• Holiday Learning Resources for the Secular Homeschooler

    christmas-jpgMy email inbox has been crammed this past month with links to Christmas learning resources. As you might imagine, though, the majority of them are written from a Christian world view. I think it can be a bit more challenging for secular homeschoolers to find resources that will help them teach their children about the holidays (both religious and secular) from a wider viewpoint.

    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 Christmas

    Christmas...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 Alternatives

    Learning 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.
    Learning Links:

    Boxing Day
    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
    Learning Links:
    Comments 6 Comments
    1. KristinK's Avatar
      KristinK -
      what a great list of resources! I have a question though - the History of Christmas DVD - does it "ruin" Santa Claus? My kids are young still, so while I'd like to give them an idea of how Christmas came to be, I do still want them to believe in Santa for a while yet!
    1. Topsy's Avatar
      Topsy -
      (yikes!!!) There is a lot of history about St. Nicholas, but I truly can't remember what it says about our current Santa Claus traditions. It's been a while since I saw it, and that is a REALLY good question. If I can find out, I'll update ASAP!
    1. Kell's Avatar
      Kell -
      I really appreciate this list. I will also be sharing it with some great non-homeschoolers at the UU church we attend, who I am certain will find it to be equally beneficial. Thank you so much.
    1. aries2781's Avatar
      aries2781 -
      Our family celebrates (opens presents, takes the day off work, etc.) on Yule and my children get a santa gift on christmas morning (since it was a tradition for me as a child), so I am very excited to see this list of resources. My oldest daughter is 6 and she has been giving me facts on Hanukkah and Kwanzaa that she has learned from various (parent selected) TV shows, so I know she's interested. THANKS!
    1. inmom's Avatar
      inmom -
      My teens are learning more about Boxing Day this year. My husband started a job this summer with a Toronto-based company and thus gets Boxing Day off in addition to his U.S. holidays. We've been learning a lot the last few months about the very subtle cultural differences between Canadians and U.S. citizens.
    1. alexdk's Avatar
      alexdk -
      Some of the links are not valid anymore..any chance to update them? This is a wonderful resource!
      Thank you!
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