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A World to Celebrate

Add a multicultural twist to your holiday with activities that teach your child about other traditions.

Add some multicultural traditions to your holiday celebrations.
Add some multicultural traditions to your holiday celebrations.

Today, you might be trimming the Christmas tree, your neighbor next door might be sharing a Hanukkah meal, and friends across town may be fasting in preparation for 'Eid-ul-Fitr. Still, most of us will end the year in a similar way gathering with relatives, enjoying great food, and giving gifts.

Despite some common traditions, your child may be confused by other people's celebrations. Teach her to have an open mind about different people and practices by adding some multicultural traditions to your holiday celebrations.

To start your family's multicultural holiday, mark these dates on a blank calendar:

Next, write in holiday traditions your family has planned such as attending religious services, going to parties, or visiting relatives. Then use the following facts and activities to teach your child about each celebration. Check out holiday book recommendations, too Finally, discuss what other families might be doing for the holidays.


Then: More than 2,000 years ago, Jewish people were forced to leave their holy city, Jerusalem. They fought and won a long battle, and when they came back to the city they went to rebuild their temple. They lit the temple's menorah (an oil lamp). There was only enough oil for one day, but the Jews believe God performed a miracle and the menorah lights burned for eight days.

Now: Hanukkah (or Chanukah) is sometimes called "The Festival of Lights." Jews celebrate their victory and the miracle of the menorah for eight nights. Each night they light candles in their own menorah: one candle the first night, two candles the second night, and so on. Families also offer blessings to God, exchange gifts, and eat traditional food such as latkes (potato pancakes).

Activity: Play dreidl, a traditional Hanukkah game. To make a dreidl:

  • Cut a small milk carton so only the bottom two inches remain.
  • Paint the carton blue and label each of the four sides around with one letter: N (for nothing), G (for all), H (for half), and S (for put).
  • Poke a hole through the center of the carton's bottom and put a pencil through it to make a spinning top.

To play, gather a pile of goodies (chocolate coins, raisins, pennies, jelly beans, etc.). Each person starts with an equal number of goodies. Then take turns spinning the dreidl. Depending on how it lands, players take nothing, all, or half the goodies or put back everything they have already won.

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Then: Muslims believe that more than 1,300 years ago, in the month they call Ramadan, the prophet Mohammed received the Koran (Muslims' holy book). Muslims show their love for the Koran and Allah by praying and fasting during Ramadan.

Now: The daily fast is very important. For the whole month, everyone except small children, older adults, or adults who might get sick eat nothing between sunrise and sunset. Children join the fast when their parents decide that they are old enough. Each night of Ramadan, families have a small meal, and at the end of the month, they break the fast with a three-day festival, 'Eid-ul-Fitr.

During 'Eid-ul-Fitr, Muslims give gifts to each other and donate to charities. Children may take a day off of school and parents may take a day off from work.

Activity: Create a charity jar to emphasize the importance of sharing with the less fortunate.

  • Have your child paint a jar with holiday symbols.
  • For one month, save coins or dollars in the jar the whole family can contribute.
  • At the end of the month, give the money to an organization that helps the needy.

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Then: Christians observe the birthday of Jesus, whom they believe is the Son of God. According to the Gospels (Christians' holy stories), Jesus' parents were very poor, and he was born in a stable more than 2,000 years ago. Shepherds came to see the newborn baby along with three kings (or wise men) who brought Jesus gifts.

Now: While non-religious traditions are popular, Christmas is a religious holiday. Some Christians mark the four weeks before December 25th by lighting candles for Advent (a time of waiting) and by doing good deeds. On Christmas Eve, Santa Claus (or St. Nicholas) brings gifts to good children. In some countries, gifts are not given until January 6th, the day celebrating the three kings' visit.

Activity: Each Christmas Eve, children leave a present for Santa Claus and his reindeer cookies! You and your child can make your own holiday cookies to leave for Santa on December 24th (or to enjoy yourselves).

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Then: The word "Kwanzaa" comes from a Swahili phrase that means "first fruits." African-American activist Maulana Karenga started the holiday in 1966 to encourage people to learn about and celebrate their African heritage. Kwanzaa honors the harvest celebrations of ancient Africa as well as the culture of today's Africans and African-Americans.

Now: Kwanzaa celebrations include the lighting of seven candles, one for each day of the festival. Each candle represents one of the holiday's seven principles: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith. Families also celebrate with festive dinners, stories, and clothing or decorations inspired by traditional African culture.

Activity: At the Kwanzaa feast, a woven placemat called a mkeka is placed on the table to symbolize a strong community foundation. Weave your own mkeka out of paper by overlapping strips of red, green, yellow, and black construction paper to form a rectangle. Use it when you serve your own holiday meal.

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Other Celebrations

Hanukkah, 'Eid-ul-Fitr, Christmas, and Kwanzaa are the most popular winter holidays celebrated in the United States, but in your community people may also enjoy other holidays that are popular around the world, including:

  • Santa Lucia Day, an ancient Swedish festival during which blond-haired girls wear crowns of green leaves studded with lighted candles.
  • Winter Solstice, the first day of winter and the longest night of the year, is also celebrated with festivals, decorations, and ancient ceremonies that honor nature.
  • Three Kings Day, also known as Epiphany, marks the day the three kings arrived to visit the newborn Christ child (see Christmas above). Festive observations of this day are common in Hispanic countries and cultures; sometimes families bake a crown-shaped cake and hide tiny figures of babies inside to represent the baby Jesus.

Whether you know someone who will be celebrating these holidays or not, introducing your child to a variety of cultures gives you a chance to teach her about the world. It will also help her to take pride in your family's own heritage and traditions.

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