The World in Multicolour

Christmas Around the World

in: Cultural diversity

Lantana Christmas LogoChristmas is such as special time of year predominantly because for most of us, it is rooted in the traditions that we share with our family and friends. These traditions differ between countries but also between individual families and communities within the same country. How many times have you heard someone exclaim: “you wait until when to open your presents?” or “what do you mean you don’t eat brussel sprouts!?” In the spirit of celebrating cultural diversity and the unique ways we all celebrate Christmas, we have put together some facts about the Yuletide season from a selection of countries from around the globe.

Christmas countries around the world Nnedi Okorafor Mehrdokht Amini Jeremy Pailler Tutu Dutta


Nigeriaikini ọdun keresimesi

Many parts of Nigeria are now predominantly Catholic and so celebrate Christmas with as much ardour as their counterparts in the UK. In Nigeria, the Christmas celebrations often centre on communal feasts, and weeks before the big day, people buy the livestock – hens, turkeys, goats and cows – that they will eventually be eating at Christmas. The animals are slaughtered on Christmas Eve and traditional meals are then prepared. Forget brussel sprouts and roast potatoes – in Yorùbáland, these festive meals will include pounded yam accompanied by peppery stewed vegetables.

Yams Nigeria Yoruba Christmas Chicken in the Kitchen Nnedi Okorafor Mehrdokht Amini

As they visit their family and friends, many people in Nigeria will find themselves eating virtually the same meal three or four times – Yorùbán customs deign it extremely rude to decline food when it is offered to you. This is actually a sentiment that is felt strongly the world over: anybody remember Dawn French eating multiple Christmas dinners in the classic episode of The Vicar of Dibley?

The author of Chicken in the Kitchen, Nnedi Okorafor, is US/Nigerian of Igbo heritage and her award-winning picture book explores Anyaugo’s hilarious encounter with an enormous, and very mischievous, chicken on the eve of the New Yam Festival.


MalaysiaSelamat Hari Natal

As in many countries, Malaysians really only celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve. It’s a busy time of year for Malaysia and no sooner are the elaborate Christmas decorations taken down, then it’s time for New Year, quickly followed by Chinese New Year. Malaysians, like many people in the UK, flock to shopping malls over Christmas, New Year and Chinese New Year and these centres compete with each other to display the most ostentatious decorations. As it is warm in Malaysia over the Christmas period, literally hundreds of people will show up to witness the magic of ‘snow’ falling in public places – even if this is normally made from a soap-like substance! Given the unseasonably warm weather in the UK this year, we may have to resort to soap-snow ourselves.


Malaysia shopping mall Christmas Tutu Dutta Martina Peluso Phoenix Song


Tutu Dutta was born in India and raised in Malaysia. Her picture book, Phoenix Song, is set in the rustling bamboo groves of Malaysia, home to the mythical Chinese phoenix, Cendrawasih.

Christmas wreath

Iranکریسمس مبارک

Although Iran is a predominantly Muslim country where Christians make up only 1% of the country’s approximate population, Al-Monitor reports that over the past decade, celebrating Christmas has become increasingly popular with the younger generation of Iranians. That said, Christmas trees and decorations are sold as luxury items and can be very expensive! Old scrooges in the UK are often heard to moan at the exorbitant price of Christmas decorations but in Iran, a two-metre tree can fetch up to $1000, while even smaller artificial trees can sell for $100. During the Christmas season, these trees can be seen twinkling from the windows of Tehran and other provinces in the north-west of the country. Although this all sounds fairly familiar, the main difference between a British and an Iranian Christmas is that the Armenian Church celebrates Christmas on January 6th, the date of Epiphany in the UK.

Mehrdokht Amini lives in the UK but has Iranian roots. Her unique and vivid illustrations for Chicken in the Kitchen bring alive the colourful New Yam festival in Nigeria.


France joyeux Noël

Although France is just across the Channel, there are many differences between a traditional British and a traditional French Christmas. Intriguing food-related French traditions which may be unfamiliar to our UK readers include sprinkling a log with red wine on Christmas Eve to create an aromatic festive burning smell and in some parts of France, eating thirteen different desserts made from fruit, nuts and pastry.

Epiphany is also important in France and is often celebrated by eating a flat almond cake named ‘Galette des Rois’ (or ‘Cake of the Kings’). This cake normally has a toy crown inside (better watch those fillings!) and is decorated on top with a gold paper crown – a similar custom to burying a five pence coin in your Christmas pudding.

