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Using Technology to Teach Holidays

By Christy Crawford on December 9, 2010
  • Grades: 1–2, 3–5, 6–8

Looking for the best videos to embed in interactive whiteboard holiday lessons?  Are parents requesting safe sites that they can use to entertain or educate? Get ready to laugh, learn, and click links for some of the best holiday videos and sites the Web has to offer.






  • Upload photos and inspire kids to stay on Santa's "Nice" list with Disney's personalized video messages. (I uploaded a class photo to encourage weeks of fantastic behavior!)
  • Turn yourself (or your students) into dancing holiday characters with Elf Yourself or Santa Yourself.
  • Track the guy in the big red suit around the world. Thanks to the folks at the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and Google Earth, kids can track Santa via Facebook and Twitter, and catch him on YouTube.  



Dare to dig deeper than Santa talk during the holidays?  Make school the place to ask tough or awkward questions in a respectful, safe, and nonjudgmental environment. Use the Web to foster understanding and spark a search for commonalities amongst seemingly different groups of people. Stretch your curriculum to cover more than winter holidays; include major festivals of light celebrated across the world. Your budding social scientists will love comparing and contrasting holidays and you'll make school the perfect place to learn about differences.

Test your own holiday knowledge below and find the perfect videos for your lessons.

1. Judah Maccabee was

  a. a presidential candidate

  b. the leader of a revolt against oppressive Greek customs and beliefs

  c. the hero of Hanukkah

(Answer: B and C)


2. Which of the following festive candelabras is used for an eight night celebration?

  a. a kinara 

  b. a menorah 

  c. an advent wreath  


(Answer: B)

My kids love this popular musical parody! Take note of the Maccabeats' hook Nes Gadol Haya Sham. These Hebrew words mean "A great miracle happened there." The first letter of the four Hebrew words Nes Gadol Haya Sham are adorned on each side of the dreidel. Have you played the dreidel game yet? Check out this video for detailed and amusing play instruction. For excellent Hanukkah activities, recipes, and a bevy of detailed resources, see Scholastic's Celebrate Winter Holidays and Chabad.org.  


Teachers' Domain

3. During Ramadan

  a. Muslims sacrifice, gain self-discipline, and learn to empathize with the needy. 

  b. worshippers fast for 30 days and abstain from all that is evil. (Yes, that even includes gossip!) 

  c. Muslims help the less fortunate.

Not sure? Watch a short video from the History Channel or Teachers' Domain. Teachers' Domain is a digital treasure box for your school! Register now to take advantage of thousands of FREE, fabulous educational videos and companion lesson plans.

(Answers: A, B and C)



Arthur's Holiday House on PBS!


For a multitude of great Ramadan resources for younger students, see Sue Ellen's Scrapbook on PBS's Arthur site and Kiddy House's Ramadan activities.







4. Kwanzaa is a 

  a. religious celebration for black people

  b. relatively new holiday steeped in seven positive principles for African-American families

  c. weeklong cultural celebration inspired by the harvest festivals of Africa   

(Answer: B and C)

Want more Kwanzaa?  See the Web site of Kwanzaa creator Dr. Maulana Karenga and Celebrate Winter Holidays. Does your school block YouTube?  You can view all of the Sesame Street's holiday videos at Sesame Street.org or purchase a Sesame Street DVD.


5. Diwali 

  a. celebrates the triumph of good over evil 

  b. is a five-day festival of light (full of fireworks and bold colors) incredibly popular in India and Nepal

  c. is usually celebrated in October or November by Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, and Buddhists all over the           world

(Answers: A, B and C)

For more Diwali resources see Teachers' DomainKiddy House, and Mandy Barrow's article "Diwali 2010."


6. The reason for the Christmas Season is 

   a. St. Nicholas, aka Santa Claus

   b. greed, profit, and commercialism 

   c. the birth, or advent, of Jesus Christ 


(Answer: C)

Want more Christmas? See Scholastic's Celebrate Winter Holidays and read Ruth Manna's great post on a different Christ-centered cultural celebration.  



With the huge variety of tested multicultural resources available on the Web, teachers can easily prepare children for a pluralistic society. For almost a decade, I've successfully used many of these videos in holiday history lessons for atheist students, as well as Buddhists, Muslims, Christians, and Jews. Take a look at a few guidelines that will make the child and parent of any belief system happy in your holiday learning lab. 

1. There is no need to force students to memorize random facts about various holidays. Focus on open-ended questions and student observations.

For example, after students watched Sesame Street's Hanukkah With Veronica Monica video, I simply asked them, "What did you notice in this video?"  Chaunci, a 4th grader, waved her hand vigorously. Before I could even call on Chaunci, she yelled, "Judah Maccabee is just like the English Separatists!" (The pilgrims.) "He wanted his freedom to worship. They wanted their freedom, too."

Devon, another 4th grader, chimed in, "That's a civil right! They wanted their rights!" (My school is involved in a yearlong study of social justice and civil rights. I was elated with the connections these 10-year-olds were able to make independently.)  

2. Invite a cultural interpreter to your classroom.

Find several culturally well-educated and not-so-easily-offended adult friends or class families to share how their family celebrates a special holiday. Don't have many diverse friends? Hire a professional cultural interpreter. Seek out cultural museums. I knew very little about Three Kings Day, for instance. But thanks to the knowledgeable experts of El Museo del Barrio, my children are now well-versed in this celebration of Puerto Rican pride. They have made astute connections between the holiday and traditional American Christmas customs and will march in a fabulous Three Kings Day parade in New York's Spanish Harlem. 

3. Don't make assumptions about any student's culture or creed. Avoid volunteering students to share something about their family customs. 

Students who would like to participate will offer commentary when and if they are ready. Every year students who are participants in holiday investigations make it known they have something to share. Most students and their families feel a new sense of pride in discussing holidays so often overlooked by popular media. 

Out of fear, many schools avoid all substantive holiday discourse. Many fail to realize that informed students make cultured, civilized adults. This season, let's be more afraid of ignorance than we are of information.  

Have a great digital or print resource for holiday investigations? Please share it!

Happy holidays!

Comments (4)


This is great. Teachers always are looking for information to help them expand children's cultural horizons and to include traditions that are too often excluded. Here's a site for kids that gives the background of Jewish holidays throughout the year:


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I think the most important part of this post is

"Don't make assumptions about any student's culture or creed. Avoid volunteering students to share something about their family customs."

There are few things worse than shining a spotlight on a child (or adult) for something that is very personal and private, or may not even be in that child's tradition. A well-meaning teacher might inadvertently do this, but is less likely to after reading your post. It might be worth talking it over with the student or with the student's family beforehand just in case.


Separation of church and state is not equivalent to ignorance and blindness to different cultures. Ms. Crawford is not suggesting that you teach these students that a specific holiday religious celebration is "right" or "wrong." The object of the lessons is to teach them to be culturally aware of those around them, and to be accepting of all beliefs.

As both a parent and future educator I am thrilled with these ideas! I am a Christian but also want my son to leaarn about other religions and cultures to foster acceptance, toleration and unity. Thank you!

separation of church and state??

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