is strongly associated with Christmas tradition, and these favored dishes not only change from culture to culture, they may also be adapted to our changing times. In Japan, Kentucky Fried Chicken has become a staple Christmas treat in households after a successful 1970s marketing campaign "Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii!" or "Kentucky for Christmas!"


International Christmas stories are being reimagined to charming effect, introducing new characters that will humor readers with their delightful antics as they invite readers to see Christmas with new eyes. The books listed below provide an international perspective on Christmas stories and traditions from around the world that will entertain and delight readers of all ages. In fact, one tradition that we may all share is the joy of sharing a good book. So gather round the family tree, serve up some rompope or peppermint cocoa, and delve into one of the books below. We hope you will make some enjoyable new discoveries and perhaps start some new Christmas traditions of your own.


Many thanks to International Committee members Danilo M. Baylen, Maria Truglio, and Ada Bieber for their recommendations.


AUSTRALIA

Tea and Sugar Christmas Jane Jolly (author) and Robert Ingpen (illustrator)

National Library of Australia Publishing, 2014

Language: English

ISBN-13: 9780642278630


Set in Australia in the age of the Tea and Sugar Train--supply trains that serviced settlements once a week from 1915 to 1996--the story revolves around a young Aboriginal girl’s growing excitement for Christmas and the arrival of the special Christmas train that comes only once a year. Scheduled to arrive on the first Thursday of December, Father Christmas traveled the line and distributed gifts to children of station and railway workers and in isolated communities between Port Augusta and Kalgoorlie.


ARGENTINA

Federico and the Magi's Gift: A Latin American Christmas Story

Beatriz Vidal (author/illustrator)

Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2004

Language: English

ISBN-13: 978-0375825187


On the Feast of the Three Kings, the Three Wise Men, or Magi, ride through the night sky to deliver gifts to good boys and girls. Four-year-old Federico has misbehaved, and now he is afraid the Magi will not leave him any presents. As his brother and sister prepare hay and water for the Magi's camels, Federico wonders if the Magi will really come. A magical late-night visit to a garden under a star-filled sky eases his mind.


BULGARIA

Весела Коледа, Рада! (Merry Christmas, Rada!)

Book 3 from Secrets and Magic at 13 Rosemary Street

Nedyalka Margaritova (author) and Valentina Radeva-Lapcheva (illustrator)

Publisher: Слово, Slovo Publishing House, 2013

Language: Bulgarian

ISBN-13: 9789544399702


In the third book from the Secrets and Magic on 13 Rosemary Street series, little Rada returns for another magical adventure. This time, she is not convinced that Santa Claus exists, so her friends and neighbors including the hatter and postman work to show her the magic of Christmas and Santa Claus. Find out if Rada believes in Santa in time for Christmas and whether the magical creatures gathering for Santa’s arrival help to convince her.


CANADA

An Aboriginal Carol

Poetry by Metis poet David Bouchard, Paintings by First Nations artist Moses Beaver, Music by Inuit performer Susan Aglukark

Publisher: Red Deer Press, 2007

Language: English, Inuktituk

ISBN-13: 978-0889954069


In collaboration with First Nations artist Moses Beaver and with music by Inuit performer Susan Aglukark, best-selling Canadian author David Bouchard reworks Canada's oldest and most well-known carol, The Huron Carol, to tell the story of the birth of Christ from an Aboriginal worldview. Written in English and in Inuktituk, the language of Canada's Inuit people, the book is accompanied by a CD, which includes a reading in both languages and a performance by Susan Aglukark. On the 2008 White Ravens' Outstanding New International Books for Children and Young Adults list and Canadian Children's Book Centre Our Choice, 2009.


CHINA

圣诞雪人 (Christmas Snowman)

保冬妮 (author) and 李宇珂 (illustrator)

Publisher: 希望 出版社, Hope Publishing House, 2013

Language: Chinese

ISBN-13: 978-7537962131


Written by award-winning children’s author Bao Dongni, Christmas Snowman tells the heartwarming story of the friendship between a snowman and two children in Beijing during the holiday season. In the ultimate sacrifice, the snowman exchanges his life for the children's wishes, flying past the moon to look for the sun god and melting. Readers will learn about the spirit of giving and love during Christmas in this original Christmas fairy tale from China.


