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Christmas around the world: Lessons and activities

A world of activities and websites focused on traditions and holidays celebrated by people all over the globe.​ 

On Christmas morning, boys and girls around the world will waken early and run excitedly downstairs to see what Santa Claus has left for them...

Well, that's not exactly how it goes -- for around the world children celebrate the Christmas holidays in many different ways.

In Germany, the 6th of December is a special day:

...There's a special tradition all over Germany on December 6th. [On] the evening of December 5th you put your cleaned (big) boots outside the house in front of the door (or inside). Some people also put a plate there or on the windowsill. The bread in the plate is for the white horse of Santa Claus ... In the morning you see that Santa Claus really was at your house and put nice things into the boots or plates, e.g., all kinds of nuts, oranges, apples, sweets, chocolate, small presents ... But if you [weren't] well behaved the whole year you only get a switch so that your parents can punish you, but they don't!
Kristine and Wiebke, Germany

And in Italy, January 6th is a day long-awaited by many children:

The 6th of January is the day on which the three Wise Men arrive at the Bethlehem cave in which kid Jesus is and give him gold, incense and myrrh and for this reason in Italy children receive presents traditionally brought by the "Befana," a good old witch who comes into their homes through the chimney. This is the last day to the Christmas holiday in Italy.
Elisbetta, Italy

In Sweden, December 13th is a special day that children look forward to all year long:

Saint Lucia [Day] is celebrated all over Sweden on December 13th. The custom with the girl dressed in white with candles on her head has a complicated background ... In our school we celebrate Saint Lucia Day outside very early in the morning while it's still dark. Our Saint Lucia is coming in a carriage pulled by a very small horse. She is followed by Santa Claus on a big horse and a lot of girls and boys in white gowns and a lot of candles. They all sing traditional Christmas songs and read poems. After the ceremony we all eat ginger cookies and bread with saffron. To celebrate is very important to Swedish people.
Class 4c in Nasbyparksskolan

Want to read explanations of a few more December celebrations around the world? Click here to read about Christmas celebrations in Mexico, Denmark, and Australia. Then visit the Multicultural Calendar Web site for many more. On the site you can view holiday entries from around the world organized by month, by holiday, or by country.

Other places to go for a multicultural view of Christmas

Celebrate Christmas around the globe with a "world" of Christmas activities!

Art/Writing. If you could give any gift to the people of the world, what would that gift be? Draw a picture of your gift and write a sentence to explain what your gift is and why you chose it.

Geography. Hang a world map in the center of a bulletin board. Invite each student to write on a card the expression "Merry Christmas" in a different language. (For a source, see How "Merry Christmas" Is Said Around the World. Or try this alternate source.) Attach yarn to each card. Invite students to post the cards around the map on the bulletin and to extend each strand of yarn from a "Merry Christmas" card to the appropriate country.

Table reading. Provide table reading practice using one of two Teaching Masters provided. The TMs provide tables showing the ten most popular holiday greeting cards mailed in the United States. Choose the Primary TM (practice for younger students) or the Upper grade TM (for upper elementary students and above).

Answer key for primary TM:
1. Christmas, 2. 1 billion, 3. Mother's Day; 4. Halloween; 5. Thanksgiving; 6. 250 million, 7. Jewish New Year.

Answer key for upper grade TM:
1. Christmas, 2. 1 billion; 3. 50 million; 4, Halloween; 5. 75 million; 6. 1 million; 7. 250 million; 8. February, because many more cards are mailed for Valentine's Day than are mailed for St. Patrick's Day; 9. 2,700,011,000; THINK ABOUT IT! Accept reasoned responses (probably not as many as are mailed at Christmas, but more than are mailed at Easter).

Gift ideas. Sometimes students don't have the money to buy a small gift for another family member. Giving of themselves is a great gift idea. Students might:

  • Create a simple "coupon" or "gift certificate" form that children can fill in and give as a gift. The form should provide spaces labeled TO:, FROM:, and MY GIFT TO YOU:. Students might want to brainstorm gift ideas (ie., raking the yard, babysitting, serving breakfast in bed) before filling out their gift certificates.
  • Create a "job jar" by decorating a large jar and putting inside it small folded slips of paper with odd jobs written on each. A few blank slips might be included so parents can write on them a preferred "job" for the student to do.

Math/Cooking. Use one of the recipes from Christmas Recipes. Ask students to make a list of the ingredients they'll need to buy to make double the quantity called for in the recipe. If you teach older students, challenge them to list the ingredients required to make 10 dozen snowball cookies, enough spiced cider to serve 30 people, or large quantities of other recipes. These Web sites offer many recipes, so you could pair off students and give each pair a different recipe to double. If you can, prepare one of the recipes.

Writing. Ask students to pretend they have pen pals in foreign countries. Their pen pals celebrate Christmas (or other holidays) in a way very different than they might do. Invite students to write letters to their pen pals to explain how their families celebrate the holidays.

Research. Invite students brainstorm different symbols of Christmas or other December holiday celebrations. Christmas symbols, for example, might include the Christmas card, the star, mistletoe, the poinsettia, holly, the Christmas tree, and Christmas carols. Also students might research the different faces of Santa Claus, including St. Nicholas, Father Christmas, and Santa Claus. Students might use as their research starting point some of the "Other Places to Go for a Multicultural View of Christmas" that are listed above.

More Christmas fun on the Internet

Christmas tongue twisters
"Seven Santas sang silly songs," "Running reindeer romp 'round red wreaths," "Ten tiny tin trains toot ten times," and many more!

Christmas crafts and activities
You'll find a recipe for Christmas play dough, instructions for creating recycled Christmas card garland, and tons of other arts and crafts ideas.

The Christmas trivia quiz
Learn all about the Christmas holiday while having fun with this self-correcting quiz.

From the Education World archives

Don't miss Education World's December holidays archive page. There you will find dozens of ideas for teaching about the holidays as well as craft activities, resources, and more.

Article by Gary Hopkins
Education World® Editor-in-Chief
Copyright © 2016 Education World


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