How to have a stress free, multicultural Christmas season and still bake cookies
Every year, come December, I whole-heartedly attempt to keep up the tradition of my German grandmother and bake cookies. The secret recipes that my (baker's-daughter) Omi had passionately passed down to me, her only granddaughter, need to be carried on, I repeat to myself as I sift through my pantry to look for ingredients... I love the yellow and white notebook/recipe papers that are sprinkled with cookie dough all over. I love those pieces that remind me of my sweet Omi. Yet every single year I struggle. I struggle to bake cookies. I love baking, I love the smell of fresh baked cookies, I love the taste, I love packing all the baked goods in little cellophane bags with pretty ribbons to give to neighbors and friends. I just don't love the prep and clean up and the time it takes... The reality of baking with three small children sometimes (ok often) is just a little too much in the pre-holiday days.
Ever since child #3 rolled in I’ve been struggling. Struggling not just to bake cookies, decorat cookies, but honestly even to buy cookies in time for the German Christmas bells on 12/24. And it sucked! Until I decided to lower the expectations I had on Christmas and myself around Christmas. Instead of a list of 25+ things I just HAD to have done and cooked and baked and decorated each Christmas I now prioritized to only 5 things that really bring me and my family joy. They are not the “I should” and “I ought to” on Christmas list. They are of the “I love & enjoy” during Christmas time list. And it really changed up my Christmas spirit and joy during the entire season. Changing my attitude helped me destress and enjoy Christmas with three little ones.
One tradition we love and that calms us down during Christmas is reading Christmas book (yes you guessed right: books that feature multiethnic characters that our kids can identify with and see their friends in). These make great and meaningful gifts for the young readers in your life!
I want to consciously do things during Christmas that bring us joy. So this year like every year, I decided I'm still gonna go for it! Even if it's December 23 till we get to it. We will bake cookies! In honor of my late grandma Omi. So wish us luck!
Why am I writing this? Well this whole Christmas cookie baking reminds me of our passion for making Christmas colorful and multiethnic, which I believe makes its universal message of love more realistic and beautiful. But the adding of splashes of different cultures to our advent celebration didn't come without effort, costs or commitment. Little by little, year by year, I researched for another piece to add to our Christmas tradition, and I think we will continue for years to come.
How do we practically make our advent season multiethnic, stress free and do things that bring us joy, such as reading great multiethnic Christmas books?
1.) I really love a decorated home. So these days I decorate, but only with a few but meaningful pieces (remember I’m aspiring minimalist:) . Such as a table cloth from my mom in Germany, a beautiful nativity scene and lights around the windows. (I'm not the elaborate decorator these days, but even lights around one window and lighting candles during meal times sets the atmosphere of advent so beautifully). And since I'm on my toxic free home trip right now, we are using this vanilla scented toxic free soy candle during almost every meal time and love it so much! Kids are visual and by seeing a mocha colored Mary kneeling by baby Jesus' crib may speak volumes to my little girl of color's heart. (Or if you have a boy of color, why not paint baby Jesus' little face over with a little of your make up bronzer(-: this year?)
2.) To keep it stress free and relaxed I focus on attending only events that are meaningful or joyful (or both:). Let's face it: during Christmas time there are a million parties offered for you to attend or volunteer. But given my children’s bedtime, there are some events that are just not possible with little ones (or teenagers who need sleep too). And let's be real: there is just only a certain amount of events my kids (and my sanity) can take without ending up in a total meltdown on Christmas Day. So I’m not quick to over commit during Christmas time anymore. We pick and choose.
2.) Every year we celebrate with at least one person of a different nationality, country or culture either by inviting them over or celebrating at their house or with them in the community. This year I think we will have guests for Christmas dinner with ethnic backgrounds from France, North Africa, and Cameron.) Celebrating with friends from other cultures helps to incorporate traditions from other cultures! We stay curious and ask our new friends what they do differently in their culture and try to incorporate some. No, we don’t have an array of 35 different ceremonies and treats later out before we unwrap gifts. But every year I try to try a new tradition that stretches our minds, fosters cultural competency and let’s our eyes, hearts, minds and taste buds experience a new diverse taste of Christmas. I found this beautiful Christmas cookie baking book from around the world (see bellow) which also makes a great Christmas gift for little bakers.
