Follow Jackie Howes' guidelines for introducing elementary students to a variety of winter holidays, including Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Divali, and Ramadan.
Based on an African harvest festival, Kwanzaa celebrates African-American heritage and seven principles: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith.
When Is It? December 26–January 1
Books to Read: Seven Spools of Thread, by Angela Shelf Medearis, explores the Kwanzaa principles in folktale form. K is for Kwanzaa, by Juwanda Ford, shares kid-friendly recipes, customs, and facts.
Activity to Try: A Mkeka mat traditionally holds the fruits and vegetables of the harvest and is an integral part of the Kwanzaa celebration. Kids can make their own: Fold 9" x 12" black construction paper in half. Make seven cuts from the fold to 1" from the end of the paper. Unfold the paper and weave in 9" x 1" red and green paper strips.
Website to Visit: Kwanzaa Word Search
Hanukkah is an eight-day Jewish festival commemorating “the miracle of the oil.”
When Is It? Dates vary year to year
Books to Read: Celebrate Hanukkah, by Deborah Heiligman, takes readers on an around-the-world tour of the holiday with photos and facts. Hanukkah at Valley Forge, by Stephen Krensky, sheds light on an anecdote about George Washington learning the Hanukkah story.
Activity to Try: Make a menorah using nine cups of an egg carton. Glue them upside-down onto cardboard. Paint and poke a hole 1/4" round in the top of each cup. Roll colored construction paper for candles. Stick a piece of yellow tissue paper into the top for a flame.
Website to Visit: Celebrate Hanukkah in Israel: A Lesson Plan
Howes focuses her study of Christmas on the legend of the Christmas tree.
When Is It? December 25
Books to Read: The Christmas Tree, by Daniel J. Foley, contains history and legend about the festive decoration.
Activity to Try: Invite children to make miniature Christmas trees. Spray-paint pinecones green and give one to each child. If they do not stand up on their own, make a sturdy base with clay. Wrap cotton around the clay for snow. Use hole-punches for paper ornaments.
Website to Visit: Clifford Christmas coloring page
Also spelled Diwali and Deepavali, Divali is the “Festival of Lights” cele-brated by Hindis, Sikhs, and Buddhists, among others. It symbolizes the victory of good over evil. While the date usually falls earlier in the year, many teachers choose to include it in a holiday study.
When Is It? Dates vary year to year
Books to Read: In Lights for Gita, by Rachna Gilmore, a young immigrant girl celebrates Divali in a new country. Diwali, by Trudi Strain Trueit, is part of the excellent nonfiction series Rookie Read-About Holidays.
Activity to Try: Make a traditional floral garland by inviting each child to create a paper flower and connecting them to hang over the door.
Website to Visit: Let's Celebrate Diwali!: A Lesson Plan
Observed in Spanish-speaking countries and Spanish-speaking communities in the United States, Las Posadas is a nine-day celebration prior to Christmas that commemorates Joseph and Mary’s search for shelter.
When Is It? December 16–24
Books to Read: Uno, Dos, Tres, Posada!, by Virginia Kroll, gives a glimpse of holiday preparations through the eyes of a young girl. Las Posadas, by Diane Hoyt-Goldsmith, features photos, recipes, and traditional songs.
Activity to Try: During Las Posadas, children parade from house to house, asking for shelter. When a hostess lets them in, a festive party ensues. Try making a common party game—a colorful piÃ±ata. Fill a paper grocery bag with wrapped candies. Decorate the bag with brightly colored, fringed crepe paper or tissue paper. Cut small slits in the bag to weaken it before students whack at it with a yardstick.
Website to Visit: Make a Miniature PiÃ±ata
Ramadan and Eid Al-Fitr
Ramadan is a Muslim holy month associated with prayer, fasting, and charity, followed by a three-day festival: Eid al-Fitr. While Ramadan has passed this year, like Divali, schools often include it in their December roundup.
When Is It? Exact dates vary by region
Books to Read: Celebrate Ramadan & Eid Al-Fitr, by Deborah Heiligman, is part of another terrific holiday series, Holidays Around the World. Ramadan, by Suhaib Hamid Ghazi, looks at the holy month from the viewpoint of one child.
Activity to Try: Invite children to make traditional greeting cards for Eid al-Fitr. An Eid card opens on the right-hand side. Use bright colors to draw natural objects (such as stars or trees—people and animals traditionally do not appear). On the inside of the card write “Best Wishes for Eid al-Fitr.”
Website to Visit: Let's Celebrate Ramadan!: A Lesson Plan