As soon as Thanksgiving begins to peek around the corner at the beginning of November, students begin dreaming of their long awaited winter holiday. Two to three weeks away from school to play with toys, watch television and hang out with friends sounds like a dream after the months of slaving away in a classroom. Once December arrives, it can be almost impossible to keep students grounded in school work. One way to do this is to explore the winter holidays from an academic and cultural point of view. This is especially useful in helping to take the mystery out of holidays or holiday traditions of some of the ESOL (English Speakers of Other Languages) students in the school.
Use any large bulletin boards in the office, hallways, or library to depict the history of some of the more well-known December holidays such as Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanza. If there is space, separate the three holidays on one board, or put each holiday on its own. Show students that even countries that all celebrate Christmas do so differently. Make on bulletin board that shows Christmas traditions around the world. La Befana in Italy, Father Christmas in England, and Joulupukki in Finland are all believed to deliver gifts to children much like Santa in the United States.
Have a winter carnival for the students or for the entire neighborhood. Assign each classroom a different country to research. Have them make food, create a classroom bulletin board, hang decorations, and play music that reflects the traditions of that country. Be sure to give children from another country their country if possible to help bring authenticity to the project. Plan a day where children are able to go from one country to another to explore the traditions. In elementary schools perhaps have the highest grade level complete the project and let the younger classes visit.
While there are many important winter holidays most children in America think only of the holiday they celebrate at home. Even if all of the children in the school celebrate Christmas, this is still an exciting opportunity to open them up to cultural exploration by showing them that the same holiday is embraced and celebrated around the world in a variety of ways. Showing children a friendly and somewhat familiar celebration allows them to learn more about other cultures, and possible other students in their school.
How have you brought multiculturalism into your school? Do you utilize the opportunity that winter break offers, or have you found the children to be too distracted at this time of year?