Every culture observes special days of some kind, and the traditions associated with these holidays are often important elements of the cultural identity and experience.
As you’re looking at holidays celebrated in your own community, why not explore some of those celebrated by neighbors of different cultural heritages? We’ve chosen three here to share with you, but we like to ask students to choose a celebration they’ve heard of and do some research on it.
Places to look for holidays to study:
- The events section of your local paper
- Students’ family albums or family members’ memories
- Calendars listing international holidays
Then turn students loose to learn what they can about the holiday they’ve chosen. We’ve prepared a simple holiday traditions worksheet you can use to guide their research.
Here are three fall holidays we’d like to share with you:
The Festival of Lights is a traditional Indian celebration beginning in 2013 on November 3rd. Here are some handy resources:
- Background information on Diwali.
- Marilyn Scott Waters offers PDF files of cards and boxes to give on Diwali, as well as traditional designs for Rangoli, the practice of decorating floors with special celebratory designs.
- Activities for Diwali, including making lamps of clay
This festival, celebrated in Thailand, falls on November 17th in 2013. Thousands of people bring beautifully decorated boats to put into the river.
- Here’s the song for Loy Krathong in English (a klong is a canal):
November full moon shines, Loy Krathong, Loy Krathong,
and the water’s high in local river and the klong
loy loy krathong, loy loy krathong
Loy krathong is here and everybody’s full of cheer
We’re together at the throng, each one with his krathong,
As we push away we pray we can see a better day!
- Directions for making a krathong. Crayola has instructions with paper if you don’t have a banana tree handy. However, boats made of paper shouldn’t be put into a river, for environmental reasons, unless you’re prepared to fish them back out again and dispose of them properly.
Rosh Hashana is celebrated all over the world by Jewish people as a day of remembrance and the beginning of a new year. In 2013, it begins on September 4th.
- Apples and honey are traditional Rosh Hashana foods. Apple slices are dipped into honey while praying for a sweet year. The Toymaker has apple themed cut outs for Rosh Hashana.
- A special event at Rosh Hashana is the blowing of the shofar, a natural ram’s horn used as a musical instrument. A simple coloring page can be the basis for a creative picture, or learn about the science behind musical horns. You can even make your own shofar as a craft project, though we don’t think you’ll get much sound from it.
- Amy Robinson offers a lesson plan looking at Rosh Hashana from the point of view of traditions.
Both Diwali and Loy Krathong involve sending candles in boats onto water. Diwali and Rosh Hashana are both new year holidays. Loy Krathong and Rosh Hashana have special music. Whichever holidays your class chooses to study, compare and contrast them. Finish up the unit with a selection of oral presentations.
Note that all three of the holidays we’ve mentioned here are religious holidays (Diwali is a Hindu holiday, Loy Krathong is Buddhist, and Rosh Hashana is Jewish). Most states include among their educational standards the understanding that traditions, including holidays, often have a religious component. We think that a respectful and even-handed recognition of different religious traditions is appropriate in classrooms. However, if you, your community or your school prefers either to avoid mentions of religion or to focus on a single religion, there are many secular observances too, from National Angel Food Cake Day to Veterans Day.