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New Year Customs from Around the World

Every year, people around the world mark the passage of time with New Year’s celebrations.  December 31 and January 1 find many more people than usual (even kids!) staying up well past their bedtimes. Learn more about this annual celebration here!

Around the world

Different cultures have different ways of celebrating the transition from the old year to the new.  It’s worth noting that some cultures which use a different calendar in addition to the Western civil one (also called the Gregorian calendar), may still mark the transition from one year to the next on January 1, but the cultural celebrations happen as the new year begins on their traditional calendar (for example, Chinese New Year and Islamic New Year).

What the heck is Hogmanay?

Hogmanay is what the New Year celebration is called in Scotland.  The word’s exact origin is unknown, but it may have come from the French word hoginane meaning “gala day”.  The name might also have come from the Anglo-Saxon haleg monath meaning “holy month”.  Some claim it came from the Scandinavian hoggo-nott meaning “yule”.  A traditional part of Hogmanay is “first footing”.  That’s when someone visits friends or family immediately after midnight to become the first person to go into their house in the new year.  First footers traditionally bring a lump of coal to ensure the house remains warm in the coming months.

No sour grapes allowed, but lentils are okay

When the clock strikes midnight in Spain, people reach for grapes.  Tradition has it that you should eat one grape each time the clock chimes.  In Romania, people dress up as dancing bears at the New Year to chase away evil spirits.  In Brazil, eating a bowlful of lentils at New Year is a guarantee of good fortune for the year ahead.

Ring the bells

At midnight on December 31, Buddhist temples and individuals all over Japan ring bells 108 times to symbolize the 108 human sins in Buddhist belief, and to get rid of the 108 worldly desires regarding sense and feeling in every Japanese citizen.  In Seoul, South Korea, the large bell in the Bosingak pavilion (originally constructed in 1396!) is rung just once a year at midnight on December 31.

Smashing stuff

In Denmark, people smash a plate on a friend’s doorstep to bring good luck over the next twelve months.  No one knows the origin of this strange tradition.  In Johannesburg, people like to begin the year without any unwanted items, so at the new year they chuck out old furniture by dropping it out of a window.

Speaking of dropping things…

In Times Square in New York City, the countdown to midnight finishes with a giant ball drop, when a glowing ball is lowered down a big flagpole to the cheers of a million people crammed into the streets below.  The ball is twelve feet in diameter, and weighs nearly 12,000 pounds.  It’s covered with more than 2,600 Waterford Crystal triangles.  The ball has been lowered every year since 1907, except for 1942 and 1943, when the ceremony was cancelled due to World War Two.   There are many ways to watch the ball drop live

Who is first (and last) to celebrate?

The Republic of Kiribati is the first nation to ring in the new year.  This Pacific atoll nation straddles the 180th meridian.  Even though its easternmost islands lie west of the Hawaiian Islands, an odd eastward thrust of the International Date Line gives Kiribati this privilege.  Kiribati is the only nation on earth which is situated in all four hemispheres.

The uninhabited Baker Island and nearby Howland Island, both U.S. possessions in the Pacific, are the last to say goodbye to the old year.  American Samoa is the last inhabited place on the globe to welcome the new year.


Although restrictions on large crowds due to the pandemic may limit fireworks displays, many are still planned and can be enjoyed from afar.  Sadly, the most famous fireworks display, held annually in Sydney, Australia will be toned down for New Year’s Eve 2020 due to pandemic restrictions.  In a normal year, the Sydney celebration would attract more than a million spectators to the city’s harbor, and one billion viewers on television and internet streaming.  Due to its time zone, Sydney is one of the first major cities in the world to enter the new year. 

Most major cities have fireworks displays each year including Dubai, Singapore, Niagara Falls, Berlin, and Rio de Janeiro, where fireworks are launched at the city’s famous Copacabana beach.  Again, fireworks displays in many of the world’s great cities this year have been cancelled or curtailed due to the pandemic, but some will be streamed online.

Virtual celebrations

Kids can zoom into the New Year with the many virtual “Noon” Year’s Eve celebrations offered by children’s museums and other non-profit groups.  Here are a few:

How can I celebrate New Year in my classroom?

Since most schools are closed for the winter holidays during the week between Christmas and New Year, it is difficult to celebrate the new year in your classroom on January 1.  However, you can celebrate the new year as schools reopen a day or two later.

Turning over a new leaf

For all students, the new year affords an opportunity to start over.  This can be particularly helpful for those students who have had a rough time academically and behaviorally in the autumn term.  Giving them a chance to reset, form new goals, and develop a new attitude about learning may be just what they need to succeed in the New Year.

