Front. Back. Left. Right. No matter where you look, it is Christmas Cheer. Everywhere. Americans are inundated with visions of Santa, presents, Rudolf, and Elves on the Shelves. Christmas movies take over the TV, and jolly Saint Nick songs blast through the radio day and night. It is no wonder that so many children are surprised to learn that there are lots of other ways to celebrate this season.
I was raised in a Christian-based home that celebrated all things Christmas in a huge way. My children’s father was raised in a strict Jehovah’s Witness home that celebrated exactly zero Christmas-related traditions. When we found out that we were going to be raising a child together, this became an important conversation. Neither of us had continued to practice the beliefs that we were taught as children. And we both agreed that acceptance, curiosity, and education, were the lessons that we wanted to teach above all else.
The most effective teaching method that I have found is to model desired behaviors. Children are always watching; and they are far more likely to do as you do, rather than do as you say. 🙂 With this in mind, we decided to create an environment of exploration in our home. The month of December is rich with cultural learning opportunities. Traditions are everywhere, and taking the time to investigate them is as eye-opening as it is thought-provoking.
This year our family is taking a “trip around the world.” Each week of December we will investigate the traditions of two separate ideologies or regions. The goal is to examine as much of the culture or celebration as we can over the course of a few days. We will share a traditional meal, read children’s books from the library, and engage in activities and dialogue that serve to give our family a deeper understanding of how others choose to live, and give thanks, in their lives.
There are thousands of traditions and cultural celebrations around the world. Here are the ones that we will be learning about this year:
Hanukkah – a Jewish holiday that celebrates the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Known also as a “Festival of Lights” or “Feast of Dedication”, Hanukkah lasts eight days and nights and is aligned with the 25th day of Kislev, which occurs between late November and December. The kids are excited to practice spinning the dreidel, learning traditional songs, and chowing down on doughnuts and latkes!
Christmas – a Christian holiday celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. Originally Christmas was celebrated over the course of twelve days, and is now a tradition honored by billions around the world. Both Christians and non-Christians alike partake in the activities and celebrations. We will explore the religious and the cultural practices associated with this holiday. Explore how different people choose to participate, and look at how mainstream traditions differ around the world. (Did you know that thanks to a powerful marketing campaign in 1974, many families in Japan eat at KFC on Christmas Eve??)
Kwanzaa – observed from December 26 – January 1, Kwanzaa is a celebration of African heritage and culture. Created by Maulana Karenga in 1966, Kwanzaa comes with seven principles.
- Collective Work and Responsibility
- Cooperative Economics
We will take the opportunity to explore these principles, as well as examine the symbols of this holiday; such as the Mkeka, Kinara, Mazao, and Kikombe cha Umoja. We are looking forward to learning about the traditional music, dance, and dress, and sharing in this cultural experience that honors unity.
St. Lucia Day – A festival of lights in Scandinavia that takes place around the winter solstice. It is in honor of Saint Lucia, and also incorporates traditions from an earlier Norse celebration. Wands are lit on fire to ward off spirits during the long nights, and girls wear long white dresses with red sashes, and candle wreaths on their heads. We will try our hand at making pretend candle wreaths, and take time to learn about the Saint that is the reason for this celebration.
Eid-al-Adha – otherwise known as the “Feast of Sacrifice,” is the second, and considered the most holy, of two Muslim holidays. It begins with a prayer and sermon, and honors the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son to show his obedience to God’s command. It is said that God replaced his offering with a goat instead, and this goat was sacrificed and divided into three parts. Equal shares are offered to the poor, relatives/friends, and finally the family themselves. We will be taking this time to reflect on the importance of sharing with others, as well as the power and consequence of sacrifice.
Diwali – a Hindu tradition celebrating the spiritual triumph of good over evil, light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, and hope over despair. Over the course of the five-day festival, lights are strung all over buildings and homes, people dress in their finest clothing, pray to the goddess of fertility and prosperity (Lakshmi), and enjoy a firework display. The final evening is concluded with a gift exchange and feast of sweets.
Dong Zhi – the “Arrival of Winter” celebration in China. Families gather and celebrate the year that they have had. Believed to have started as an “end-of-harvest” festival, celebrating workers returning from the fields and enjoying all of the work they have done with their families. We are going to be trying our hand at making tang yuan glutinous rice balls. Yummy!
New Year’s Celebrations Around the World – New Year’s Eve, Chinese New Year, Songkran, Rosh Hashanah…smashing plates in Denmark, eating lentils in Brazil, visiting friends in Scotland, fortune telling in Finland, eating grapes in Spain, and dressing as dancing bears in Romania. There is lots to learn and much fun to be had as the year begins again!
Throughout this time, we will be intentional about talking with one another. We will discuss what is interesting to us. What we wonder about. If there are any things about these cultures or traditions that we would like to try and incorporate into our own lives, or any things that are hard for us to understand. We will talk about the people we know who celebrate different holidays, or engage in unique traditions. The kids will gain the opportunity to view “different” as something of value and interest. Rather than fearing the unknown, we will practice being curious. After all, Socrates was onto something when he said: “Wonder is the beginning of wisdom.”