In our school system, the first graders study winter holidays around the world. As I recall, there is a special focus on India (Diwali), Israel (Hanukkah), Mexico (Christmas), and Germany (Christmas). Over the years, I’ve collected a few favorites to share in the classroom along with this theme.
The Magic Maguey, by Tony Johnson
A large maguey plant sits in the middle of a Mexican village providing many resources to the people of the town, as well as a gathering spot. As Christmas approaches, a rich man who owns that land says that he will get rid of the maguey and build a house there. Miguel, with the help of the other children, decorate the maguey so beautifully for Christmas that the rich man realizes his error and doesn’t cut it down. A great story about resourcefulness with a little bit of Christmas tradition and a smattering of Spanish words.
What’s Cooking, Jamela? by Niki Daly
Jamela’s family gets a chicken to fatten up for Christmas dinner, but Jamela gets attached to the chicken as a pet. Tension builds as a woman comes to prepare the chicken dinner, but in the end, Jamela’s mother finds something else for the Christmas dinner and gives the chicken to Jamela as a present. A fun story of a South African Christmas,conveying a sense of the culture along with a few words of the country.
A Kenya Christmas, by Tony Johnson
Juma’s Christmas wish is to see Father Christmas, and his special aunt brings a red and white suit to the village. She tells Juma to find someone to wear the suit so that the whole village can see Father Christmas for the first time. He does so and Father Christmas surprises the village with his arrival. But it is Juma who is surprised later when he finds out that the man who was supposed to play the part didn’t do so after all. Who was that man on the elephant? A very different picture of Christmas in Africa with amazing pictures by Leonard Jenkins.
Cobweb Christmas: The Traditon of Tinsel, by Shirley Climo
In Germany, a old woman sets up a Christmas tree and some curious spiders “decorate” it with their cobwebs. Kris Kringle turns the webs into silver, making the first tinsel. A sweet story about the Christmas tree tradition.
The Borrowed Hanukkah Latkes, by Linda Glaser
As a family prepares for Hanukkah, more guests are due to arrive than expected. The daughter, Rachel, borrows potatoes and eggs from their elderly neighbor to make the latkes, each time hoping that by borrowing food she will convince the woman to join the family for Hanukkah. She can’t make her come over, but in the end comes up with another plan to bring Hanukkah to the woman. While not a story of Israel, it is my favorite Hanukkah story, so I kind of cheat and use it anyway.
I have yet to find a Diwali story that isn’t just, “This is what happens during Diwali,” so if anyone has one, I’d be happy to hear about it. If anyone wants to write a good Diwali story, I’d say you’d have a pretty open market.