Teaching Children About the "Other" December Holidays

by Parenting Squad on 15 December 2010 14 comments

When most of us think of December holidays, we automatically think of Christmas. We see visions of Christmas trees, reindeer, and, of course, Santa Claus. However, there are many other holidays celebrated in the month of December. By teaching our children about the holidays other than the ones we celebrate in our own family, we can help them to embrace diversity and better understand the increasingly gobal and diverse world around them.

We are all familiar with our own family traditions. If we celebrate Christmas, we most likely decorate a Christmas tree every year. We may bake gingerbread cookies or go to church to listen to the Nativity Story. If we celebrate Chanukah, we probably light a menorah. Often though, we don't know a lot about the traditions that are associated with holidays other than our own, and this can make it difficult to teach our children about them.

Don't worry; you're in luck! I've compiled a list of five of the most commonly celebrated December holidays. You will also find a brief description of each and plenty of ideas and activities to help both you and your child branch out and learn more about December celebrations around the world.

Christmas

In the United States, Christmas is the most commonly celebrated December holiday. Some families celebrate primarily by giving gifts and waiting for Santa Claus, while others focus more on Christmas as a religious celebration of the birth of Christ. If you don't usually celebrate Christmas, but want to teach your child about the holiday, you might start by reading the classic tale of the birth of Jesus or even by attending a Christmas service at a local Christian church. Or if you want to take a less religious approach, decorate a small tree and exchange gifts on December 25. You could also make your own Christmas ornaments or bake and decorate some traditional Christmas gingerbread men.

Christmas is a celebration of "peace on earth" and "good will toward men," an important message to share with children no matter what your beliefs.

Chanukah

Also known as Hannukah, this is one of the most important holidays in the Jewish faith. Chanukah is an eight-day festival designed to celebrate the triumph of light over darkness. The holiday commemorates the victory of a small group of Jews over a powerful Greek army, and the miracle of the one-day supply of oil that burned for eight days.

For ideas about how to teach kids about this Jewish holiday, visit the kids section of the website www.chabad.org. You'll find Chanukah games, activities, recipes, and stories that are geared directly toward a younger audience. You can learn how to build your own menorah or make your own latkes, and children can even listen to an audio version of the Chanukah story, Miracle of the Maccabees.

Kwanzaa

Unlike Christmas and Chanukah, Kwanzaa is not a religious holiday. It was developed in 1966 by Dr. Malauna Karenga as a way for African-Americans to connect with and celebrate their African roots. Kwanzaa is a seven-day celebration of Nguzo Saba, the seven principles of African family, community, and culture. Kwanzaa is celebrated from December 26 to January 1 through the lighting of a special menorah called a kinara. Often, homes are decorated with colorful African cloths of black, red, and green, and people sometimes dress in traditional African clothing. Children usually receive small gifts that are symbols of their African heritage.

Visit The Official Kwanzaa Website to find more information about this holiday, or visit the educational website Apples 4 the Teacher to find all sorts of Kwanzaa activities for kids, including craft ideas, book suggestions, coloring pages, crossword puzzles, and articles about gift ideas and how to decorate for the holiday.

Saint Nicholas Day

Saint Nicholas Day is a holiday that is celebrated throughout Europe, usually on December 6. In most countries, it is meant to honor the legend of Saint Nicholas, who was known as a giver of gifts. In countries like Belgium and the Netherlands, children leave their shoes by the fireplace on the night of December 5, and awake in the morning to find that Saint Nicholas has filled the shoes with small treats and toys.

To celebrate Saint Nicholas Day, consider letting your children leave their own shoes by the fireplace, and see if Saint Nicholas visits. Or you can read stories about the legend of Saint Nicholas, or explore the different ways he is celebrated in different countries and cultures. And, as with other holidays, you can always find lots of craft ideas and printable activities online.

Las Posadas

The Mexican holiday of Las Posadas is celebrated for nine days, from December 16 to 24. The posadas are re-enactments of the journey made by Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem, that take place each night at a different home within the community. Guests gather at a new neigborhood home each night, dressed as shepards, angels, or even Mary and Joseph, and sing songs and ask for shelter. When the hosts open their home, there is a big party with traditional Mexican foods like ponche and bunuelos, and at the end of the night there is a pinata shaped like a Christmas star.

If you or your children play the piano, you might learn about Las Posadas by singing traditional Mexican songs. Or consider inviting your neighbors to your home for a traditional party, or letting your kids dress up and perform their own re-enactment of the story of Mary and Joseph.

Tips to Share

If you want to introduce your children to the December celebrations and traditions of other cultures and religions, consider the following tips:

  • Visit the bookstore or library to find books that you can read together, or look for educational videos or DVD's to watch.
     