3.) Every year we focus on why we celebrate Christmas and decorate the house being conscious of that. For example, we set up our multiethnic nativity scene as a visual reminder of the reason for the season. Well, since my three year old broke Joseph's head the other day I'm thinking about getting this unbreakable nativity scene made in Kenya out of banana leafs for next year. Then I'll glue Joseph's head and put that first nativity high up on the fire place (:
4.) And every year, yes you guessed right, we read multiethnic Christmas story books (see bellow). I would say we read almost exclusively Christmas books that have some kind of element of diversity in them. They are stored in a box all year and then taken out first week of December, like special treasures. Every year I add at least one book to our collection. Some of the books we love reading this year are the following:
MULTIETHNIC CHRISTMAS BOOKS
#1. I think everybody, multicultural minded or not, loves A snowy day by classic author Ezra Keats. His books are just wonderful. A snowy day was the winner way back of the 1963 Caldecott Medal and I believe since hasn't lost its beautiful way of capturing the first snowfall and depicting it with a multiethnic little hero! And this year there is a stamp featuring the snowy day available at the post offices!
#2. Also by popular illustrator/author Ezra Keats(a child of Polish-Jewish immigrants to NY), we love The Drummer Boy. It tells gently the story of the song that just belongs to Christmas and Christmas Eve for us. It's the tale of the little drummer boy and shows in beautiful paintings that indeed he and we all have gifts to bring into this world. I love that the story is profound yet so easy for young children to relate to!
#3. It's one of those classics like the Nutcracker, of which we love this version: "The Nutcracker in Harlem" this year (see bellow)! The book is beautifully written, features a little girl in Harlem that experiences a life changing Christmas and has a very inspirational message for young and old! Made me tear up!
#4. We also love The Third Gift by Korean American Newbery medalist Linda Sue park and Russian illustrator. The story is set in the Middle East and I love how the illustrator draws out the features of the culture and people so beautifully. The book is about a little boy who helps his dad gather resin/'tears' from myrrh trees. Three travelers come and when they buy the largest tear he wonders why one would gift a baby with such an oil that was used for burials... Just a beauty twist on the story of the three magi. The book is for ages 6-9 but my 5 year old understood it well and loved it too. Oh and nerdy, natural stuff loving me especially loves how the book ties in not just a cultural and history lesson but a science lesson on the essential oil myrrh!
#5 This year our friends told us about the beautiful book Tree of Cranes (ages 4-8) by one of our favorite award winning authors Allen Say. As usual I love how Say who came from Japan to California as a teenager ties in with great sensitivity living and loving in two different cultures. And he makes it just so beautiful. He understands how to make the reader want to embrace and imitate your own as well as other cultures!
#6. We also love reading Too many tamales this Christmas. It tells the story of a little girl making tamales with her family on a snowy Christmas Eve. All of a sudden her mom's wedding ring is lost and little Maria tries to help by eating all of the tamales to find it (: This book is super fun, sweet and a lighthearted Christmas read. I love it because it balances out some of the more serious and serene themes. It also shows the loving family ties, shows that it's o.k. to make a mistake. The book also beautifully introduces us to parts of Mexican Christmas tradition. It's also available in Spanish. If you have amazon audio you can actually listen to this book for free and get another book for free bellow!
#7 This is not a picture book, but an early chapter book (Grade 3-5), but I'm adding it her because my 8-year-old absolutely loves it (: Changes for Addy: A Winter Story. This winter story continues the journey of Addy and her family, who have escaped from slavery, and live in Philadelphia just before and after the end of the Civil War. We love the author and her authentic voice that takes you back in time and even depicts the hard parts which such beauty and grace. Addy makes learning history fun and in my eyes adds just the right dose of authenticity and fun for elementary kids.
#8 All of my kids (3,5,8 years) also really enjoy Nine days to Christmas: A Story of Mexico. This picture book was the 1960 Caldecott Medal winner for a reason! It so beautifully takes the readers into the traditional Mexican tradition of the nine-day yuletide celebration which is such a sweet tradition for children to learn about. Everything about this book says "keeper"!
#9. My 5 and 8 year olds learnt so much when we were reading Christmas Around the World. This book is not a story book but has many pictures and features quite a few countries (Ethiopia, Philippines, France, Sweden, Germany, Canada, Guatemala, Mexico and more) and two pages are each given to explain unique Christmas traditions. I like how the traditions are explained in historical context and also put into a global perspective. In many instances the book lays out how Christmas traditions spread from one country to the next and how different cultures brought their rich heritage with them. For example, I learnt a lot of new things about Canada and that turkeys were first brought to Great Britain by North American colonists. Some of the traditions listed in the book may not apply to all areas of the country. For example my niece told me most households in Great Britain don't do some of the traditions listed and I too had never heard of some of the traditions (and even terms!) listed for Germany, but I figured that the editor may not have been familiar with the great regional differences in some of the countries (for example, people in Northern Germany have quite different Christmas traditions than in south Germany). But I think it's fine (: The book is still a fun introduction and also has craft ideas for the craft loving folks of us.
