Harvest Festivals From Around the World
Host a multicultural Thanksgiving by learning about other countries' harvest celebrations.
- Grades: 1–2, 3–5
Go on a Lantern Walk
In Germany, November 11 is St. Martin's Day, a festival honoring a knight who cut his coat in half to share it with a beggar. German children celebrate by making lanterns and going on an evening walk to bring the symbol of light into the dark night. Help students make their own lanterns by cutting patterns into the sides of milk cartons, covering them with foil, and securing an LED light inside. Turn off the overhead lights and take your own walk around the room.
Many countries' autumn festivities include a celebration of the fall harvest. Ask each student to draw out of a hat the name of one country that celebrates the harvest. (In addition to the United States and Germany, other examples include China, India, Israel, Korea, Canada, Vietnam, Ghana, and Nigeria.) Allow students time to research the most prevalent crops that are harvested in the country they chose. Give each student time to share one of their country's leading crops, show pictures, and describe how it is served.
As a class, read Itse Selu: Cherokee Harvest Festival by Daniel Pennington (illustrated by Don Stewart), the story of a young Cherokee boy and his family's preparations for the traditional Native American harvest festival. Then make the story come alive by playing a Cherokee game of stickball. In stickball, each team has a tall pole, similar to a goalpost, at opposite ends of the field, and each player carries two sticks to bat the ball around the field. When the ball strikes the top of the pole, the scoring team gets seven points; when the ball strikes anywhere else on the pole, the scoring team gets two points.
Send a Muffin Message
During the Chinese Festival of the Autumn Moon, revelers traditionally eat small, round rice cakes, also known as moon cakes. Moon cakes hold an important place in Chinese history: In 1368, the oppressed Chinese people sent messages inside the cakes to plot a revolution against the Mongolian rulers. Share in the Chinese harvest celebration by baking muffins or cupcakes and allowing each student to write their own harvest message on a piece of wax paper or parchment paper. As soon as you remove the cakes from the oven, tuck a message deep into each one using a skewer. When the cupcakes or muffins cool and the class gathers to eat "moon cakes," every student will find a different message inside.
Hold a Festival of Lights
Each November, the people of India celebrate Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Lights. Young girls place diyas, small oil lamps made of pottery, on small rafts and leave them to float down a river. If the lamp stays alight until it has floated out of sight, the legend is that the owner of the lamp will have good fortune that year. Hold a classroom festival of lights by stringing Christmas lights around the room, placing small lamps or candles in windows and doorways, and serving festive foods. Students can use clay to make their own "lanterns" to float on Popsicle-stick rafts at home in the bathtub.