Here are some of our favorite ideas for Christmas Around the World lessons for England.
The Jolly Christmas Postman is the holiday version of Janet and Allan Ahlberg’s famous The Jolly Postman. As in the first book, we follow the postman as he delivers the mail on his bicycle. And just as in the first book, we get to read the mail — letters from one fairy tale character to another. In this book, Red Riding Hood sends a “Wolf-Spotter’s Guide” to the big bad wolf, wishing him “A saucy Xmas,” while he sends her a wonderful little board game which the reader can play. The last piece of mail is a magical card for the postman himself. The book is lots of fun, and very British, with tea and ginger beer and mince pies. Once you’ve read the book, leave it in a center for careful reading. Here is a recipe for mince pies. Use it for math practice, converting the measurements to standard U.S. measures.
Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol is a fine choice for English Christmas literature for students in middle school and up. Teacher Created has done a lit unit for it,and Brett Helquist has done a picture book edition with the original language.
We like to use this book for writing. I think it is safe to say that students who have read and analyzed the following paragraph will see the point of using lively vocabulary, perhaps far better than if we put up a poster on the subject.
Oh! But he was a tightfisted hand at the grind-stone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster. The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shriveled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice. A frosty rime was on his head, and on his eyebrows, and his wiry chin. He carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced his office in the dog days; and didn’t thaw it one degree at Christmas.
Sort out the verbs, nouns, adjectives, and adverbs in this paragraph, and have students do some dictionary work. Then discuss how clearly this description allows us to see Scrooge.
Father Christmas is the gift-bringer in England, and Father Christmas by Raymond Briggs shows a very English Father Christmas. This is a fun, almost wordless book, which has also been made into a DVD. It is no longer in print, but your library may have it. If not, you can still tell the class about Father Christmas.
Traditionally, Father Christmas wears long robes rather than the pants Santa Claus wears, but our increasingly flat world is drawing the two closer together, and British images now often look very like American ones. Make a chart at the beginning of your Christmas Around the World unit with the nations you study and the name of the gift-bringer in each case.
Christmas cards are an English invention. If you read The Jolly Christmas Postman, use the cards in that book as examples, and practice letter-writing by making cards.
Christmas crackers are also popular in England. These are paper tubes with a paper hat, a joke, and a prize inside. People pull on the ends, and they break open with a “crack!” to reveal the contents. Here is a set of directions for making real crackers that will pop. Here is an easier set of instructions: basically, cover a toilet paper roll with bright paper and tie the ends. We like to put math problems inside for classroom use, but here are the BBC’s top ten Christmas cracker jokes. That last link also has a photo tutorial for making the crackers.
To use these for a math activity, have each student make one (getting in plenty of measuring and direction-following practice along the way). For the surprise inside, use 10 small wrapped hard candies or counters. Have students make a slip of paper with math problems that can be calculated using the ten candy manipulatives. Mix the crackers up and let students pull them, so that each one gets a cracker, but not the one he or she made. Have them figure out the problems, using the manipulatives. Then each student can track down the problem he or she made up, and check to make sure the right answer has been found.
This will give a festive air to basic math practice.
One Christmas food of England which will be new and surprising to American students is the Figgy Pudding. We have all sung “Now bring us some figgy pudding… we won’t go until we get some,” but few of the kids in your class will have seen one.
We like to use English recipes for math practice, since they let us practice converting metric to standard U.S. measurements, but you have probably already done that with the mince pie recipe, so here is a figgy pudding recipe in American measurements. The challenge: since it serves 12, you will need to increase the measurements to make enough for the class. Depending how precise you decide to be, this will give you lots of practice in multiplying fractions.
Many of our Christmas carols come from England, and the custom of caroling is one that our two nations share. There is another type of entertainment associated with Christmas in England which is less familiar to us in the United States: the panto, or pantomime. This is not the silent mime we use the word for, but a light-hearted family show especially popular at Christmas. Our Puss in Boots Lesson Plans include links and information on the custom (Puss in Boots is a favorite story for the panto).