I don’t know what it is about the holidays that makes everyone so damn nostalgic. Maybe it’s the prospect of a whole new haul of stuff that has us remembering our spoiled-brat pasts. Or maybe it’s a cold-weather coping mechanism, a sparkly distraction to keep our minds off the looming threat of sub-zero temps and Seasonal Affective Disorder.
Or maybe I’m just being a Scrooge (oy, I’m getting old) — maybe people get all saccharine around the holidays because this is truly The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year. (Whether it’s some magical spark in the air or just the impressive work of a worldwide marketing ploy remains to be seen). There is something incredibly satisfying about donning a fleece-lined onesie, getting drunk on eggnog and/or Manischewitz, and forgetting you’re an adult for just a few days while snuggling up at your parents’ home (which always has the best-stocked pantry).
I, too, have fallen victim to the shameless proliferation of holiday cheer, which makes this the perfect time/excuse to revisit some of my favorite holiday-centric picture books. Snuggle up with this stack of beautiful, illustrated reads, and soak up the warm-and-fuzzy vibes — hot toddy buzz not required.
The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg
I distinctly remember having The Polar Express read to me in kindergarten, sitting criss-cross applesauce in my cozy, colorful classroom as the flurries fell outside. Reading this book now brings me back to that time and place: a time when laundry and grocery shopping belonged to that the vague territory Mom tread while I was at school; a time when, had I not been raised Jewish and blessed with a healthy dose of innate cynicism, I could've very well believed in the truth of this enchanted North-bound train. If you don't fancy a visit to the uncanny valley, skip the creepy movie version and go right for Chris Van Allsburg's cherished book.
Light the lights!: A Story About Celebrating Hanukkah & Christmas by Margaret Moorman
Light The Lights! was a staple holiday read in my house. When it snowed, my sister and I would recreate cover girl Emma's dreamy pose, stationed between her blended family's glowing menorah and spangled Christmas tree — albeit minus the tree for the Goldstein girls.
The Snowman by Raymond Briggs
Raymond Briggs' classic, wordless story brings the magic of a snowy day to life; and these hushed, soothing illustrations offer us jaded grown-ups a much-needed dose of warmth and cheer after bitching about slushy sidewalk snow and our ruined leather boots (RIP, Sam Edelman Chelsea boots).
The Mitten by Jan Brett
Jan Brett's charming illustrations are like an enchanted Norwegian fairytale come to life. Pay close attention to the ornate, birch-paneled borders, which feature cute mitten cutouts and offer cheeky hints about the folktale's next scene.
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, Illustrated by Brett Helquist
No one does full-on Christmas nostalgia better than the English; and no one does archetypal Victorians in all their alternately carol-singing/death-celebrating morbid glory than that quintessential British writer Charles Dickens. Brett Helquist's expressive, graphic-novel-esque illustrations provide a refreshingly modern complement to this canonical tale.
Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins by Eric A. Kimmel
Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins is Goth shtetl lore at its best: it tells the tale of Hershel of Ostropol, a fearless villager who rids the haunted synagogue of the wicked goblins that forbid the townspeople from celebrating Hanukkah. Just like Ghost Hunters , with yarmulkes.
The Legend of Old Befana by Tomie Depaola
The Legend of Old Befana is this beloved author's interpretation of an old-school Italian tale. The eccentric Befana is a "cranky old lady" who lives on the outskirts of the village; and, come Twelfth Night, she hops on her broomstick, flies over the town, and leaves cakes and gifts for the sleeping children. DePaola's earthy illustrations feels like stepping into your Nonna's hearth-warmed kitchen.
The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
Remember when snow was a phenomenon we actually wished for? When snow meant the possibility of sweet school-less freedom and painless pratfalls and a really killer snowman? Ezra Jack Keats' story recreates the excitement of the season's first snow, while his inspired, moddish artwork keeps things fresh and cool.
Christmas In The Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder
If I could teleport myself into any one book, I would likely choose this one. Christmas in the Big Woods is pure outdoorsy Americana at its coziest. I'd kill to chow down on Ma's gingerbread pancakes and maple candy, and I still covet Laura's super-cute calico doll. (Yeah, I still collect dolls, but that's neither here nor there.) And to all you Bristlr members or member-hopefuls: check out Pa's glorious golden beard. That's some facial hair I can get behind.
The Winter Book by Rotraut Susanne Berner
The Winter Book is a magnificent celebration of this freezing season, a collection of stories, songs, and poems that reflect on, commemorate, and praise winter cultures around the world. Although winter is probably the most dreaded of the seasons — at least in this hemisphere — The Winter Book is an elegant reminder of the season's subdued, if frigid, beauty.
The Nutcracker by Susan Jeffers
Yeah, it's super-sappy and kind of antiquated, but somehow, The Nutcracker never ceases to charm our collective celebrants year after year. Jeffers' version of the timeless ballet lets the classical illustrations take center stage, with minimal lines of text interfering with the charming images.
The Shortest Day: Celebrating The Winter Solstice by Wendy Pfeffer
Ever wondered what the winter solstice actually is, like, scientifically? Wendy Pfeffer's book can tell you in a way you can be sure to understand (this is a children's book, remember), while also taking a look at how ancient and foreign cultures mark this astronomical phenomenon. This informative tale also features the coziest, snuggliest illustrations you have ever seen: a perfect complement to your eggnog-and-flannel-onesie-warmed cocoon of holiday deliciousness.
How The Grinch Stole Christmas! by Dr. Seuss
What would the holidays be without everyone's favorite grumpy green monster? If you are like me and are irrevocably creeped out by the movie version of Dr. Seuss' festive tale (Jim Carrey's eerie pug-nose is just too real), go old-school and actually read the story instead. There's never a bad time to read a Dr. Seuss book, but the holidays basically require a revisit to this perennial favorite.
Frozen Little Golden Book by RH Disney
You may not be so hardcore as to fashion your wedding dress after Disney's infamous cold-weather princesses. But I know you won't be able to resist flipping through this Frozen Little Golden Book, even if your curiosity is fueled by horror rather than delight. Whether you're into the hype or hate the hype or have numbed to a plateau, Frozen is a pure celebration of chilly Northern climes, making this the perfect time to indulge in your bad Disney habit. And there's something about that darling gilded binding that makes every Little Golden Book feel like a sweet lil' bundle of joy.
Latkes and Applesauce: A Hanukkah Story by Fran Manushkin
Think of this as your all-purpose Hanukkah handbook: in addition to a sweet story about Rebecca and Ezra Menashe's family celebration, Latkes and Applesauce includes the legend of Hanukkah; a latke recipe; and the rules of dreidl. And I always imagine a shtetl-born babuschka reading the story's introduction: "Do you like to eat latkes and applesauce on Hanukkah? Who but a fool would say no to such a question!"
Image: Will Montague/flickr