Celebrations of Light

By Neysa CM Jensen

We live in an increasingly diverse society that includes celebrations of all kinds. Perhaps the holidays at the beginning of winter are one of the most obvious times of year to explore and learn about different cultures and their holidays.

Most cultures have some sort of winter observance. Most of these occur around the Winter Solstice, which is the point in the year with the least amount of daylight and the greatest amount of darkness. Legends tell us that for thousands of years, humans feared that the sun would go out, that their lives would be lived in darkness. But they began to realize that just when the world seemed darkest, the sun began to be visible for longer each day. They celebrated the return of the sun.

For the Romans, the midwinter observance was known at Saturnalia. The Saxons had Modraniht. The Persians celebrated Yalda. Zuni and Hopi Indians celebrated Soyal.

Scandinavian countries observe Saint Lucia’s Day. Hanukkah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa are relative newcomers to the celebrations of light in winter.

All of these holidays had one thing in common—light. The significance of light in each tradition comes from different origins, such as the miracle of the oil that lasted for eight nights in the Hanukkah story or the candles of Kwanzaa that celebrate community and unity. The Star of Bethlehem is but one of the lights surrounding the Christmas story. Whether lighting candles or revering the sun god, all acknowledged that light had miraculously returned.

Light is symbolic of goodness, cheer, hope, love, faith, and virtually any other positive spin we want to attach to it. It reminds us that in the darkest of times, we can always look for the light. People gather around the source of light, be it candles, a campfire, a bright star, or a decorated lighted tree. Light brings us all together.

This season is celebrated in children’s books of all kinds. Gorgeously illustrated picture books. Silly mad libs. Quirky tales involving holidays. There’s something for any child.

Here are some of my favorite holiday books:

For specific holidays:


Hanukkah Mad Libs

Maccabee Meals by Judith Groner and Madeline Wikler

The Miracle Jar by Audry Penn

The Latke Who Couldn’t Stop Screaming by Lemony Snicket

The Tree of the Dancing Goats by Patricia Polacco

Horrible Harry and the Holidaze by Suzy Kline


Snowmen at Christmas by Caralyn Buehner

Christmas Remembered by Tomie DePaola

Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Twelve Days of Christmas by Rachel Isadora