FRANCE

Le Festin de Noël (The Christmas Feast)

Nathalie Dargent (author) and Magali Le Huche (illustrator)

Publisher: P’tit Glénat, 2008 (France)

Publisher: Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2020 (USA)

Language: French, English

ISBN-13 : 978-0802855374


When Wolf, Weasel, and Fox steal a turkey for their Christmas feast, no one expects the meal to have her own ideas about the celebration. Don’t they want to fatten her up first? Haven’t they even hung up mistletoe or baked gingerbread? But the more time the three friends spend with Turkey, the less anyone wants the fun to end.


GERMANY

Die Weihnachtsmaus (The Christmas Mouse)

James Krüss (author) and Annette Swoboda (illustrator)

Publisher: Boje Verlag, 2017

Language: German

ISBN-13: 978-3414824851


James Krüss’ poem, now a German classic, was recently adopted into a lovely picture book. A phenomenon occurs every year at Christmas time. Christmas cookies suddenly disappear from well-kept hiding places, chocolate Santa Clauses vanish, and marzipan balls are stolen from the Christmas tree. Clearly, the hungry Christmas mouse is at work here. Includes two additional Christmas poems by Krüss: “Corinth the Magician” and “Fridolin the White Snowman.”


GREECE

Μπαμπά, μπορούμε να πάρουμε σκύλο αντί για μυρμήγκι (Papa, can we have a dog instead of an ant?)

Philippos Photiadis (author/illustrator)

Publisher: ΜΑΡΤΗΣ (Martis), 2019

Language: Greek

ISBN-13: 978-618-84312-0-1


In this humorous picture book from award-winning author-illustrator Philippos Photiadis, Ilias wants a dog for Christmas, but his father does not think he can handle the responsibility. Santa gifts him an ant whom he names Miltos. Ilias learns that Miltos is quite different than a dog. He lives in a jar and has a cardboard parkour park for exercise. Most importantly, Miltos has multiple lives. Ilias learns this when he tries to walk Miltos with a red string but accidentally takes his head off. Luckily Miltos appears alive and intact in his home the next morning. Eventually, Ilias returns Miltos to his ant family and finally gets a dog.


HUNGARY

Télapó és Ezüstmackó (Father Christmas and the Silver Teddy Bear) Marék Veronika (author/illustrator)

Publisher: Ceruza, 2007

Language: Hungarian

ISBN-13: 9789638874559


In this heartwarming picture book from Hungarian award-winning author/illustrator Marék Veronika, Santa gifts Marc a silver teddy bear and his younger sister Monica a stuffed dog, but both children want to play with the silver teddy bear. Marc doesn’t like to see his little sister cry, so he tries to buy another bear in the toy shop. However, this particular bear isn’t sold in stores. He sets out on a long journey to reach Santa’s workshop and make his sister's Christmas dreams come true. Along the way, he meets some woodland friends and is able to return with a matching bear for his sister and save Christmas.


ICELAND

The Yule Lads: A Celebration of Iceland's Christmas Folklore

Brian Pilkington (author/illustrator)

Publisher : Maìl og menning, 2001

Language: : English

ISBN-13 : 978-9979322191


Inspired by Yuletide is Coming, a book of verses by Jóhannes úr Kötlum, Pilkington’s The Yule Lads tells the Icelandic Christmas story of the giantess Grýla and her children, the 13 Yule lads. Each Yule lad sets off from their family home, a cave in the mountains, and makes their individual appearance one after the other on the thirteen nights before Christmas. Each mischievous prankster harasses or steals from their human victim according to their descriptive names, such as Door-Slammer or Candle-Stealer. For good children, they leave small gifts in shoes that the children have placed on window sills, but if the child has been disobedient they leave a potato in the shoe instead.


ITALY

La favola di Natale (A Christmas Fairy Tale)

Giovaninno Guareschi (author/illustrator)

Publisher: Rizzoli, 2004

Language: Italian

ISBN-13 : 978-8817003469


Set during World War II and illustrated by the author, La favola di Natale tells the story of a boy whose father is in a prison camp during Christmas. It includes the traditional Italian Christmas "witch," La Befana, but in the modern world she rides a vacuum cleaner rather than a broom. A deeply moving and extremely interesting tale composed when the author was himself imprisoned during the war. The story strikes a balance between the real and the fantastic to create a message of hope from an impossible time.


