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If you’ve browsed holiday picture books, you know there are a LOT to choose from. But if you’re looking for Christmas books not about Santa or presents, weeeeellll….your options shrink considerably.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not anti-Santa or anti-presents. Some of our favorite Christmas picture books feature Mr. Claus and gift-giving quite prominently: titles like Bear Stays Up for Christmas, Construction Site on Christmas Night, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Dasher, and Santa Claus, the World’s Number One Toy Expert.
But though I do want to keep these beloved books in our collection, I have found myself wondering: at what point am I reinforcing to my kids that mass consumption is the main point of the holiday season?
I’ve thus been on the lookout for books that highlight the spirit and magic of the Christmas season — peace on earth, goodwill to others, joy in the simple things.
Here are eight heartfelt Christmas books not about Santa or presents
This book features both a sweet storyline and beautiful illustrations.
It’s the story of a pair of cardinals who live in a mighty evergreen tree.
One winter, Red and Lulu get separated when Red leaves to find food and returns just in time to see their tree being hauled off to Rockefeller Center in New York.
The rest of the story follows Red around the city as he tries to find Lulu.
The opening lines from “O Christmas Tree” pop up a few times and I always sing that part, which my kids love.
We also love poring over the gorgeous pictures of different New York City icons.
Every once in a while, you find one of those picture books that moves you to tears.
This was one of those for me. My boys are at the age where they find it hilarious that stories have such an effect on me, so they cracked up while I choked up.
The story features Al Rosen, “a Jewish man who loved Christmas.”
One Christmas Eve Al walks past the corner newsstand and asks the clerk, his friend Clarence, why he’s not home with his family.
When Clarence explains that his boss is making him work, Al offers to finish his shift as a Christmas mitzvah — “a good deed. But also a commandment. What God wants.”
And so begins many years of Al and his family carrying out Christmas mitzvahs. When you finish up this book, you’ll feel warm and fuzzy and inspired to go out and be a force for good in the world.
Your kiddo probably needs to be at least 5 to enjoy this one, but from there on out, definitely worthy of reading each December.
This Christmas story hits on several great themes: kindness, appreciation of other cultures, the power of love to connect us even when we’re apart.
Tessa, who lives in the U.S., draws a picture of Christmas fairies for her grandmother in South Africa.
She then pops the envelope in the mail with fairy stickers in place of stamps and with an address reading simply, “Ouma. Cape Town. South Africa.”
The reader will cheer as stranger after stranger passes along the letter, despite it having “no name. No street. And NO stamps.”
The illustrations, which are gorgeous, include dashed lines that show the path of the letter from Minnesota all the way to South Africa — little ones will love tracing the path with their fingers and seeing the number of miles the letter has traveled.
I know the author of this story and got to see this book in draft form, and I’m excited this story is now out in the world for others to enjoy!
This is a sweet, beautiful book that makes you appreciate the little things.
There are two threads to the story: the main one is a little snowflake journeying to earth. She doesn’t want to fall and wonders if she’ll ever find a place to land.
The other thread features a little girl named Noelle who admires a gorgeous Christmas tree through a window and wishes she had one like it.
We don’t find out why her family doesn’t have a Christmas tree, but it’s implied they can’t afford one. Instead, Noelle settles for a single pine branch she finds on the street, declaring it her own little tree.
The two stories come together when Noelle realizes the thing missing from her tree is a star at the top.
The writing style of this book drew in both my kids and me, and Noelle’s joy over her simple tree is a powerful message about appreciating beauty wherever we can find it.
This holiday classic is the fun rhyming story of a too-tall Christmas tree that’s lopped off at the top again and again, becoming Christmas trees for many homes.
We read this one every year and it’s easy to see why it’s a favorite of so many families.
I’m pairing these two books because they’re both told from point of view of a wonky Christmas trees no one wants.
Both stories end happily — the tree that’s meant to be becomes a part of the forest animals’ celebration and the Christmas Eve tree becomes the focal point for a celebration among a group of people experiencing homelessness.
If you’re looking for a gentle way to start a conversation with your kids about poverty and what that might mean at this time of year, The Christmas Eve Tree is a gem.)
This book follows the story of another pine tree who becomes a Christmas tree.
What’s unique here is the many years over which the story takes place — we see a little boy plant the tiny little sapling, then see that same character beside the tree as a man with his own child and again with his grandchildren.
You really start feeling attached to the tree, and realize how much trees become can fixtures in our families and communities.
(Along a similar theme, Big Tree Down is a non-holiday book our family has read over and over again).
Nearing the end of its life, the giant tree goes out with a bang, becoming everybody’s tree when it reigns over the town square at Christmas time.
If you want to celebrate the spirit of the season without materialism, these are the books for you! I hope you find a new favorite.