Roses, thorns and buds from 2020: This prompt helps kids reflect on the past and move forward to what’s ahead.  Have each student share a highlight of 2020 (rose), a challenging or sad moment (thorn), and one thing they’re looking forward to (bud) in 2021.  This can be done in group discussion or as a written assignment.  Connecticut Children’s Medical Center has more great ideas.


Start a Journal: The new year is a great time for students of all ages to start writing a daily or weekly journal.  Create a Journal Center for students who are just beginning to write (K through 2).  In the center, place copies of a blank frame for drawing and a template for writing a journal entry that will be kept in a student’s folder.  The date and a prompt is posted in the center.  Beginning writers go to the center, copy the date, read the prompt, draw a picture, write, or dictate to an aide, a classroom volunteer, or an older student assistant from another grade.  Students may choose to share journal entries during time for sharing with the class.

Older elementary students will enjoy hearing Diary of a Worm by Doreen Cronin read out loud. This daily journal of a personified worm, reveals some of the good news and bad news about being a worm.  The book models journal writing with humor.  After reading, lead a discussion about the book asing questions such as: What do you think of the things the worm wrote about in his diary? What would you write about in your diary?

Check out Reading Rockets for more tips on journaling.

Making Predictions

Kids have great imaginations, so engage them with an opportunity to think about what the new year will be like in the area of science and technology.  What new inventions might be created?  What discoveries might be made?  What improvements to our lives might be coming?  You might want to start with a class discussion of some of the advances which are on the horizon in the areas of space exploration, undersea research, computers, and transportation.  Popular media such as Forbes, Interesting Engineering, and National Geographic usually offer summaries of trends in many areas this time of year.

New Year’s activities for elementary children

KidsKonnect has a thick bundle of New Year worksheets and activities available for download.  This packet includes:

  • New Year Facts
  • New Year’s Info by Numbers
  • Unique Traditions
  • Mapping New Year
  • New Year Ball Drop
  • Ancient Celebrations
  • Symbols and Meanings
  • New Year Around the World
  • My Resolution

From all of us at Help Teaching, best wishes for a healthy and prosperous New Year!

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 suitable for older elementary children
  • Learn how to make Christmas tree decorations from buttons at
  • Here are 7 easy holiday craft ideas for kids from Easy Kids Craft
  • Check out these 12 Christmas activities for toddlers and preschoolers at
  • Kids will love learning how to draw their favorite Christmas images at

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

Merry Christmas from all of us at Help Teaching!

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Ideas for Teaching Kwanzaa to Kids

Every year, people around the world celebrate a seven-day festival called Kwanzaa.  If you want to emphasize character education with your students, then this is the holiday for you!

What is Kwanzaa?

Kwanzaa is the African American and pan-African festival which celebrates family, community and culture.  Created in 1966 by activist and author Dr. Maulana Karenga, the holiday’s rituals promote African traditions and “Nguzo Saba”, the seven principles of African heritage that Karenga described as a “communitarian African philosophy”.

Karenga’s goal in creating Kwanzaa was to “give Blacks an alternative to the existing holiday and give Blacks an opportunity to celebrate themselves and their history, rather than simply imitate the practice of the dominant society”.  Despite this, people of all ethnic backgrounds can celebrate Kwanzaa, as the principles highlighted in the festival are universal.

When is Kwanzaa?

Though it is celebrated in late December, Kwanzaa is not an “African” Christmas celebration, but dovetails nicely with the Christmas ideals of joy, hope, love and giving.  It also fits well with the values taught during Hanukkah.  Because it’s a celebration of ideals, people of all faiths can feel comfortable celebrating Kwanzaa.  Unlike holidays in the world’s major religions which are often tied to the lunar cycle, Kwanzaa is always December 26-January 1.

What does the word “Kwanzaa” mean?

“Kwanza” is a Swahili word meaning “first”, drawn from the Swahili phrase “matunda ya kwanza” or “first fruits”.  Choosing a word from Swahili is significant as it is the most widely spoken language in Africa, spanning national boundaries, and thus establishing Kwanzaa as an inclusive holiday.  Kwanzaa does not originate in any of the 55 countries on the continent.

What is celebrated during Kwanzaa?

Five common sets of values are at the center of the festival: ingathering, reverence, commemoration, recommitment, and celebration.  The seven principles of Kwanzaa use Swahili words:

  • Umoja (unity)
  • Kujichagulia (self-determination)
  • Ujima (collective work and responsibility)
  • Ujamaa (cooperative economics)
  • Nia (purpose)
  • Kuumba (creativity)
  • Imani (faith)

Each of the seven candles signify the principles, and one is lit each day.

