Friday, December 23, 2011

12 Days of Christmas Picture Books - Yoon and the Christmas Mitten

Blending cultures is always a tricky thing. It's tough to know what customs to keep from one, which to add from another, and which to let go of. You want to honor everything, but sometimes it feels like our worlds are so full already, it can be hard to add more. This is especially true for holidays, I think, when another set of observances can make the celebration richer but at the same time more complex.

In Yoon and the Christmas Mitten by Helen Recorvits, Yoon's family is struggling with this very thing. Recent immigrants to the US from Korea, Yoon's parents are reluctant to embrace American traditions like Christmas, with its strange customs. Stockings by the chimney? Colored lights? Santa Claus? Yoon's father puts his foot down. "We are not a Christmas family," he tells her. But Yoon longs to experience all the things her classmates speak of, like decorating a tree and getting presents in her sock. On Christmas Eve Yoon decides to take action, hanging up her mitten so that Mr. Santa Claus can leave her a gift. And what a surprise Yoon gets, when somehow Santa finds her house even without the twinkling lights!

This book is simply beautiful, with breathtaking illustrations by Gabi Swiatkowska. Really, nothing I can say will do these pictures justice - you just have to see them for yourself. And the way Recorvits tells Yoon's story is something special indeed. While never devaluing the way Yoon's parents feel, she still captures Yoon's desire to have an American Christmas just like all the other kids do. The resulting compromise - the family still celebrates New Year, which is much more in line with their Korean traditions - shows that joining a new culture doesn't have to mean abandoning familiar customs.

When we brought our son into our family, we also gained a whole new culture. Now we love having two Christmases, two New Year's, and a host of other holidays along the way. Even if you don't have a direct link to another culture, it's fun to add in different observations, and a great reminder that we all come together in the joy of sharing celebrations.

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