#10. One book that I've been eyeing for a while and finally got this year is "The Christmas Coat: memories of my Sioux childhood" by Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve. One reason I love this book is because I love supporting authors of Native American descent and their rich heritage. This one is amazing to read during the advent time. As the title says, this gem introduces our little readers to a Native American little girl and who hopes for a new 'second hand' coat. It teaches our kids much about gratefulness but also about Hope. This wonderful book won the picture book award from the American Indian Library Association and deserves a VIP spot in all kids libraries.
#11 We loved reading An African Christmas. This photo book explains in a very engaging and sweet way the Nigerian tradition of Mmo. Your child will hear the story of a little boy, Afam, who starts collecting items and is excited to make and dance his own Mmo, or masquerade. The book shows African city and village life during Christmas time, depicts loving family bonds and shows differences and similarities of cultures, both equally beautiful.
#12 will definitely be reserved for the audio version of Have Fun Anna Hibiscus!!! We love this series of the little African hero with her charming accent that always knows how to make my kids and me laugh. You can listen to a FREE sample here:
And if you have amazon audio it's actually free! Bellow is a free trial that gives you two books. If you don't like audible you can cancel it anytime (:
The paperback version of Anna Hibiscus s also very affordable and I believe Anna Hibiscus just belongs in any multicultural kids home library! This winter book tells of Anna Hibiscus' adventure as she leaves her home in Africa and visits her grandmother in Canada, in the snow! Reading Anna H. always gets my kids and me in a good mood, no matter how cold it is!
#13 Is Amhal and the night visitors. My friend shared this favorite with me that brings her to tears she said and though I haven't read it yet I can't wait to check it out! It's actually an opera in one act by Gian Carlo Menotti and was first performed by the NBC Opera Theatre way back on December 24, 1951. Its children's book version is such a beautifully illustrated story of a poor, crippled sheppherd boy who lives with his widowed mother and experiences the miracle of love when they are visited by three trailers.
#14. This book "A child is born" is such a beautiful depiction of the Christmas story for little ones by the famous author of "Good Night Moon". The pictures are stunning, the holy family is of African American descent and the wise men are of European, African and Asian descent. I'm so sad to see this is out of print. But you can still snatch a used copy of this picture book for your little ones to one day pass down to theirs on amazon.
#15. "A child is born" has a similar content as the beautiful "Who built the stable", an African American Christmas Story. This one has more bright colors but a beautiful message and again the holy family and the little shepherd boy who built the stable and figures the little baby will become a carpenter and shepherd too one day(: Author of color Ashley Brown won multiple awards including the Coretta Scott King award and the Laura Ingalls Wilder award for her capturing writing!
#16 As my latest and bonus recommendation is this sweet book: "Mim's Christmas Jam". It's the story of a fun Christmas tradition and a deep family bond. The story is by husband and wife team who are also authors of color (:
#17 Is my latest find (you see this is a growing list!) and a book I'm super excited about. This book is a collection of 6 poems by none other than poet and writer Langston Hughes (teamed with award winning illustrator Ashley Bryan), such an important leader in the Harlem Renaissance! Hughes poetry now finally in Christmas form and for little ones (3-17yrs), and ...beautiful: "Three Wise Men / One dark like me / Part of His / Nativity... They did not travel in an airplane / They did not travel by car / they did not travel on a streamline train / They traveled on foot from afar / They travelled on foot from afar."
I'm curious: What are some of your families Christmas traditions? Please leave a comment on what you are doing this year!
Bellow are a few more Christmas picture books and pictures you may enjoy! For even more ideas on traditions and books see my last post on Saint Nicholas and more books and ideas.
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Enjoy reading & eating cookies! (:
In the Christmas Spirit,
Ps: Oh and here are three German cookies you must try this year!
Educator, writer, bookworm and mama of three. A lover of all things nature, diversity & healthy.
"Education is nothing else than discovery.
And discovery full of diversity is beautiful."
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About the author
My name is Nancy. I'm a teacher, home educator, wife, mother, writer and accidental German-Ghanaian transplant to the U.S., in love with California and all things diversity.