The symbols of Kwanzaa include crops (mzao) representing the historical roots of African-Americans in agriculture and the reward for collective labor.  The mat (mkeka) lays the foundation for self-determination. The candle holder (kinara) reminds people of their ancestral origins in African countries.  Corn/maize (muhindi) symbolizes children and the hope of the younger generation.  Gifts (Zawadi) represent commitments of the parents for the children.  The unity cup (Kkimbe cha Umoja) is used to pour libations to ancestors.  Finally, the seven candles (mishumaa saba) remind participants of the seven principles and the colors in flags of African liberation movements — 3 red, 1 black, and 3 green.

How is Kwanzaa celebrated?

In addition to candle lighting, gifts are exchanged during Kwanzaa.  On December 31 participants celebrate with a banquet of food (“karamu”) — often cuisine from various African countries.  People greet one another with “Habari gani” which is Swahili for “how are you/ how’s the news with you?”  Celebrations include music, dance, poetry, and storytelling.  January 1 is a day dedicated to reflection and recommitment to the seven principles and other central cultural values.

How can I celebrate Kwanzaa in my classroom?

Well, since most schools are closed for the winter holidays during the week between Christmas and New Years, it is difficult to celebrate Kwanzaa in your classroom on the exact dates of the festival.  Why not celebrate it during the week leading up to your school’s holiday break?  Obviously if you are a homeschool, you can do Kwanzaa starting on December 26.

Since Kwanzaa is not a religious holiday, it can be celebrated by all students regardless of their family’s beliefs.  Your classroom library should include books about Kwanzaa, but if not, ask your school’s media center director for Kwanzaa resources.  Scholastic offers reasonably-priced Kwanzaa books for kids.  The classic book for the holiday, My First Kwanzaa Book by Deborah Newton Chocolate, is available on Amazon, but it is quite pricey.  You may wish to opt for the YouTube version where a teacher reads the story aloud.
I highly recommend the film “The Black Candle” for older students.  This vibrant, landmark documentary, narrated by Maya Angelou and directed by M.K. Asante, Jr., uses Kwanzaa as a vehicle to explore and celebrate the African-American experience.

Kwanzaa activities for elementary children

Help Teaching has many Kwanzaa-themed worksheets and activities in Language Arts, Math and Social Studies. 

Kwanzaa song

Preschoolers and kindergarteners will enjoy this song sung to the tune of Three Blind Mice!

(Author Unknown

Red, green, black,

Red, green, black,

Kwanzaa’s here,

Kwanzaa’s here,

The decorations are quite a sight,

We light a candle every night,

The holiday is filled with light,

Kwanzaa’s here.

Make a kinara

An important symbol of Kwanzaa is the kinara, a candelabra which holds one black, three red, and three green candles.  Red, black, and green are the colors of the Pan-African flag, which symbolizes unity among African people all over the world.  Each candle on the kinara represents one of the holiday’s seven principles.  Your students can make their own kinara, or one for the classroom.

Supplies needed: 

6 small cardboard tubes (toilet paper tubes are perfect)

1 long cardboard tube (paper towel roll works)

Green, red, and black paint

Yellow or orange tissue paper

Elmer’s (white) glue


Paint three of the small tubes red and the other three green.  Paint the long tube black.  When the tubes are dry, glue them side by side forming a line, the green tubes on one side, the red ones on the other and the black tube in the middle.  Crumple up a piece of the tissue paper and push it into the top of each tube so that it looks like a flame.

Benne Cakes

A food from West Africa.  Benne means sesame seeds.  This would make a fun project for your class.


oil to grease a cookie sheet

1 cup finely packed brown sugar

1/4 cup butter or margarine, softened

1 egg, beaten

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup toasted sesame seeds


Preheat the oven to 325°.  Lightly oil a cookie sheet.  Mix together the brown sugar and butter, and beat until they are creamy.  Stir in the egg, vanilla extract, and lemon juice.  Add flour, baking powder, salt, and sesame seeds.  Drop by rounded teaspoons onto the cookie sheet two inches apart.  Bake for 15 minutes or until the edges are browned.  Enjoy! (from Mr. Donn’s Site for Kids & Teachers)

Additional educational resources

Official Kwanzaa Website

Seven Interesting Facts about Kwanzaa at

African Burial Ground National Monument, New York 

NC State Univ. African American Cultural Center

Kwanzaa Facts & Worksheets from

Loads of craft ideas from Artists Helping Children

Try this Kwanzaa interactive from PBS’ “Arthur” series

Virtual Kwanzaa Celebrations

St. Louis County Library

NJPAC (New Jersey Performing Arts Center) 

Creative Suitland of Prince George’s County, Maryland

Anne Arundel County Public Library

Image source: Happy Kwanzaa from

How to learn about and celebrate Hanukkah

Whether you’re Jewish or want to teach your students more about this popular observance, we unpack the holiday and list activities and worksheets that you can use today!

