So, I began researching books, websites, and tools that might help us put some “perspective” on the holiday season. I hope some of the resources I’ve discovered will be beneficial to those of you who enjoy going “behind the scenes” and finding out just what makes all this holiday stuff “tick”!
Have Yourself a Secular Little ChristmasChristmas...that most famous of Christian holidays. The one that can’t even be spoken without bringing up the religious connotation of the day. Even if you don’t even vaguely celebrate the birth of the Christ-child, your children probably have their curiosities as to how the day got it’s name, what those nativity scenes mean, or why that lady on the radio is going on and on about a silent, holy night. Is it really possible to teach children about the history of Christmas from a faith-free perspective?
According to my research? Yes, it is! A book created by National Geographic, called Holidays Around the World: Celebrate Christmas with Carols, Presents, and Peace would make a wonderful read-aloud to introduce your kids to the history behind the holiday, and even how it is celebrated in different countries. (There are also some other terrific holiday books in this series!)
Another book, newly published in 2010, covers the historyof the Christmas tree through various pagan and Christian practices. And kids of ALL ages will thoroughly enjoy the History Channel’s The History of Christmas videos.
Of course there are plenty of websites with Christmas info as well. I’d recommend beginning at Why Christmas, because of the breadth of material available. Then head over to TLC’s How Christmas Works for even more great insights. Another site with a wealth of information about Christmas and its many traditions is Lovely Christmas. And just for fun, you might want to head over to Snopes to get the skinny on some well-worn Christmas “facts” that might not be so trustworthy.
Let There Be (En)Light(enment)Hanukkah, or Chanukah, is another holiday with rituals and traditions tied closely with religion. While the symbols of the eight-day Festival of Lights may be familiar to us, we may not be aware of the biblical and cultural stories behind them. That makes Hanukkah a perfect subject for a homeschool learning unit in December.
The children’s book Four Sides, Eight Nights is a great starting point for a study because it uses the beloved dreidel to explore this Jewish holiday. Although a little older and possibly harder to find, Hanukkah!: A Three-Dimensional Celebration is a beautifully interactive, and objective look at the history behind the holiday. Older kids and teens might enjoy Hanukkah Trivia: 150 Fun and Fascinating Facts About Hanukkah. Discovery Streaming (subscription required) has a wonderful video called Jewish Customs: Hanukkah that explores both the traditions and modern celebrations of the festival.
The web is a terrific starting place for any study about Hanukkah. You can find a well-written overview of the holiday at Why Christmas. Elementary age children may enjoy a more interactive journey through Hanukkah at Hanukat. Older children will appreciate the videos, and articles about the holiday at History.com. And to explore even futher, you may want to check out the related lesson plans at the Lesson Plans Page.
Secular Holiday AlternativesLearning about the December holidays doesn’t HAVE to be all about religious tradition and history, though. There are some terrific secular celebrations that children will find equally fascinating. Education World has a great page of multicultural holiday lessons to start with and Spelling City has a multicultural list and games. And here are some other holiday sites you might find equally informative....
A weeklong celebration held in the United States honoring universal African heritage and culture. Learning Links:
Winter Solstice (Yule)
The longest night of the year, often celebrated as the coming of lighter days and the continuation of nature’s cycle.
- December Solstice Traditions and Customs
- Winter Solstice: History and Recipes
- Winter Solstice Explained
Although historically (and obscurely) tied to religion, Boxing Day has come to be associated with giving gifts of gratitude to tradesmen or others who have served you throughout the previous year