Christmas is my favorite time of year. I feel like all people bond in some way around the holidays. Houses I pass every day on my way to work usually look empty and people-less until suddenly they turn into personal greeting cards, decorated with twinkling lights and Jolly ol’ St. Nick out front. I may not know the people inside, but I’m celebrating with them just the same. But right in my own classroom, I began to realize that many of my students were celebrating different holidays around this same time of year. My student from India celebrated his 5-day holiday of Diwali. My Muslim students completed their 3-day commemoration of Eid Al-Adah. My Christian students were happily anticipating Christmas, my Jewish student shared with me his special gifts he had received each night of Hanuka, while my Chinese pupils were already talking about their New Year Celebrations. As I talked to my kids, we began to realize these holiday celebrations were all centered around the same theme: light. And so began a lesson plan that answered the question, "Why do so many people around the world celebrate light during the darkest part of the calendar year?”
During the Winter Solstice (Dec. 21st or 22nd) earth experiences the shortest days and the longest nights of the year. Following this, days start to lengthen again and nights get shorter. Throughout history, humans have had to survive winter. While some folks think winter has a magical feel---beautiful snow, warm fires and hot cocoa---to others it symbolizes death, bitter cold and ice, unforgiving darkness and long nights. No wonder during these dark, dismal months, many cultures have evolved celebrations around the idea of light returning, bringing hope of spring back to the people.
The Hindu winter festival of Diwali, which translates "row of lamps" involves the lighting of oil lamps to signify the triumph of good over evil. In November on the first morning of Eid al-Adha, Muslims around the world attend prayers followed by visits with family and friends and the exchange of greetings and gifts to commemorate the triumphs of the Prophet Abraham. For Christians, Christmas is the celebration of the “light of the world” coming to earth. Dec 13th, Santa Lucia Day is celebrated in places with Scandinavian populations, plus Italy, Bosnia and Croatia. In this celebration of light, a procession is headed by a girl wearing a crown of candles...Saint Lucy bringing lights and sweets to her people. The Chinese Lunar New Year, which ends with The Lantern Festival, is a celebration of light and the hope of a prosperous, fruitful new year to come. Hanukkah--The Festival of Lights--is the 8-day Jewish holiday commemorating the Maccabees’ re dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem in the second century.
In my classroom, we learned about each of these unique celebrations through traditional dress, customary foods, and time-honored activities. It was exciting to see the students get genuinely interested in other people’s customs, and to watch as my ethic students shared something important to them...telling their peers who they are. In the end, we realized that we’re not only connected to the people that share our own customs, but in some ways we are often interconnected to people of all different cultures around the world!
Our "Christmas Around the World" display - many of the items were donated for the display from the different kids in my classroom. Also posted were the different ways people say "Merry Christmas" or other holiday greeting.
(Students dressed in Muslim attire for Eid Al-Adah)
The week before Christmas break, Social Studies was devoted to celebrating and learning about the celebrations of different cultures. I was blessed with having 6 different cultures represented in my room. I created a power point to present the holidays and celebrations and then the child in the class that participated in the holiday came up front (often in costume) and shared about how they celebrate it.
(Students dressed in Hindu attire for Diwali)
(Student dressed in the Scandinavian attire of St. Lucia )
Almost every student brought a treat to share with the class from their culture :)
Note: Please be aware that that as a social studies educator, my purpose is to get students excited about learning other cultures as well as their own. I am not perfect in my education of this, though I do try and do a lot of research before teachings cultures and history. Concerning the activities done in my room, I try to make them as authentic as possible from my findings and research but do not claim to be an expert. Using tangible items helps spur students passion for the cultures and history we study and creates in them a desire to learn and discover more. If there is something that bothers you or have questions on my instruction concerning your culture or any other topic I may teach in my room, please feel free to email me personally to help me gain more understanding. I love learning about others and am always striving to educate my students better.