Understanding and celebrating the many different holidays in the winter season is a great way to teach children about cultural and religious diversity. Through teaching children about different cultural and religious holidays they will develop their respect for others, and expand their view of the world and the people in it.
Here are seven Winter holidays and ways to introduce them to your children in a manner that will be fun and enlightening for you both.
The 25th of December is about more than Father Christmas and his sleigh of presents. Read the Biblical version of the Christmas story, or find a nativity play to watch together. For something hands-on that the children can make, try re-creating the scene of the birth of Jesus – with wise men, the manger and the Star of Bethlehem. Teach your children Christmas songs that talk about the birth of Jesus, such as “Silent Night” and “Joy to the World,” or take your children Christmas carolling with their friends.
Hanukkah, or the Festival of Lights, is the eight-day Jewish celebration of the Maccabees and their fight for freedom. The dates change every year, but it usually takes place between the end of November and the end of December. Take your children to a local temple where they can learn about the miracle celebrated throughout this holiday. Explain why the eight candles are not about receiving a gift each day, but how they actually represent the miracles the Maccabees experienced. Try creating and colouring a Menorah with the children.
Saint Nicholas Day
Saint Nicholas Day is usually celebrated on 6th December and is largely celebrated in Europe. The holiday is in honour of Saint Nicholas, the original Father Christmas. Saint Nick has different legends in several European countries, so have a read of them all. One German tradition on Saint Nicholas Day is to have your children put shoes outside of their doors. If they have been good during the year “Saint Nicholas” comes to the house and leaves a little gift inside their shoes. For a fun craft, have the children make and decorate their own shoes out of children’s shoeboxes.
Las Posadas is a nine-day festival, mostly celebrated in Mexico, Central America and parts of the United States of America. The holiday starts on the 16th of December and lasts until Christmas Eve on the 24th. The poinsettia has great significance in this holiday. One craft you can try as a family is creating a poinsettia with handprints on craft paper, then glue the paper together to make a nine-leaf flower. The nine leaves of the poinsettia are said to represent Joseph and Mary’s nine-day journey to Bethlehem or Mary’s nine months carrying the baby Jesus.
Kwanzaa is a holiday that honours African heritage and ends with a large feast. Help your children research Kwanzaa’s importance to African culture by finding books and stories, as well as speaking to people who celebrate this holiday. After researching and learning more about the holiday, make Kwanzaa candles and celebrate with a feast, having each child bring a traditional food item.
Yule (Winter Solstice)
Yule is a festive and fun holiday, and many of its ancient traditions — decorating a tree, singing songs, creating wreaths, and lighting candles – will already be familiar to children. To teach children about how the days get longer on solstice show them a model of the solar system. Or make it a crafty activity by creating paper suns, with the rays decorated with glitter.
Some humanists celebrate various holidays, and may combine lots of winter celebrations in a one! You might call it “Chriskwanzukah”. Families might take the winter holidays, since there are so many of them, as a perfect opportunity to teach their children about religious diversity. Decorations can be everything from a manger, complete with a camel and star, a giant menorah, a giant blow-up globe, holiday lights and more.
Remember, Winter isn’t the only month filled with new, exciting cultures, customs and holidays to explore! Suggest your children choose an extra holiday to learn about, and celebrate. Who can say no to more holiday celebrations?