Galette des Rois Epiphany France Christmas Dragon Dancer Jeremey Pailler Joyce Chng

rémy Pailler, the illustrator of Dragon Dancer, hails from France and his evocative picture book conjures up the magic of many traditional Chinese New Year customs.


So while you’re decorating your tree and tucking into your turkey or nut roast, you can picture the customs that characterise Christmas in many other households around the world. And to further celebrate diversity in the New Year, all our multicultural picture books mentioned are available to purchase from our website:

Merry Christmas everybody!


Photo Credits:
Nigeria – Picture taken by Leslie Seaton, available from Flickr:
Malaysia – Picture taken by Wohin Auswandern,available from Flickr:
France – Picture taken by Audrey Xavier Brulu, available from Flickr:

A Christmas reading list – for you and your child

in: Children's books

With the festive season approaching, I thought I would offer you some suggestions for Christmas reading for the holidays – one book for you, and one for your child. Although I love my constant diet of children’s books, I also know the secret pleasure of reading an adult book once in a while (and by adult I don’t mean X-rated!). So below, I have paired each of our diverse picture books with a diverse adult title so that you and your child can explore the world together this Christmas.


Chicken in the Kitchen Cover Nnedi Okorafor Mehrdokht AminiFor your child –

Chicken in the Kitchen by Nnedi Okorafor and Mehrdokht Amini

What would you do if you woke up one night to find the shadow of a giant chicken passing your bedroom door? Go and investigate of course! A hugely entertaining look at the fascinating masquerade culture of West Africa, from the perspective of a plucky young Nigerian girl who finds the courage to protect the traditions she loves.

It was so much fun publishing this fun and feisty take on Nigerian culture – a book the author herself has described as ‘a story is full of nonsense, magic, mischief, culture, spirits and there’s a giant dramatic chicken in it’ – which just about sums it up!

For you –

Lagoon by Nnedi OkoraforLagoon by Nnedi Okorafor

Three strangers, isolated by their own problems: Adaora, the marine biologist. Anthony, the world-famous rapper. Agu, the troubled soldier. Wandering Bar Beach in Lagos, Nigeria’s largest city, they’re more alone than they’ve ever been before. But when a meteorite hits the ocean and a tidal wave overcomes them, these three people will find themselves bound together in ways they’ve never imagined…

This latest adult book from the multi-talented Nnedi Okorafor is packed full of action, adrenaline and suspense, as well as Nnedi’s signature blend of Afrocentric magic, science fiction and lore. I loved the African dialects, the intimate geography of Lagos, and Nnedi’s completely new (and rather wacky!) take on her ancestral homeland.


Phoenix Song Cover Tutu Dutta Martina PelusoFor your child –

Phoenix Song by Tutu Dutta and Martina Peluso

Arohan is desperate for a guitar. What eight year old boy isn’t? So when Arohan’s grandmother gives him a plain old bamboo flute for his birthday, he is understandably a little upset. But the xiao is steeped in the myths and legends of China and has its own special magic, as Arohan is soon to discover. A touching and courageous story of a young boy’s love for his family and the magical things that can happen when you listen to your heart.

This beautifully illustrated adventure story infused with Malaysian mythology is a peon to protecting the environment, to the power of music in a child’s life, and to the importance of family. A multi-layered story with a courageous mixed-race hero whom children, according to literacy expert Marjorie Coughlan, ‘will completely take to their hearts’.

Iban Dream by Golda MoweFor you –

Iban Dream by Golda Mowe

Orphaned as a young boy in the rainforests of Borneo, Bujang is brought up by a family of orangutans, but his adult future has already been decided for him by Sengalang Burong, the Iban warpath god. On reaching adulthood, Bujang must leave his ape family and serve the warpath god as a warrior and a headhunter…conversing with gods, shamans, animal spirits and the nomadic people of Borneo as he battles evil spirits and demons to preserve the safety of those he holds dear to him…

I loved this rich and detailed novel that blends the beliefs of the Indigenous longhouse-dwelling Iban peoples of Borneo (of whom Golda Mowe is one) with the epic story arc of quest fantasy. An all-too-rare glimpse into traditions and customs that are fast disappearing, wrapped up in a wonderful, action-packed adventure story.


