Theme units for the winter holiday season


Christmas is coming! You’re probably getting ready to decorate the tree, hang your stockings and make your wish list. Did you ever wonder how children in other lands celebrate or observe this holiday? Why do some countries’ celebrations last for weeks? What do you do with a buche de Nol? Who’s La Befana? Why do some children wait until January 6th to receive their Christmas gifts?

However, Christmas traditions and celebrations vary around the world. December may mark the end of our calendar year but it also contains a number of significant holidays (such as Hannukah and Kwanzaa) that are celebrated around the world. Each holiday has its own customs and traditions and in some cases, deep religous significance. You can plan study units to explore with your kids the holidays of December and what they mean to cultures around the globe.


You can purchase thematic units on CD at the (12-16 themes bundled on each of 9 CD titles; downloadable themes and more!)


Hanukkah is an eight-day holiday celebrated by Jewish people around the
world. Called the “Festival of Lights,” Hanukkah commemorates the victory
of the Maccabees over Syria that took place more than 2000 years ago.
Hanukkah begins on the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev, or between
late November and late December on the Gregorian calendar.


Torah offers a complete Hanukkah resource geared for children with history, games, music
and other activities. is an interactive site about Hanukkah with online stories and activities.The History ChannelHanukkah Traditions
About the history and traditions of Hanukkah.Celebrations Mini-Unit: Hanukkah
A unit that provides a summary about Hanukkah and lessons that focus on
reading, thinking and writing skills. (Ages 9-12)
Find across-the-grades activities plus literature links related to
Holidays.netKwanzaa mobile mobile with a Kwanzaa theme using craft materials including felt,
tempera paint and fishing line. (Ages 9 and up)
Make “candles” using wood and beads. (Ages 9 and up)
Kwanzaa Necklace  using shell-shaped pasta, paint glue and string.Kwanzaa Kinara candleholder. (Ages 12 and up)Crafts for kids


What is one of the fastest growing holidays in the United States? It’s
Kwanzaa, an African American observance that begins on December 26 and ends on January 1. Kwanzaa is based on ancient African harvest celebrations.
Kwanzaa is a time for family gatherings, unity, and reflection. Learn about
the history and traditions of Kwanzaa with the following links and


Kwanzaa Crafts

Create a host of Kwanzaa projects, including a kinara centerpiece, a family
history book, and a corn pin. This page page also includes links to other
Kwanzaa crafts sites.

Make a paper mache bowl and a rain stick with the help of 

Create a Kwanzaa calendar for each day of Kwanzaa.

****Worldbook‘s coverage of the holiday includes information on the customs
and celebrations throughout the world.
Christmas Around the World Lesson plans and links from Education WorldkidsdomainChristmas World
Christmas pictures, observations, information and music from all over the globe by the International Christmas Club.
Christmas Celebrations Around the World
Learn about holiday celebrations in other countries.
Christmas Around the World
Brief easy to understand information on Christmas in seven different
Santa’s Net Discover Christmas traditions from around the world. Learn how to say holiday greetings in many different languages.Holidays From Around the World
Young authors share their Christmas and December holiday traditions.
The Origins of Christmas The story of how Christmas came to be including the full text of the story
from the gospels of Matthew and Luke (
Christmas on the Net
Everything Christmas including the history of the holiday and the story of the birth of Christ.
The Christmas Story The story of Christ’s birth according to Matthew 1:18 – 2:23




The word Christmas comes from the early English phrase Cristes Maesse which
means Mass of Christ. Over 2000 years ago the Christians belives that Jesus
Christ, the Son of God was born in a manger in Bethlehem. Christians
further believe Jesus is the Lord Savior and every winter they celebrate
his birth with Christmas celebrations. Discover the true meaning of
Christmas by learning about the birth of Christ.

The story of Santa
Read about the first time Santa Claus stuffed his bag of toys down a chimney.

The Story of Christ’s Birth
The birth of the Christ Child based upon Luke’s version in the Bible.

The Nativity Pages
Examines many aspects of the birth Jesus including the date, the three wise
men, the star of Bethlehem and other facets of the event.

Twelve Voices of Christmas
A real audio drama that tells the story of Christmas through twelve of the persons involved.


