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Teacher Tips: Holidays Around the World

Itís the Holiday Season
Mmm, Mmm, Math!
Whatís Your Holiday IQ?

What is a kinara? How long does Ramadan last? What special foods are eaten during Hanukkah? You’ll find the answers to these questions and many more in this Special Online Issue about December’s multicultural holiday celebrations.

Here, you and your students will discover the traditions and beliefs that make each winter holiday unique—as well as some surprising ties that connect the celebrations together. By exposing students to traditions other than their own and exploring the roots of the holidays they do celebrate, you will be giving students the invaluable gift of multicultural awareness. Enjoy the online articles together, then turn to the activities below to complete your holiday exploration.

A Busy Month: After reading the holiday summaries, tie it all together by exploring It’s the Holiday Season, a December time line that keeps track of which holidays happen on which dates. Challenge students to list which holidays are fixed dates (Christmas, Kwanzaa, and the solstice), and which ones happen on different dates each year (Hanukkah and Ramadan). If students are unsure, have them log on to Grolier Online for further research.

Holiday Portrait: Invite students to select any two holidays from the issue and to create a Venn diagram comparing the two celebrations. In a Venn diagram, there are two overlapping circles. Circle 1 has details about one holiday while circle 2 has details about the other. Traditions or symbols the two holidays share should go in the area where the two circles overlap. In particular, students should consider:

    When does the holiday happen?
    How long does it last?
    What foods are enjoyed?
    What symbols are used?
    How do families celebrate?
Mmm, Mmm, Math!
Students may be surprised to learn that pancakes (albeit different types) are a traditional dish served at both Hanukkah and Mexican Christmas celebrations. In Mmm, Mmm, Math!, students can take a peek at two tasty recipes for latkes and bunuelos, then answer a series of questions comparing the dishes. This activity adds a math connection to your holiday lessons while demonstrating a similarity between two of the holidays.

If you are feeling adventurous, organize a class foray to the school cafeteria, where students can try out the recipes with adult supervision. Or, prepare both recipes at home and bring in some pancakes for students to sample. If you’re planning a party to wrap up your unit on December holidays, consider serving these pancakes as an authentic treat.

Holiday Symbols: After learning about the symbols that so many winter holidays share, use the symbols to decorate a wrapped shoebox. The box makes an excellent way to save money for needy children or another good cause. This activity is rooted in the Jewish tradition of placing a tzedekah box, or justice box, in the home or community during Hanukkah. Families collect coins in the box and then donate the money to charity.

To decorate your own “justice boxes,” carefully cut star, candle, and gift shapes out of kitchen sponges. Dip the sponges in tempera paint and stamp them on the wrapped shoebox (be sure to leave a hole in the box for coins!). You can also use this technique to stamp holiday symbols on homemade placemats or wrapping paper.

Christmas in America: Many communities across the United States celebrate Christmas, but each area has its own traditions. After reading about some of the ways Christmas is celebrated in this country, invite students to think about the way they celebrate their own favorite winter holiday (it need not be Christmas). Students will enjoy using all of their senses to describe their favorite community traditions: What do they see and hear at holiday time? What do they taste and smell? What do they touch or do? Have students write a paragraph or two about their community celebrations and send them to us at [TK].

Literature Connection: Even sixth-graders are not too old to enjoy a heartwarming holiday story! As the holidays approach, be sure to share some of the following picture books with your class:

  • Latkes and Applesauce
  • by Fran Manushkin (Scholastic, 1990).
    When a blizzard strikes during Hanukkah, a family still finds a way to enjoy their traditional meal.

  • Merry Christmas, Strega Nona
  • by Tomie dePaola (Harcourt, 1986).
    Learn some Italian words as you read this story about a Natale feast.

  • Seven Candles for Kwanzaa
  • by Andrea Davis Pinkney (Dial Books for Young Readers, 1993).
    An introduction to the holiday.

  • Magid Fasts for Ramadan
  • by Mary Matthews (Houghton Mifflin, 2000).
    An 8-year-old boy wants to join his parents in the Ramadan tradition of fasting.
Don’t miss Scholastic News Zone’s bonus Holiday reproducible, What’s Your Holiday IQ?.

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