Dragon Dancer Cover ImageFor your child –

Dragon Dancer by Joyce Chng and Jérémy Pailler

It is the eve of Chinese New Year. Lanterns are hung in the shopping malls of Singapore and Yao is preparing to wake the ancient sky dragon, Shen Long, from his year-long sleep. A beautiful story of a Chinese festival and its symbolism for Chinese communities everywhere, told from the perspective of Yao, the dragon dancer.

When popular blogger, ReadItDaddy, described this picture book as ‘utterly stunning’, we were delighted that our gut instincts had been right – that Dragon Dancer is one truly special book. With evocative language and gorgeous illustrations, it explores in intimate detail Yao’s evolving relationship with a dragon that may or may not be real.

Silver Phoenix by Cindy PonFor you –

Silver Phoenix by Cindy Pon

Ai Ling can see into other people’s minds and reach into their spirits. But she doesn’t know why this power has awakened inside her; she only knows that it is growing. Chen Yong has a quest of his own, but then his path crosses Ai Ling’s, and there’s a connection so strong that neither can ignore it. Together they embark on an epic journey – facing terrifying demons and battling through treacherous lands. It is their destiny. But can destiny keep them together?

I am cheating a little here since this action-packed Chinese historical fantasy is a young adult novel rather than an adult one. However, I hope it will keep the adults amongst us sufficiently entertained since it is chock full of monsters, demons and romance – a romp of a read – while retaining an intriguing level of detail about eastern spirituality and historical Chinese customs.


Looking for Lord Ganesh Mahtab Narsimhan Sonja WimmerFor your child –


Looking for Lord Ganesh by Mahtab Narsimhan and Sonja Wimmer

Anika has recently emigrated from India and is having a difficult time adjusting to life in a new country – not to mention life in a new school. Taking to the internet, she searches for Lord Ganesh, the Hindu elephant god, to help her solve her problems. But does Lord Ganesh truly help her, or has she been relying on her own inner wisdom all along? A sweet and witty story about staying true to one’s beliefs and finding strength in unlikely places.

This brilliant contemporary story is designed for a generation who will grow up with technology at their fingertips. Full of authentic Hindu wisdom communicated through fun and quirky illustrations, this book explores a young girl’s attempts to pray to Ganesh, the enormously popular elephant god, and the heart-warming resolution that results.

Pre-order your copy here!

The Mistress of Spices by Chitra Banerjee DivakaruniFor you –

The Mistress of Spices by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Tilo, an immigrant from India, runs a spice shop in Oakland, California. While she supplies the ingredients for curries and kormas, she also helps her customers to gain a more precious commodity: whatever they most desire. For Tilo is a Mistress of Spices, a priestess of the secret magical powers of spices…

This is one of my all-time favourite books. Gorgeously evocative, and with beautiful, soaring prose, it is an intimate portrait of human desires – from the mundane to the all-encompassing – suffused with detailed Indian imagery. Exquisite and magical – a book that is sure to bring some exotic heat to this wintry season.


For your child –

The Jasmine Sneeze by Nadine Kaadan*SNEAK PEEK!*

The Jasmine Sneeze by Nadine Kaadan

Haroun, the cat, likes nothing better than to spend his days sleeping in the sunlit courtyards of Damascus. But one thing always ruins his sleep: jasmine! Haroun can’t stand the sweet-scented flowers. Their pollen sends him into fits of sneezes! So one day, Haroun hatches a plan to fix the problem. But little does he know that in doing so he deeply angers the Jasmine Spirit who plans her revenge in her own crafty and hilarious way…

When award-winning Syrian author/illustrator Nadine Kaadan approached us with this story, we jumped at the chance to publish it. Not only does it provide a unique glimpse into Syria’s rich cultural heritage in a period of history marred by war, but it retains a lightness and playfulness that completely disarmed us. Watch out for our official announcement of this new title next year!

Alif the Unseen G. Willow WilsonFor you –

Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson

He calls himself Alif, a young man born in a Middle Eastern city that straddles the ancient and the modern. When Alif comes into possession of a mysterious book entitled The Thousand and One Days, he discovers a door into another world – a world from a very different time, when old magic was in the ascendant and the djinn walked amongst us…

This is another of my all-time favourite books (I have many!). An adventure story about a young computer hacker who falls in love with the wrong girl and gets propelled into a madcap adventure full of myth and magic yet grounded in rich and eye-opening detail about the Muslim faith and Middle Eastern history. I couldn’t put it down.

Happy reading everyone!