Ole English Traditions Wassailing, Devil’s Knell, and such customs are described here.
has lots to offer including the Xmas nativity story that you can print out or readaloud or the traditions of Xmas(explained), poems, stories.
We love this site! If you are going to make only one stop, this site will tell you everything you need to know about Christmas. Concise, well-researched site, but does not cover all Christmas traditions. Presented in the tell-me-why format. started in 1994 as an effort to share how Christmas is celebrated around the world. This year we’ve combined the best music, recipes, features and information of the past in a new community based format. Our goal is to have some amount of information for every country in the world. It currently has over 387 worldview entries and/or articles, including a slightly outdated historical view of Xmas in Japan. Christmas Chronicles page of Santasearch is either Christmas trivia at its best or worst whichever way you have it. The Christmas Directory Chronicles helps you search for all the Christmas traditions around the world which is helpful on the more obscure and forgotten of Christmas traditions and symbols like “wassail”, “clipping in the kettle”, “eisteddfod”, “Jack Horner Pie” and “Moravian breakfast”. It also has a section on lesson plans.. Also very valuable are the excellent selection of Christmas poetry, stories and legends.

American Montessori Consulting newsletter offers Christmas resources (among other holidays) from the American Montessori Consulting newsletter, always nice for preschoolers. Offers an account of the origins of Saint Nicolas and his evolution through the ages; The Twelve Tastes of Xmas (recipes); Christmas Trivia, e.g. do you know this one? For people who live in the Canadian prairies, the Christmas season traditionally begins with a shipment of Japanese rice wine / oranges / teas /dolls Click on Xmas recipes.

New Seasonal Book recommendations (most of this years’ finds are more scientific and lesson-plannish):

The Secret of St. Nicholas (Paperback) by Mary Anne Kamols $5.95 A gentle
way to keep the magic of Xmas but explain Santa to the kid who’s figured it
Book Description: Is Santa real? This often asked question leaves many
parents wondering what to say. The Secret of Saint Nicholas provides an
answer. Yes it is Mum and Dad who deliver the presents on Christmas Eve.
However, the story tells that Santa was a real person and that parents carry
on the special tradition that he started. This is an enchanting story,
blending the history of Saint Nicholas with a tale of village people and
Christmas customs. It reveals how the love of Saint Nicholas for children
has been passed down through generations until the present day. Author Mary
Kamols shares this secret in a way that enables a child to believe in Father
Christmas and still keep Christmas magical. At the end of the story, the
child is entrusted to pass the secret on to their own children when the time
comes. The pastel illustrations by David Russ capture the essence of the
timeless tale.

The Real Santa Claus : Legends of Saint Nicholas (Hardcover)
by Marianna Mayer $11.55 A highbrow way to explain the background of Santa.
In this worthy companion to her other works about religious figures, Mayer
(Young Jesus of Nazareth) uses several brief stories to introduce the
fourth-century orphan boy turned miracle-working bishop who inspired the
modern holiday image of Santa Claus/Father Christmas. Masterpieces from
European museums and churches illustrate scenes from the saint’s life; laid
out on pages framed and accented with gold paint, they create a setting far
more elegant and reverent than the nostalgic cover art would suggest.
Clement C. Moore’s “A Visit from St. Nicholas” opens the volume on a festive
and familiar note. All ages Gr 3 Up-This handsome biography of Saint
Nicholas is going to be more useful for saint assignments than as a
Christmas book as many parents and their children will be most unhappy to be
told right up front that “those longed-for gifts found under the Christmas
tree are not after all left by him.” Mayer starts with Clement Moore’s poem
“A Visit from St. Nicholas” and then leaves the Christmas holiday to provide
a brief biography of the saint who died in A.D. 343. The prose is readable
and direct. While some might question the author’s matter-of-fact portrayal
of miracles, children using this book for a report probably won’t have a
problem with it. Utilizing reproductions (a few of which are quite blurry)
of religious art, dominated by stiff and formal works by artists from the
Middle Ages, this offering probably holds more appeal for adults than it
does for children.

Or The Legend of Saint Nicholas (Hardcover)
by Demi $13.57

Holly, Reindeer, and Colored Lights : The Story of the Christmas Symbols
(Hardcover) by Edna Barth, Ursula Arndt (Illustrator) 9-12 years

