Book-reading traditions to celebrate the holidays

Book-reading traditions to celebrate the holidays

In For the Love of Reading by Alison Doherty

Book-reading traditions to celebrate the holidays

Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, nothing, everything, or maybe Festivus, there are lots of ways to bring books and reading into your holiday traditions. From gift-giving to annual rituals, here are a few options for bringing a love of reading into your holiday season.

1. Give books as gifts

Giving books — or a reading subscription like Scribd — as gifts is an easy way to celebrate reading. Propose a Secret Santa book swap with friends or a book club, host a books-only white elephant party, or make giving books a yearly part of your family gift giving. Chronicling how books play a major role in her family’s Hanukkah celebrations, writer and editor Sarah Jane Singer says, “Ever since I was a kid, books have been a big part of our Hanukkah celebrations. One of the eight nights was always dedicated to gifts of books and/or bookstore gift cards. Nothing says Hanukkah to me like lighting the menorah, eating latkes, playing a game of dreidel, and curling up with the book I’ve just been gifted by a loved one.”

While it’s more common to have Advent Calendars filled with tiny treats or chocolates, why not make one out of books? You could buy 24 books and unwrap one each day. Or, for a more affordable literary option, you could find a classic Christmas story or write your own and break it up into smaller pieces. If 24 days of this feels like too much, you could always use the same idea for the 12 days of Christmas from December 12 – 24 instead.

2. Celebrate an Icelandic tradition

In Iceland, Jólabókaflóðið is also known as the book flood. It started as a Christmas tradition during World War II, where books are given as gifts on Christmas Eve and then read late into the night while drinking hot chocolate. In the last few years, people around the world have started participating as well. Theresa Burton, an educator, freelance editor, and manuscript reviewer for Blackstone Publishing, adopted this tradition in her family. “Every Christmas Eve, my partner and I exchange books in the afternoon. Then we get into pajamas, make hot cocoa, and read by the fire,” she says. “We’ll pause occasionally to share bits of the story, enact a particularly interesting scene, or share funny moments.”

You don’t have to celebrate Christmas to participate in the book flood. Navdeep Singh Dhillon, author of the upcoming Sunny G’s Series of Rash Decisions, recounted how despite not celebrating Christmas, his family began taking part in Jólabókaflóðið after his bookish eleven-year-old daughter heard about the tradition. “For a few years now we make a huge bookmas tree and go to the bookshop to buy books,” he says. “Then we bake some probably inauthentic Nordic cookies and quietly read until the wee hours of the night. The longest my daughter lasted was almost 1 a.m.!”

3. Read aloud 

Another tradition is to choose a holiday book or poem to read aloud as a family, or listen to on audiobook every year. Some options include Letters from Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien, A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry, The Hanukkah Magic of Nate Gadol by Arthur A. Levine, Seven Candles for Kwanzaa by Andrea Davis, or Poetry for the Winter Season.

About the Author: Alison Doherty

Alison is a writing teacher and part time assistant professor living in Brooklyn, New York. She has an MFA from The New School in writing for children and teenagers. She loves writing about books on the Internet, listening to audiobooks on her way to work, and reading anything with a twisty plot or a happily ever after.