JAPAN

100にんのサンタクロース

谷口智則 Tomonori Taniguchi (author/illustrator)

publisher 文溪堂, Bunkeido, 2013 ISBN: 9784799902905


In this inventive story from author/illustrator Tomonori Taniguchi, collective help allows Santa to prepare for the holidays. Getting ready for Christmas is a lot of work for Santa. He can make the work easier by dividing up the tasks and assigning them to the 100 Santas who share a town. In this oversized book, readers will learn how the Santas spend their time preparing for the holidays and see just how much work goes into making holiday wishes come true around the world. Many hands make the work go faster, and after the presents are delivered the Santas have a big party to celebrate a successful holiday.


NIGERIA

An African Christmas Ifeoma Onyefulu (author/photographer)

Publisher: Frances Lincoln Children's Books, 2005

Language: English

ISBN-13 : 978-1845073879


It's Christmastime, and Afam has decided to create and dance his own Mmo, or masquerade, just like the big celebratory Mmos he sees performed at festivals. But each time he starts collecting things to make his costume, family preparations for Christmas -- haircuts, visiting the tailor, a church service, a trip to their village -- get in the way. Will Afam ever get to perform his Mmo? This brilliant photo-essay vividly depicts African village life, while the simple, endearing story uses a favorite holiday to gently point out the differences -- and similarities -- between cultures.


NORWAY

Mrs Pepperpot’s Christmas

Alf Prøysen (author) and Hilda Offen (illustrator)

Publisher: Red Fox, 2011

Language: English

ISBN 13: 978-1849415279


One of Prøysen’s delightful short stories newly imagined with illustrations by Hilda Offen. Mrs Pepperpot’s shrinking habit can be very inconvenient, especially when she wants to go shopping for Christmas presents. However she uses it to her best advantage to force her husband into buying the presents she wants for the birds and a mistletoe wreath. This classic story, still in the original translation, retains the timeless magic of a Norwegian folk tale. Offen’s illustrations also retain the atmosphere of the original, complete with Mrs Pepperpot’s striped skirt.


PHILIPPINES

A Child's Treasury Of Philippine Christmas Stories

Lin Acacio-Flores (author) and Annette Flores Garcia (author)

Albert Gamos (illustrator)

Publisher: Tahanan Books for Young Readers, 1996

Language: English

ISBN 13: 978-9716300598


Mother and daughter authors Lin Acacio-Flores and Annette Flores Garcia's collection of original Yuletide stories celebrate well-loved Filipino customs and time-honored traditions with tales of love, friendship, sharing, and forgiveness. The stories are set in different parts of the Philippines and include tales such as “The Bamboo Who Wanted to Be a Christmas Tree,” the Christmas ghost of Vigan, the Aeta Christmas baby, and the Maranao sultan with the heart of stone. Grab a glass of halo-halo with your choice of toppings pinipig, sabá, sweetened beans, gulaman, etc. and enjoy this lovely anthology


PUERTO RICO

Verde Navidad (Green Christmas)

Mrinali Alvarez Astacio (author/illustrator) and Juan Alvarez-O’Neill (author/illustrator)

Publisher: Universidad De Puerto Rico, 2006

Language: Spanish

ISBN-13 : 978-0847715640


Juanito, Victoria, and Adelita can’t wait for Three Kings’ Day. Grandma Cheli brings shoeboxes for them to fill with fresh green grass for the Kings’ horses, but there isn’t a single blade to be found growing in the city. The children are ready to give up when their father suggests a creative solution to their problem.


SCOTLAND

Nip Nebs Susi Briggs (author) and Ruthie Redden (illustrator)

Publisher: Curly Tale Books, 2020

Language: Scots

ISBN-13: 978-0957640290


A glittering tale in Scots about Nip Nebs, the Scots name for Jack Frost, and what he gets up to when the moon is shining bright. Explore the frosty landscape and find all the creatures and faerie folk in these enchanting illustrations. The picture book was shortlisted for the Bairns’ Book of the Year.


SOUTH AFRICA

What's Cooking, Jamela? Niki Daly (author/illustrator)

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2001

Language: English

ISBN-13: 978-0374356026


In the sequel to Niki Daly's Jamela's Dress (1999), Jamela and her family return for this heartwarming and fun Christmas story. Jamela is determined to save Christmas, her pet chicken, from a starring role in the family's holiday meal. As Jamela proclaims, “You can’t eat friends!” So Mama and Jamela prepare a vegetarian meal for the family instead. The tale opens a window on South African culture, from a school nativity play to brightly patterned fabrics and a sprinkling of colorful Xhosa and Zulu vocabulary.


