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December holidays: Ten activities to celebrate in the classroom

The holiday season is upon us! Whether you observe Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, or all of these, the Web is your source for holiday cheer. How do you make soofganiyot? What is a kinara? Who was St. Nicholas? Find the answers to these seasonal questions and tons of related activities as we celebrate ten holidays in December. Included: Activities for 10 special dates in December, a geography teaching master, and more!

What do stockings have to do with geography? In an Internet project, stockings helped teach students about the world! Carole Swinford, a third-grade teacher at Southside Elementary School in Pulaski, Tennessee, created the Hang Your Stocking Project. It celebrated the season by inviting people everywhere to make stockings and send them to students at the school. The children then displayed the stockings and located their places of origin on a map. Many of the stockings also were displayed on the Hang Your Stocking Project Web page (Note: This site no longer exists, but teachers might create a similar site).

"I teach third grade and have what is called a 21st-century classroom," Swinford told Education World. "We have five computers, educational software and Internet access. The curriculum includes the use of technology. I was interested in doing an Internet project but just hadn't come up with the right idea. A friend of mine sent me the story of Chris Cringle and the stocking project that her son's class had done. I knew it would make a great Internet project. I made the Web page using graphics that I had gotten from the Internet. We e-mailed friends, relatives and schools to invite them to participate in our project."

Tahnya Gallio, a second-grade teacher from El Segundo, California, sent Swinford the idea for the project. Gallio and Swinford have been friends for years, but have never met in person. They communicate over the Internet to exchange activities and share personal stories. Gallio's goal for the stocking activity was to promote generational storytelling. By adding the Internet, Swinford illustrated the tremendous scope of the Web and transformed the project into a dynamic social studies event.

Swinford's class couldn't wait for more stockings to arrive. "The students were involved by reading the story and making their own stockings and promoting the project by inviting friends and relatives to participate," she said. "As stockings came in, the children were counting and hanging them and marking locations on a map of the United States. The children were having fun. They loved the Internet and, of course, they loved the stockings of Christmas. Getting stockings in the mail was very exciting. Parents were very supportive and wanted to make stockings, too."

Students in Swinford's class were full of glowing remarks about the Internet project.

"The Internet project is fun!" -- Trey
"I think it is neat to see different stockings." -- Taylor
"I think it makes our hall shine." -- Zach
"It is a real nice project." -- Allison
"I like to see how other people create their stockings." -- Lashae
"I like the project." -- Treasure
"It is a nice thing that people send us all those stockings." -- Ann-Claire
"The Internet has everything in it!" -- Tan
"The Internet has lots of exciting things to look at." -- Whitney
"We need MORE stockings!!!" -- Tobias

Ten days to celebrate

December is full of special days to celebrate in the classroom. Here are activities for 10 of the observances you won't want to miss this month!


Jewish families start the eight-day celebration of Hanukkah, or the Festival of Lights, beginning at sundown on a date in November or December. (For this year's dates, see this source.) If you are not familiar with the history and customs of this holiday, visit Torah Tots. Young children will adore the site's Chanukah Coloring Pages.

People in Israel make delicious jelly doughnuts called Sufganiyot during Hanukkah. You can enjoy them also when you experiment with a recipe from the Net.

Fun and games are also a part of Hanukkah, and the most traditional children's game is The Dreidel. This simple game is easy to play and easy to make with the Dreidel Pattern from

December 1
Rosa Parks Day

Celebrated as the beginning of the end of segregation, this day is the anniversary of Rosa Parks's arrest for refusing to relinquish her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama, bus and move to the back. The incident sparked a boycott of the municipal bus system that is now viewed as the beginning of the modern civil rights movement. Read all about the life of Parks, an unlikely heroine, at Rosa Parks: Pioneer of Civil Rights. You can find the story of her involvement in the boycott at Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott. If you need a ready-made lesson on the subject to jump-start your study, Lesson 1: Riding the Bus -- Taking a Stand has everything that you are looking for!

December 5, 2002
National Christmas tree lighting

On December 5, the tree-lighting ceremony for the National Christmas Tree will be held. The White House also gets into the holiday spirit with beautiful Christmas trees. Keep an eye on the White House Web site for information about this year's theme and trimmings.

Study the history of the Christmas tree at the National Christmas Tree Association site. The NCTA Web site contains a Teacher's Resource section that has puzzles for children to solve and information about various types of Christmas trees.

December 6
St. Nicholas Day

In some countries, St. Nicholas is the fairy tale character who bestows presents on well-behaved children. His special holiday is December 6, and there are customs associated with St. Nicholas Day. Find out more about the celebration of St. Nicholas Day and other European customs at, which offers a brief outline of Christmas in several countries in Europe as well as recipes for holiday goodies. The Many Faces of Santa tells students about the various Santa Claus personas and how they developed.

December 12
Poinsettia Day

The poinsettia is a beautiful plant with a nasty reputation that is not deserved! Previously thought to be poisonous, the poinsettia is actually safe. Although people are not encouraged to eat the plant, it is not harmful to children and animals. Read about the background of this staple of the holiday season at Poinsettia History. Coloring Fun has a printable coloring sheet of the Poinsettia.

December 16
Beethoven's Birthday

The holiday season and Beethoven -- the perfect match! Ludwig Van Beethoven was born on this day in 1770, in Bonn, Germany. Many people consider Beethoven one of the finest composers of all time. Although he eventually lost his hearing, he continued to write music and to conduct. The Beethoven Depot has all kinds of information about the life of this master and his works and midi files of his music for students to hear.

You might try Composer "Road Rally," another online lesson that introduces students to this musical genius.

December 18
Nutcracker first performed

Fans of the ballet will be pleased to learn that the Nutcracker was first performed on this day. Students may listen to an online audio clip of the Nutcracker Suite Overture by Tchaikovsky. The Official Nutcracker Site has music and a description of the story. Students can watch the The Nutcracker Story here.

December 21
First day of winter

People who live in the northern United States shouldn't be surprised if Jack Frost is nipping at noses! December 21 is the first day of winter. The official change of seasons makes many of us pause to think about cycles, beginnings and ends. The Library of Congress's Winter Begins contains a wonderful variety of winter images. Pictures, text, and audio give you and your students a chance to reflect on the shift from autumn to winter, no matter where you live. A scientific explanation of The Winter Solstice is available in three versions -- beginner, intermediate, and advanced -- at Windows to the Universe.

If you do not know how to celebrate the first day of winter, The Winter Solstice has some terrific suggestions. You can take quizzes about winter traditions and Build Your Own Stonehenge! Winter Fun has downloads, games, and printable word searches.

December 25
Christmas Day

Nothing says Christmas more than delectable scents wafting from your kitchen! You can take those scents into your classroom or school cafeteria with recipes designed for the holidays. Visit Mrs. Claus's Kitchen or Christmas Cookie Recipes to find recipes your class won't be able to resist.

Print and distribute Christmas Word Search Puzzles. For more fun, read the holiday treasure How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss. Don't miss a special Education World Holiday Geography Teaching Master, your students' opportunity to find U.S. cities that have holiday-related names!

December 26

Like Christmas, Kwanzaa has its own customs and traditions. Kwanzaa Recipes will have any class cooking and sampling unique foods for the season. Also, learn about the holiday, create holiday stationery, and bring the celebration to your computer desktop with Kwanzaa Fun from Billy Bear.

From the Education World Library

  • 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 Cara Bafile
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Links last updated 12/20/2015