“Intelligent and charming, The Return of the Light draws you into an
ancient, still thriving world of mystery and magic, where humans strive to
make sense of nature and come up with ingenious and often fun tales to
explain the winter solstice.
Carolyn McVickar Edwards lays a foundation of knowledgeable yet accessible
scholarship, then recounts each tale in the various cultures’ unique styles,
often with snappy dialogue, often with a haunting poignancy.
Whether you’re new to comparative mythology or an old hand, you’re sure to
enjoy and appreciate Edwards’ respectful yet lively look at how the mystery
of change resonates throughout our stories and rituals, bringing meaning to
our myths and our lives.” -Pamela Jaye Smith, mythologist and filmmaker,
founder of MYTHWORKS(tm)
“Each story is a glimpse into the imagery and mysteries of another
culture-from a female Santa Claus in Italy to a girl marrying the sun in
Africa, to the North American Raven creating light. Read the stories one day
as a meditative journey or read them to your kids, or read one after
another. They tell of an inner journey too, the universal journey from light
to dark and back to light again. As Carolyn says, myths are the soul stories
of a particular culture. Each of her commentaries creates a tone, paints the
landscape, and deepens our journey through these other worlds. Wonderful
stories for the holidays or for any day of the year.” -ELLIE FIDLER M.F.A.,
artist, lecturer and teacher of art and mythology, and the Solstice and
Seasonal Myths and Mysteries series at the University of California
extension, Santa Cruz, and in Berkeley, California
“The Return of the Light: Twelve Tales from Around the World for the Winter
Solstice honors the power of storytelling and will enhance the experience of
the Winter Solstice through its stories and fables, ritual and ceremony. It
gives us ways to look at this time of year with renewed meaning.” -Angeles
Arrien, Ph.D., cultural anthropologist, author of The Four-Fold Way and
Signs of Life

The Return of the Light: Twelve Tales from Around the World for the Winter
Solstice (Paperback) by Carolyn McVickar Edwards $6.99
8 Book
The beginning of winter is marked by the solstice, the shortest day of the
year. Long ago, people grew afraid when each day had fewer hours of sunshine
than the day before. Over time, they realized that one day each year the sun
started moving toward them again. In lyrical prose and cozy illustrations,
this book explains what the winter solstice is and how it has been observed
by various cultures throughout history. Many contemporary holiday traditions
were borrowed from ancient solstice celebrations. Simple science activities,
ideas for celebrating the day in school and at home, and a further-reading
list are included.
Allen Greenbaum

The Shortest Day : Celebrating the Winter Solstice (Hardcover)
by Wendy Pfeffer, Jesse Reisch (Illustrator) $11.55 Ages 4


The Ancient Celtic Festivals: And How We Celebrate Them Today (Hardcover) by
Clare Walker Leslie, Frank E. Gerace $12.25. Frank Gerace and Clare Walker Leslie have put together a wonderful and much needed introduction to the magical year. I warmly recommend it to all in need of a good, accurate, and clearly presented guide.” “An enormously engaging and informative book. The Authors have included aspects of
science, history, mythology, and literature in their explanation of Celtic festivals. . . . will provide the answers for all the children and adults who ever wondered about the mysterious rituals of some of our most well-known holidays. A valuable resource for homes, schools, and libraries.”

For nostalgic older kids:

A Child’s Christmas in Wales (New York Times Best Illustrated Books
(Awards)) (Hardcover)
by Dylan Thomas, Chris Raschka (Illustrator) $12.23
This is as nice an edition of Dylan Thomas’ “A Child’s Christmas in Wales”
as it is possible to imagine. It is beautifully laid out, in a wide
children’s picture-book format, with colorful and evocative paintings by
illustrator Christopher Raschka.

If you’ve never encountered Dylan Thomas’ vision of his childhood Christmas
in Wales before, you’re in for a real treat. Boys chase each other through
the snow; uncles repair to the drawing room lighting pipes; aunts offer
Useless Presents such as mufflers long enough to swing from, and my favorite
– the Prothero family’s house starts to go on fire, which the gaggle of boys
attempts to extinguish with snowballs.

It’s clear that a poet wrote this; every word counts not just in the mental
images it provokes but also in its glorious SOUND – please try reading it
out loud; it is positively musical. But – I confess the current edition
seems mismarketed to me. It’s not really a children’s book, although older
children, at least, may enjoy having it read to them. The picture-book
format (and the above product info’s insistence that the reading level is “4
to 8 years”) might make you, the reader, think of it as a good Christmas
present for the pre-school set. But the language is dense and unfamiliar to
little ones (the uncles smokes ‘briars’ not pipes), and the text is longer
than a little kid will sit still for (my 5-year-old for example). I read it
to my very attentive 10-year-old as well, and even he had trouble grasping
all Thomas’ delicious and metaphorical language. So buy it; read it out loud
to yourself in front of an evening fireplace, and Merry Christmas to you
all. – Bensmomma
Thomas wishes only to convey the warmth, humor, and imagination of his
childhood Christmases in Wales. Although this is great modernist literature,
it is completely unpretentious and can be enjoyed by all ages. The book
seems longer than it is, perhaps because Thomas’ depictions linger warmly
after one reads about the Christmas fire, the smoking Uncles and drinking
aunts, the presents

