I somehow feel like this year has simultaneously flown by (okay, but really, where did summer go?) and dragged incredibly slowly (how did everything that happened this year fit into only 2020?). So, when a patron said “Happy Holidays!” to me on the phone last week, I found myself a bit surprised, and had to check the calendar. I think I knew it was almost December, but hearing holiday greetings really drove it home.

This interaction also reminded me of one of the first public service jobs I had, where I was working in a post office in early December. I was discussing the seasonal stamp collections with a customer, and when I showed her one that said “Happy Holidays,” she became very upset, and told me how insulting it was to her that it said happy holidays instead of merry Christmas. She was angry because she felt like it erased her religious celebrations, but in doing so she was actually working to erase the representation for the huge number of religious and cultural holidays that take place in the last months of the year. And it shouldn’t matter whether a holiday is from a majority or minority religion or culture, those that celebrate it deserve to be represented in a variety of ways, from holiday stamps to library books.

This holiday season, consider learning about some of the many different holidays celebrated by people in the United States and around the world. A few commonly celebrated holidays this season are:


Diwali is a five-day celebration that takes place in late October or early November every year, and was November 12th to November 16th. It is a celebration of lights, meant to celebrate good over evil and light over darkness, and involves fireworks, feasts, lighting of lamps, and exchanging gifts. While it is celebrated most in India, Diwali is observed around the world by Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, some Buddhists, and more. Curious to learn more? Check out this Encyclopedia Britannica article!


Hanukkah, also called Chanukah or Hanukah, is the Jewish Festival of Lights, and takes place in late November or December each year, with it being December 10th to December 18th this year. Hanukkah commemorates the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in the 160s BC, and is celebrated with lighting one candle each night on a menorah, as well as eating traditional foods, playing games, singing hymns, and giving gifts, especially in countries that also celebrate Christmas. Learn more about the history and celebrations from the Jewish Virtual Library.

Winter Solstice

The winter solstice is the day the Earth is tilted furthest from the sun, making it the shortest day of sun and the longest night of the year, and usually falls on December 21st, as it does this year. But it is also celebrated as a holiday by many religions and cultures. Yule, originating out of Scandinavian countries and celebrated by Pagans and Wiccans, begins at the Winter Solstice every year and goes until New Year’s Day. Dongzhi is the Chinese winter festival, celebrated on the winter solstice in China, Japan, Vietnam, Korea, and many other East Asian countries. Shab-e Yalda is celebrated in Iran as the victory of light over dark, with special feasts and prayer. And Soyal is the solstice celebration of the Hopi Indians, a tribe in Northern Arizona, which features rituals to bring back the sun. Each of these celebrations originated separately and celebrates midwinter differently. To learn more about winter solstice celebrations around the world, check out this article from Encyclopedia Britannica.


Christmas is no doubt the most well-known holiday of the season in the United States, coming up on December 25th, but it is celebrated in many unique ways around the world that might not be as common knowledge. Eastern Orthodox Christians, particularly those in Egypt and Russia, are more likely to celebrate on the Julian Calendar’s Christmas Day, January 7th. In many parts of Europe including France, Norway, and Iceland, children put their shoes outside on Christmas eve to be filled with presents. Ukraine decorates with fake spider webs. Japan’s Christmas dinner is fried chicken. And the Czech Republic eats fish soup and potato salad on Christmas Eve. Curious about how other cultures celebrate Christmas? Check out this Wikipedia article about how Christmas is celebrated in different countries.


Kwanzaa is a seven-day celebration of African culture in America, and takes place every year from December 26th to January 1st. Kwanzaa was created by the California State University professor Maulana Karenga in 1966, who wanted to create a holiday that brought together African-Americans and celebrated their heritage and community. It is generally celebrated by displaying artwork, learning history and songs, and lighting of candles, with a feast on the last day. Kwanzaa was celebrated most in the 1980s and 1990s, but is still celebrated by over five million Americans as well as some communities in Canada and the Caribbean. Learn more from The History Channel.

And (Sometimes) Many Others!

Many other holidays don’t fall on the same day or even in the same month every year, and are sometimes part of the winter holiday season. Due to a slightly shorter, lunar-based calendar, Islamic holidays for example move earlier in the US by about a week and a half each year. That means Al-Hijra, the Islamic New Year, Mawlid an-Nabī, the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad, Ramadan, the month of fasting, Eid al-Fitr, the feast to celebrate the end of Ramadan, and Eid al-Adha, the festival of sacrifice, have all been celebrated during the winter holiday season in the past, and will be again in future years. To learn more about Islam’s two most important celebrations, check out these articles Encyclopedia Britannica articles on Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha.

This is usually where I’d include a book list featuring these celebrations, likely full of adult and some young adult fiction with characters that celebrate holidays of all sorts, but I was disappointed to find that the library owns almost no books that meet these criteria. In fact, there was also little to no nonfiction and even very few children’s picture books for some of these holidays! I’ve let our collection development team know and we will hopefully be adding more before the winter season in 2021, but in the meantime be sure to check out the collection of holiday picture books from JCLS with this list.