What Are Some Traditional Holiday Books for Kids?

Traditional holiday books work on a number of levels. One the one hand, they instruct. I remember learning about the true meaning of Christmas by leafing through an old copy of “Twas the Night Before Christmas” and to this day my holiday season feels incomplete without a recitation of this classic. These books don’t just educate, they entertain. Traditional holiday books are the best way for parents to pass on their own holiday tradition to children, and they make the perfect gift for newborn babies all the way up to adults with kids of their own.

One benefit of these books is that they work in all settings. If your kids are too young to read a book by themselves, you can enjoy some special time with them by reading the book out loud to them. Rather than planting your kid in front of the television, consider stocking up on traditional holiday books to fill down time. These days, “traditional” books means everything from old classic stories up to modern day takes on the holiday season. Spread your family traditions, or start new ones, with some of these books.

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Traditional Christmas Books for Kids

Growing up, my family was very traditional about Christmas. Less an emphasis on presents and commercialism, Christmas was a time to enjoy family and friends, warm fires, and family traditions. Though most of the books we read (and even the music we listened to) during Christmas was traditional in nature, every now and then a “new classic” would make it to the list. Christmas is most likely your kid’s favorite time of year already — why not liven it up even more by sharing some of your favorite Christmas books or some of the best-loved Christmas book traditions from around the world? Here’s just a few classic pieces of Christmas literature.

  • ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, Clement Clarke Moore — The most traditional of traditional holiday books, ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas is an oldie but a goodie. Full of silly rhymes and promises of goodies to come make this a favorite among kids, and once you get into the habit of reading it every Christmas, it will be a favorite of yours too. The traditional title of this book is “A Visit from St. Nicholas”.
  • A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens — Endlessly rehashed, rewritten, and made into any number of terrible films, this classic novella tells the story of a miser who has an opportunity to change his ways. Read a little bit of this story every night in the days leading up to Christmas. Your kids will have a special memory for the rest of their lives.
  • The Polar Express, Chris Van Allsburg — This “new classic” (published in 1985) was made into an animated feature in recent years, but nothing surpasses the original. Beautiful illustrations that have a calming effect on parents and kids sit alongside a story that’s built to please.

Traditional Halloween Books for Kids


Children don’t need a reason to get excited about Halloween — any situation that leads to candy will pique their interest. But with so many TV specials and movies about Halloween, it is nice to get your kid’s eyes off the screen and onto a book every now and then. Some parents take issue with Halloween. They consider it a pagan tradition. Still other parents think of Trick or Treating as dangerous — rumors abound of candy tainted with poison or broken glass. This is a good time for parents to help educate their kids about what Halloween is and how to enjoy it safely.

  • Celebrate Halloween (with Pumpkins, Costumes, and Candy), Deborah Heiligman — To help your kids understand the cultural value of Halloween (and to have some decent recipes and ideas for Halloween goodies around) pick up this edition of the National Geographic Holidays Around the World series. This book is full of information and full-color photos.
  • What Was I Scared Of? Dr. Seuss — Dr. Seuss is a favorite in the world of traditional holiday books. This text is not exactly Halloween-centered, but can provide your kids a lesson in how to deal with fear. Complete with the kinds of illustrations you expect from a Seuss text, make this short book a part of your family’s annual Halloween tradition.
  • The Berenstain Bears Trick or Trick, Stan Berenstain — This book works on two levels by telling the story of a pair of siblings out Trick or Treating without parental guidance for the first time while also instructing your kids on not judging people by their appearance. The Berenstain Bears were a favorite of mine as a kid, and this book teaches Halloween safety without being too preachy.

Traditional Thanksgiving Books for Kids

Thanksgiving books for children are not as popular or prevalent as books about Christmas or Halloween, but play an important role in a child’s understanding and appreciation of the founding of our country. What kids learn in school about Thanksgiving is not always accurate or interesting. I remember sitting through a boring “lecture” about pilgrims and Plymouth Rock and pretty much drowning it all out in favor of the cool pictures in the history book of Indians and piles of delicious food. Thanksgiving is really misunderstood among children, so pick up one of these books to educate and entertain your kids this next November.

  • Jamestown, James E. Knight — The story of Jamestown is told to two children by “an original colonist”. This book tries to highlight all the big points of American history as they relate to Thanksgiving and Jamestown. This is a fairly serious book with beautiful illustrations.
  • If You Sailed on the Mayflower in 1620, Ann McGovern — This is a question-and-answer style book meant to teach kids what happened on the journey from England to America. This book presents some fairly heavy concepts, like the Mayflower Compact, alongside more light-hearted tales.
  • The Night Before Thanksgiving, Natasha Wing — If you and your kids love Twas the Night Before Christmas, pick up this Thanksgiving-themed imitation.

Nothing says “tradition” like a book the whole family loves. Make some appropriate snacks (pumpkin cookies for Halloween, wassail for Christmas, etc) and share your favorite traditional holiday books with your family. Maybe one day they’ll continue the tradition with a family of their own.