I own a collection of beautifully illustrated children’s books, some from childhood and others I’ve collected throughout the years. I seem to be especially drawn to those about the holidays that occur this time of year.

What I love about these books is that the stories are charming, the endings typically happy, and it’s hard to not feel good after reading one of them on my own or to a curious and delighted child.  Plus, they are often colorfully and beautifully illustrated. I send books to my nieces and nephews and to friends’ children. Books are lasting, and what better way to share the joy of this season than by giving a book that represents the timelessness of the holiday.

I also like to browse in bookstores during this time of year, sometimes buying; sometimes not, but the sheer numbers of books that are available for people of all ages create excitement and a sense of wonder. I’ve gotten immersed in various versions of The NutcrackerThe Night Before ChristmasThe Polar Express, an exquisitely illustrated version of Robert Frost’s Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening,  and several that tell the story of a miracle that happened more than two thousand years ago that caused a light to burn for eight days instead of one and created the Jewish holiday of Chanukah.  Then there are the picture books and photography books that show gardens and parks in their splendor, books from arboretums and conservatories and nature preserves. If you want a sense of how beautiful the season is, take a look at one of those.

Curious about how cultures unlike my own celebrate the holidays, I’ve read books about Kwanzaa, the festival that recognizes the African diaspora and pays homage to African unity, heritage and culture in the United States and other countries; and Diwali, the Indian festival of lights, to name two. What strikes me is that all the holidays, however diverse, share one major theme:  the lighting of candles and the emphasis on light. Our lives certainly are made brighter during these short, dark days.

Some years we decorate a little more, sometimes less, depending on our schedule and our inclination. Without fail, each year around this time I put the coffee table books away and retrieve those we’ve lovingly collected over many years that represent the holidays. They’re pretty, yes, but it’s also a pleasure to reread and revisit them each year to help get into the spirit of the season.

I’m attracted to the books because they make me feel good. The messages of hope and redemption, the miracles we don’t think about much at other times, the beautiful and colorful illustrations and sometimes, even, the music and recipes that accompany them. There’s something in each that inspires me and causes me to reflect upon what this time of year really represents.

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