Christmas History & Activities for Kids

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!  Or so the song goes.  There are many ways you can celebrate Christmas with your students.  Let HelpTeaching assist you with resources, worksheets, activities, and links to educational content for every taste.

What is Christmas?

Christmas is a season of gift-giving, feasting with family, reconnecting with friends, and decorating homes with lights, wreaths, and trees.  For others, it’s all that and more. Christians celebrate Christmas because it marks the birth of their savior Jesus Christ.  Christmas means different things to different people.

History of Christmas

The first recorded Christmas celebration was in Rome on December 25, 336 CE.  That’s more than 300 years after the time when Jesus was born.  In the Roman calendar, December 25 was the winter solstice, which was considered a Pagan holiday.  A fourth-century sermon by St. Augustine explains why Christian leaders felt this was a fitting day to celebrate Christ’s birth: “Hence it is that He was born on the day which is the shortest in our earthly reckoning and from which subsequent days begin to increase in length. He, therefore, who bent low and lifted us up chose the shortest day, yet the one whence light begins to increase.”  The story of Jesus’ birth is found in the Bible.  Christians believe Jesus is God’s son, so that’s why his birth is so special.

Christmas remained a religious holiday in the West for many centuries gaining popularity in the middle ages.  The non-religious aspects of Christmas developed over time and in the last hundred years or so, many people on all continents celebrate the holiday in a more secular way.  Religious celebrations of Christmas are still held around the world.

Ho, Ho, Ho…

The jolly ol’ big guy in the red flannel suit is one of the most familiar symbols of Christmas.  The tradition of Santa Claus evolved from the true story of the Christian bishop who became Saint Nicholas.  The real Nicholas dates from the fourth century CE, and his legendary secret gift-giving gave rise to the traditional Santa Claus, a name based on “Sinterklass”, the Dutch rendering of Saint Nicholas.

Our modern image of Santa Claus came about through the blending of several images and stories in the 19th century.  Clement Moore’s poem “A Visit From St. Nicholas” (better known today as “The Night Before Christmas“) was published in Troy, New York, in 1823.  Moore’s description of Santa as a “chubby and plump” elf whose reindeer-pulled sleigh lands on someone’s roof became inspiration for cartoonist Thomas Nast’s illustration of jolly St. Nick in 1863.  The look of Santa in a red suit with a long white beard became seared in the American mind with the 1930’s Coca-Cola advertisements created by artist Haddon Sundblom.

Around the world

Different cultures around the globe have a variety of ways to celebrate Christmas.  Here are few traditions from around the world:

  • In Japan, despite only 1% of the population claiming to be Christian, people flock to Kentucky Fried Chicken for their Christmas meal.  People order their boxes months in advance or stand in line for two hours or longer to get their “finger lickin’ good” food.
  • Iceland celebrates not twelve, but thirteen days of Christmas.  On each of the thirteen nights before Christmas, Icelandic children are visited by the Yule Lads who put either candy (if they’ve been good) or rotten potatoes in their shoes while they sleep.
  • In Brazil, many Christmas traditions come from Portugal, as Brazil was once a Portuguese colony.  Nativity scenes, known as presépio, are very popular.  They are set-up in churches and homes all through December.
  • In Uganda, the proper name for Christmas is Sekukkulu. Churches are the center of the celebrations with church bells ringing and carols sung by candlelight.  A Christmas feast of matooke and grilled chicken is served.  Matooke is a starchy variety of banana which is harvested green, peeled, and then steamed and mashed.
  • In New Zealand, Christmas comes in the middle of the summer vacation season, so lots of people spend time on the beach, camping, or at their baches (holiday homes).  Kiwis often have a Christmas barbecue featuring grilled ham slices, venison, and shrimp.  The Christmas tree in New Zealand is the pōhutukawa with its bright red flowers blooming in mid- to late December.
  • In Lebanon, Christians build manger scenes called nativity cribs in their homes.  The crib is more popular than a Christmas tree.  Santa Claus is known as Baba Noël, and people eat sugared almonds drunk with cups of strong coffee.

Christmas activities

There are loads of ways to keep your little elves busy right up to the big day, and to keep them engaged after they get tired of playing with their new toys in the days after Christmas.  Take a look at Christmas: 12 delightful recipes for the best family time from the charity World Vision for recipes not just for food but for family enrichment, too.

Christmas cooking ideas

Christmas cooking is more than just baking cookies!  And it can be a great learning experience for children.

Christmas craft ideas

  • Try this Santa Candy Holder from SantaGames.net suitable for older elementary children
  • Learn how to make Christmas tree decorations from buttons at Gathered.how
  • Here are 7 easy holiday craft ideas for kids from Easy Kids Craft
  • Check out these 12 Christmas activities for toddlers and preschoolers at Teachingmama.org
  • Kids will love learning how to draw their favorite Christmas images at ArtProjectsforKids.org

Christmas, language arts, and math

Check out HelpTeaching’s Christmas-themed worksheets and activities here.  There are many seasonal worksheets and tests waiting for your students here.

Our friends at KidsKonnect have a sleigh full of Christmas worksheets and activities:

Christmas storytelling

Christmas has inspired so much great literature, and it will inspire your students to write creatively, too.

  • Perhaps the most popular and famous Christmas tale is Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.  Help Teaching has resources to accompany classroom or individual reading of this special story.
  • Kids will have creative fun making their own versions of Clement Moore’s classic poem ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.
  • You can keep the holiday rolling as kids explore the theme of the Twelve Days of Christmas
  • Children love Dr. Seuss, so why not include a reading of How the Grinch Stole Christmas to your holiday?  Use the accompanying worksheet to assess understanding of the story.
  • Storyline Online presents the Brothers Grimm tale “The Elves and the Shoemaker” free.  This 6-minute video aimed at 2nd – 3rd grade is produced by the SAG-AFTRA Foundation which streams free videos featuring celebrated actors reading children’s books alongside creatively produced illustrations.  They even provide a free, detailed teacher’s guide to the story packed with lesson ideas and worksheets.
  • The Indianapolis Public Library has plenty of Christmas read-alouds on video and free printed resources, including Christmas worksheets with Curious George and Pete the Cat.

Virtual Christmas

  • 61st Annual LA County Holiday Celebration. This free virtual Christmas Eve event will be streamed live 3-6 p.m., Pacific time
  • Thinking of hosting your students for an online holiday party?  Consider these tips offered by TeachingDegree.org.

Merry Christmas from all of us at Help Teaching!

Image Source: Freepik.com

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