The Christmas Mystery (Paperback) by Jostein Gaarder, Sarah Gibb A magical
advent calendar takes a little girl on an incredible journey from Norway
around 1940, down through Europe and down through history, only the nativity
story unravels in reverse. Like Gaardner’s other
philosophy-cum-detective-style bestsellers, this is an absorbing and
interest-piquing story with a strong European flavor. Language is simple
enough but still probably recommended for literature-savvy older kids and
young adults. $9.85

Other recommendations include:

“The Nutcracker” by Janet Schulman***
“The Polar Express” by Chris Van Allsburg(Illustrator)***
“A Certain Small Shepherd” by Rebecca Caudill
“A Snowy Day” by Ezra Jack Keats***
“Amahl and the Night Visitors” by Gian-Cash Menotti, Roger Duvoisin
“An Old-Fashioned Christmas” by Paul Engle
“Best Christmas Pageant Ever” by Barbara Robinson, Judith Gwyn Brown (Ill.)*
“Christmas In The Manger” by Nola Buck (Ill Felicia Bond) A Pat-and Peek
Book *(baby-toddler)
“Christmas Is a Birthday” by Aline Cunningham
“Christmas Is A Time of Giving” by Joan Walsh Anglund *
“Christmas Is Love” by Joan Walsh Anglund *
“Christmas Star” by Marcus Pfister (for babies and toddlers)
“Christmas Traditions & Legends : Traditions and Legends” by Doris C.
Baines, Richard Ferguson (Ill)*
“Christmas Stories” by Charles Dickens
“Eloise at Christmastime” by Kay Thompson Hilary Knight (Ill.)
“Garlands for Christmas” by Chad Walsh
“Gingerbread Baby” by Jan Brett(Illustrator)***
“How Grinch Stole Christmas” by Dr Suess *
“Little Drummer Boy” by Ezra Jack Keats **
“Journey To Bethlehem” by Dorothy Van Woerkom
“Maurice Sendak’s Christmas Mystery/Full-Color Book of Clues and Jigsaw
Puzzle” (baby-preschool)
“Mr Willowby’s Christmas Tree” by Robert Barry **
“Nine Days to Christmas” by Marie Hall Ets, Aurora Labastida
“Silent Night” by Armand Eisen, Mary Engelbreit (exquisite pop-out art)*
“Small Rain” by Jessie Orton Jones (ill. Elizabeth Orton Jones)
“Something for Christmas” by Palmer Brown
“Take Joy” by Tasha Tudor *
“The Bird’s Christmas Carol” by Kate Douglas Wiggin**
“The Christmas Cookie Tree” by Ruth Hershey Irwin
“The First Christmas” by Robbie Trent, ill. Marc Simont * (baby-toddler)
“The Gift of the Magi” by O’ Henry **(older children-teens)
“The Hat” by Jan Brett(Illustrator)**
“The Legend of the Poinsettia” by Tomie De Paola (Ill.)**
“The Lion In A Box” by Marguerite De Angeli *
“The Night Before Christmas” : Poem by Clement Clarke Moore, Jan Brett
“The Night Before Christmas” by Clement C Moore (Ill. James Rice/Tasha
Tudor/Arthur Rackham/Hague)*
“The Shepherd’s Boy” by Mae Vander Boom
“The Silver Box” by Martha Rush Henry, Sue Thompson-Norman*
“The Sweet Smell of Christmas”
“The Story of Christmas” by Jane Ray **
“The Story of the Christ Child” by Leon Morris
“The 12 Days of Christmas” (My Big Beanstalk Books Series) by Jerry Harston,
Jerry Hartson**
“The Twelve Days of Christmas” by Jan Brett(Illustrator)***
“The Way Christmas” Came by Masahiro Kasuya OOP
“The Very Special Baby” by Carol Woodward OOP
“The Wild Christmas Reindeer” by Jan Brett**
“Twas the Moon of Wintertime” by Foz Abisch
“White Snow Bright Snow” by Alvin Tresselt, ill. Roger Duvoisin **

Other booklists:

Christmas Book Lists at Amazon:
Amazon listmania

Amazon guide

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