SPAIN

Si Papá Noel no tuviera su trineo (If Santa Did Not Have His Sleigh) Gilberto Mariscal (author) and Chuwy (illustrator)

Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (2016)

Language: Spanish

ISBN-13: 978-1540622969


Lucia and Maria love Christmas. It is their favorite time of year! However, there is something that worries Lucia a lot: If Santa Claus did not have his sleigh, how would he take gifts to all the boys and girls in the world? Luckily her mother knows the answer to that question. Follow along to see all the interesting ways Santa delivers presents without his famous sleigh.


SWEDEN

The Yule Tomte and the Little Rabbits: A Christmas Story for Advent

Ulf Stark (Author), Eva Eriksson (Illustrator), Susan Beard (Translator)

Publisher: Floris Books, 2014

Language: English

ISBN-13: 978-1782501367


In Sweden, a "tomte"--or gnome--brings gifts to children at Christmas. When a gust of wind steals his signature red cap, Grump the tomte is resigned to stay home. However, two rabbits find the missing cap and go in search of the lonely tomte. This charming and funny Christmas story of a grumpy tomte and the hopeful little rabbits is told over twenty-five chapters -- one for each day of Advent -- with delightful festive illustrations.


Taiwan

一个不能没有礼物的日子 (The Best Christmas Ever)

陳致元 Chih-Yuan Chen (author/illustrator)

Publisher: 河北少年儿童出版社 Hebei Children's Publishing House, 2012

ISBN-13: 9789867942364


It’s Christmas for the bear family, but Little Xiong’s father is unemployed, meaning there is not money for gifts this year. The family improvises by decorating with old clothes, and the father sprinkles flour on the Christmas tree to imitate snow. For Christmas Eve, Mother Bear cooks a fish caught in the river, and Father Bear reads Christmas stories. Little Xiong knows that Santa won’t forget their house this year, and when the family awakes on Christmas morning there are indeed presents under the tree. His older brother receives his mended kite, Papa his hat that had blown away, Mother a button that had fallen between the floorboards, his sister an umbrella she had left at the park, and he received his favorite baseball glove. The family enjoys the memories that the gifts bring and wonder who could have left the mysterious gifts until sister discovers small footprints under the tree.


UKRAINE

The Spider’s Gift: A Ukrainian Christmas Story

Eric A. Kimmel (Author) and Katya Krenina (Illustrator)

Publisher : Holiday House, 2010

Language: : English

ISBN-13 : 978-0823417438


This charming Ukrainian folktale tells the story of how a spider saves Christmas for one forlorn little girl and her family and begins the tradition of tinsel decorations when the spider’s web magically turns to silver on the Christmas tree. Ukrainian-born illustrator Katya Krenina creates a festive tone with her illustrations styled in Ukrainian folk tradition.


UNITED KINGDOM

Letters from Father Christmas

J.R.R. Tolkien (author)

Publisher : Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (2020)

Language: : English

ISBN-13 : 978-0358389880


For fans of J.R.R. Tolkien and lovers of Christmas holidays, Letters from Father Christmas is a gorgeous, festive volume featuring a wealth of letters that Tolkien created for his children, appearing in this format for the first time. Published on the 100th anniversary of the first letter Tolkien sent to his firstborn, John, in 1920, this handsome edition also includes an introduction from daughter-in-law Baillie Tolkien, reflecting on the centenary anniversary of the letters, as well as a personal note by Tolkien himself reproduced for the first time. Stories involving Santa’s elves, reindeer, a clumsy polar bear, and even a horde of troublesome goblins will entertain readers of all ages.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Tanja Nathanael is currently a lecturer at San Jose State University and teaches Children’s Literature and Fantasy & Science Fiction Literature online. She received her doctorate from the University of Southern Mississippi in 2019. Her research interests include Northern spaces in nineteenth-century British literature and borders and peripheries in international children’s literature. She formerly served on the ChLA international committee (2015-2018) and continues to support its goals as co-editor of the blog to encourage interest in international children’s literature.



ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Olivia Bushardt serves as co-editor of the ChLA International Committee’s blog and has presented her research at international children's literature conferences including the Children’s Literature Association and The Child and the Book Conference in Croatia. Working on the blog has enabled her to create connections with children’s literature scholars, authors, illustrators, and teachers around the world. We are always looking for more stories, and if you would like to contribute to the blog, please email us your ideas chlainternational@gmail.com.



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©2018 Created by Olivia Bushardt and Tanja Nathanael for the ChLA International Committee.

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