- Grades: PreK–K, 1–2
The holidays Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa share certain similarities. Children may mention the fact that all these holidays are celebrated in the month of December, or that several of the holidays involve getting together with families, and gift-giving rituals. There are other similarities, too, and they will learn about them in this unit.
Ask children if they can identify some of the things these holidays have in common. Prepare a bulletin board display like the one below, making sure to leave space in the center of the display. As they go through the unit, children can fill in characteristics common to the holidays.
As holiday time approaches, encourage children to go to the library to find these and other books about holiday celebrations. You may wish to set aside a special shelf in your classroom in which books are arranged according to holiday. Encourage children to peruse these books at their leisure.
The Birds' Christmas Carol by Kate Douglas Wiggin (Scholastic)
The Chanukah Guest by Eric Kimmel (Scholastic)
The Christmas Coat by Clyde Robert Bulla (Knopf)
The Christmas Sky by Franklyn Branley (HarperCollins)
A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote (Knopf)
The Christmas Secret by Joan Lexau (Scholastic)
Hanukah Money by Sholem Aleichem (Mulberry)
Have a Happy... by Mildred Pitts Walter (Lothrop, Lee)
It's Christmas by Jack Prelutsky (Scholastic)
Kwanzaa by Deborah Newton Chocolate (Children's Press)
Kwanzaa by A. P. Porter (Carolrhoda)
Las Navidades by Lulu Delacre (Scholastic)
Latkes and Applesauce by Fran Manushkin (Scholastic)
A Picture Book of Hanukkah by David Adler (Scholastic)
Learning about Kwanzaa
Ask children if any of them celebrate Kwanzaa. Do they know what Kwanzaa is all about? Fill in the gaps in children's knowledge with these facts:
- Kwanzaa is a nonreligious African-American celebration that was invented in the 1970s.
- It is based on various African harvest celebrations.
- Kwanzaa begins on December 26 and continues for 7 days.
During each of the days of Kwanzaa, family members gather to light one of seven candles. As each candle burns, the family discusses one of the seven principles on which Kwanzaa is based:
- Collective responsibility
- Cooperative economics
- Some communities collect food and clothing for the homeless during the seven days of Kwanzaa.
- On the seventh night, there is a feast to which friends and extended family members are invited. There are traditional foods, and cards and gifts are exchanged (although the giving of expensive commercial items is de-emphasized in favor of simple, handmade gifts). There is also singing and dancing.
- People greet each other with the Swahili expression "Habari gani," which means "What's new?" This is followed by a response that relates to one of the seven principles.
Discussing the Principles of Kwanzaa
Divide the class into seven groups and assign each group one of the seven principles of Kwanzaa. Tell children that their job is to explain the meaning of one of the principles to the class. Before children meet in their groups, discuss ways that the groups can go about their research. Suggestions include looking up unfamiliar words in a dictionary, looking up Kwanzaa in the encyclopedia or another reference work, talking to someone who might celebrate Kwanzaa, and discussing possible meanings within the group. When the groups are ready, each group can present its explanation to the class.
Finding Out about Hanukkah
Ask children who celebrate Hanukkah to tell how their families celebrate the holiday. Then broaden the discussion to include the rest of the class; ask children to name one fact they know about Hanukkah. List their comments on the chalkboard and supplement their knowledge with the following facts:
- Hanukkah, or the "Festival of Light," is celebrated by Jews all over the world.
- Hanukkah celebrates the taking back of the Temple of Jerusalem from the Romans over two thousand years ago.
- When the Temple was destroyed, the lamp of the Eternal Light, which symbolized the continuation of the Jewish people, was snuffed out. Only enough oil to light the lamp for one day was found. But because of a "miracle," the lamp burned for eight days - enough time for the temple to be rededicated.
- Hanukah is celebrated with a menorah - a lamp holding eight candles - to symbolize this miracle. On each of the eight days of Hanukkah, a candle is lit.
- There is no special feast, but traditional foods - especially latkes - are served. Latkes are fried potato pancakes. Friends and extended family are usually invited to the celebration, which usually includes the singing of Hanukkah songs.
- Children sometimes exchange gifts and often receive "Hanukkah gelt," or coins. They also play a game with a "dreidl," or spinning top with four flat sides.
Go back to the bulletin board and have children suggest other ways holidays they discussed are similar. Add these ideas to the display. Then ask why they think people everywhere - including those who lived long ago - enjoy celebrating these holidays. Distribute copies of the activity sheet that follows and go over it with children. Encourage children to work independently. After children have completed their sheets, ask them to share their work with a partner. Do partners know the answers to their questions? Can they suggest books that might contain such information?
Making a Dreidl
Have children ask family members to help them cut down a milk carton so that only the bottom two inches remain. Family members can also make a tiny hole in the center of the bottom of the carton through which a pencil can be poked.
Have children glue strips of blue paper to the sides of the carton and label each side with a letter: N (for nothing), G (for all), H (for half), and S (for put). Help children to poke a pencil through the hole in the carton and allow them to practice spinning their dreidls.
Encourage pairs of children to play the game of "dreidl." Each pair starts out with a pot of "goodies" (use nuts, raisins, beads, or checkers in lieu of candy or pennies). Depending on how the dreidl lands, participants take nothing, all, or half the pot - or put back everything they have already won.
Art and Language Arts
Drawing and Talking about Christmas Scenes
Since Christmas has such high visibility in the United States, all children in your class are likely to know something of its origins and practices: most likely, many of them celebrate it.
Encourage children to make drawings depicting what it is they most enjoy about Christmas or the Christmas season. As children present and discuss their pictures, list images of the holiday on the chalkboard as they appear in children's drawings. Examples are gifts, trees, yule logs, candles, lights, church, Santa Claus.
After all children have shared their pictures, go over the list with children and have them add any other images they can think of that can be identified with Christmas.