  • Look on the internet for websites that offer fun, interactive experiences or printable activity pages about any of the holidays listed above.
     
  • Go through seasonal issues of parenting magazines to find a craft idea or a traditional recipe that you can make together. (Hint: local libraries often have back issues of these magazines that you can check out for free).
     
  • For a more religious experience, consider attending a service at a local church or synagogue.
     
  • Host your own celebration and let your children help you plan. They'll learn a lot when they help decorate, cook, and prepare for a traditional party celebrating any of the December holidays.

No matter what you do, children will love learning how other people celebrate the holidays, and chances are you might just learn as much as they do!

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Andrea Karim's picture

No mention of Festivus? :)

Guest's picture
Pam

How about Yule -- the Winter Solstice (Dec 21) celebrated by Pagans? There are a lot of Pagan parents out here who struggle because their holiday is not "real" in schools or included in any lists of holidays.

Guest's picture
Guest

You forgot the oldest, the solstice. There are also a few others that can be found on wikipedia under 'List of Winter Festivals'

Guest's picture
canyak

Hannukah is NOT "one of the most important holidays in the Jewish faith". It is a minor holiday, about on par with MLK day in the US. If you actually wanted to teach your kids about the important holidays of other cultures, you would teach them about Yom Kippur or Passover.
There are endless minor holidays from other cultures every month. It would be far more beneficial for your kids to be aware of the real major holidays of other cultures rather than the relatively insignificant ones that happen to occur in December.

Guest's picture
Julie

As a Jew, I'd just like to point out that Channukah is NOT "one of the most important holidays in the Jewish faith." In fact, it's a pretty minor holiday, not mentioned in the Bible, and far lesser in importance than Passover, Yom Kippur (the day of atonement), and Sukkot (the festival of booths). The only reason it seems important in the North American context is because it's so close to Christmas, and so has been hyped up in importance.

That said, the rest of the information you've got in your blurb is right-on.

Andrea Karim's picture

As a non-Jew, I was going to point that out, but then didn't want to assume that I actually knew what I was talking about. :)

Guest's picture
Melyssa

I am all for diversity. In each country, there is typically one holiday that people celebrate most. In the US it is Christmas. But what gets me is that schools are teaching kids that it's wrong to say the greeting "Merry Christmas". It's practically frowned upon.

I saw a bumper sticker the other day that said, " It's OK to say Merry Christmas. "

Andrea Karim's picture

You have proof that schools are "teaching" children not to say "Merry Christmas"? To me, that sounds like the kind of thing that Bill O'Reilly would salivate over, but is highly unlikely to be true.

Also, just because one group of people is a majority, it doesn't mean that you assume that everyone is the same as you. If you actually believe in diversity, you would know that not everyone celebrates Christmas.

I say "Merry Christmas" quite a bit because I think it sounds nice, and because lots of people celebrate Christmas in a secular way, but I think "Happy Holidays" is fine - it doesn't leave anyone out, and it also includes New Years, if you think about it.

Guest's picture
Melyssa

Yeah, I'm a mom of a school aged boy. Family and friends who now attend schools that I used to attend are saying the same thing. Even my old teachers are saying this. Kids are always being corrected if they say "Merry Christmas".

I'm hoping that not all schools are doing this, but quite a few from what I hear.

I don't mind "Happy Holidays" at all, but I just don't think kids should be taught that "Merry Christmas" is a bad thing to say.

Andrea Karim's picture

It's only a matter of time, of course, before someone jumps on here with another "War on Christmas" complaint.

Guest's picture
Bender

Hey meatbags, how could you forget Robonukah?

Guest's picture
Guest

I saw other comments already about how Hanukkah is a minor holiday and not that important. I wanted to add one point about its hype in the modern era. The story is about rebellion against an oppressive regime (Greeks) that was seeking to eradicate the traditions and practices of Jews in ancient Israel.

A holiday with a similar story and was actually celebrated in the middle ages through the early 20th century with giving of presents was Purim (typically in Feb or March). However, in the USA, immigrants began the present exchanges in December as part of assimilation.

Guest's picture
Julie

See, and I always thought Purim was much closer in spirit to Halloween: get dressed up, go door-to-door getting small tokens (in this case, pennies), make lots of noise and chaos... right up the alley with the way Halloween is celebrated nowadays.

Guest's picture
J.

"Also known as Hannukah, this is one of the most important holidays in the Jewish faith."

Hanukkah is actually one of the *least* important holidays in the Jewish faith.

More important Jewish holidays include the High Holidays of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, and the three Pilgrimage Festivals named in the Bible: Pesach (Passover), Sukkot (Feast of the Tabernacles) and Shavuot (Feast of Weeks/First Fruits).

Research is so important, especially when writing about other people's traditions!