I still remember when I was in grade school, and I felt as though I was the only person in my class that was not celebrating Christmas. My closest friends had Christmas trees, sparkly lights, and lots of presents covering their floors. I remember asking my mom for a Hanukkah bush. This didn’t happen. 🙂 I knew that it was okay to be different. I knew that Hanukkah was still special, but I missed celebrating Christmas. There was a feeling of shared excitement — both at school and around the community — that seemed to come with celebrating Christmas. Maybe I felt left out.
When my parents got divorced and my mom and step-dad got together, I celebrated my first Christmas. It was awesome! There were Christmas Eve traditions. We put up a tree. We strung popcorn, while my dog at the time, Princess, tried to eat as many pieces as we strung. We even had the big family dinner, and the turkey fiasco with the dog jumping on the table at the end of the meal, and sticking her head inside the turkey cavity. What fun!
We still have many of these traditions — usually without a tree, as the dogs make this impossible. (They love to jump and eat anything on the bottom 3/4 of the tree, and decorating 1/4 of a Christmas tree looks kind of ridiculous. 🙂 ) I share these stories because in addition to these Christmas traditions, we also have Hanukkah ones. We still light the menorah for the 8 days of Hanukkah, and often, have had Hanukkah songs and candle lighting at our Christmas Eve dinners. Over the years, I’ve been to Christmas Eve services at the church and I’ve been to Hanukkah parties at the synagogue. There’s something special about both of these experiences!
So now, almost 25 years since my very first Christmas, I get to teach students that celebrate a multitude of holidays. As the snow started to fall and holiday decorations went up around the community and in the school, the students all started to experience this holiday joy. I want to recognize all holiday celebrations. I want students to be excited about what they do, and not — like when I was younger — only wishing as though they were celebrating something different. But how do I do this?
- I can give students opportunities to share with others about what they do.
- I can look for books, songs, and artefacts that align with the different holiday celebrations.
- I can listen to what students are interested in learning about, and respond to their interests.
- I can focus on overlapping themes.
It’s this last idea that made me think of one of Angie Harrison‘s recent tweets. Angie is a Kindergarten teacher in York Region, and she is one of two teachers behind this What Can You See, How Can You Help global project. Early this afternoon, I saw this tweet:
I checked out the link, and totally loved the idea. I even went on Amazon and ordered a couple of elves to be shipped out tomorrow. Yes, I know that elves make us think about Christmas, but acts of kindness can align with any holiday. (And maybe I can even think about putting an elf, some snowmen, and some stuffed people together to perform these acts of kindness …) When I introduced my class to Angie and Jocelyn‘s global project on Monday, they were so excited to do something to help others. As Angie mentioned in a tweet today, you can actually hear the engagement in their voices.
I love that students see the fun in doing something for someone else. At this time of the year when it’s so easy to get caught up in our own wishes, I love that we can make other wishes come true. Maybe a theme of kindness will help us recognize, celebrate, and enjoy all of the holidays and in a meaningful way. What do you think? In the classroom, how do you recognize and celebrate different holidays? How do you help children see the meaning behind these holidays? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, as we all gear up for the month of celebrations!