Although it doesn’t rank among the most important of the Jewish holidays, Hanukkah is one of the most widely observed Jewish celebrations. This eight-day “Festival of Lights” illuminates what is, for many in the northern hemisphere, the darkest, coldest season of the year.

Hanukkah brings light, joy, and warmth to our homes and communities.  The holiday’s central ritual of lighting candles of a menorah each day literally brings light to the darkness.  Metaphorically, the presence of light is reflected in an emphasis on charitable donations and, for some Jews, a commitment to social action and social justice.

What are the origins of Hanukkah?

Hanukkah (sometimes spelled Chanukah) recalls the second-century BC victory of a small group of Jewish rebels (led by Judas Maccabeus and his brothers, known together as “the Maccabees”) over the armies of the Seleucid Empire.  The Maccabees seized control of Judea and founded the Hasmonean dynasty, which ruled for over 100 years.

Hanukkah means “dedication” in Hebrew, because the major accomplishment of the Maccabees was a rededication of the Jerusalem Temple, which for many years had been used for the worship of Persian and Greek deities.  The Maccabees were also responsible for expanding the boundaries of Judea and reducing the influence of what they considered pagan Hellenism.

The miracle of Hanukkah, which is reflected in the lighting of candles and eating foods prepared in oil, comes from the story that when the Maccabees rescued the Temple from the Seleucids, they could only find one small cruse of oil that bore the seal of the priests.  All the others had been profaned.  There was only enough oil to light the Temple’s menorah for one day.  Instead, by a miracle, the oil lasted eight days and nights – long enough for the priests to prepare and consecrate new oil.

Why does the date of Hanukkah change every year?

Hanukkah always starts at sundown on the 25th day of the month of Kislev on the Hebrew calendar.  All days on the Jewish calendar start at nightfall.  The secular date of Hanukkah changes every year because the Hebrew calendar is based on the lunar cycle.  Hanukkah can occur anytime between November 28th and December 26th.  This year it begins at sunset on December 10, 2020.  In 2021, Hanukkah begins on the evening of November 28.  The annual festival of lights happens in 2022 starting on December 18.

Free and Pro Hanukkah worksheets and activities

Help Teaching has surveyed many Hanukkah-related educational resources for you to download and use.  Here are the highlights:

Our own Hanukkah-themed resources include: 

There are many others listed in our Winter Holidays worksheet collection that cover ELA, math, sciences, games and puzzles, and more.

Fun Hanukkah activities

Hanukkah is a special time to enjoy with friends and family, and fun games and activities are part of the tradition. 

  • Hanukkah Mad Lib: Children will have fun spinning the dreidel and doing some Hanukkah Mad Libs which will provide hours of laughs while helping kids expand their knowledge of parts of speech.  If you don’t want to buy the book, make your own Mad Libs, or try this free one from My Jewish Learning.
  • Listen and Learn: Older children and adults will enjoy listening to stories of the season on “Hanukkah Lights” from National Public Radio carried on stations across the country.  For more than 15 years, NPR has offered original stories inspired by the Jewish festival of lights. Hosted by NPR’s Susan Stamberg, and Murray Horwitz, each year Hanukkah Lights marks the age-old Jewish celebration with contemporary fiction. Previous years’ episodes are available free and on-demand.
  • Get cooking: Food is a delicious part of Hanukkah. Holiday treats include latkes, sufganiyot, bimuelos (fried dough puffs) and keftes de prasas (leek patties). You and your kids will enjoy watching the PBS program “Sara’s Weeknight Meals: Jewish Holidays” airing on many stations across the country.  Find out where and when or watch on YouTube. Sara Moulton serves up two traditional Hanukkah dishes that are tricky to prepare.  Step by step, she takes us through the process, starting with Braised Brisket, and on the side, her Aunt Rifka’s recipe for matzo balls they call ‘flying disks’.  Sara and her nephew visit the farm and food incubator Stone Barns in Westchester, New York, to get fresh winter vegetables for her Root Vegetable Latkes. 
  • Games: These involve making your own simple cutout crafts from construction paper or card stock
    • Play “Pin the Candle on the Menorah”.  Have your kids draw and color a giant menorah on posterboard, then make cutout candles to stick on while blindfolded.  Kids take turns until all eight candles are placed.
    • Make a “tick, tack, toe” game out of dreidels and menorahs using hand drawn and cut out pieces and a hand-drawn game board.  Many crafts stores sell foam Hanukkah stickers which can be used as game pieces
  • Crafts:
    • Make a Star of David and Menorah sculptures out of popsicle sticks and a little glue.  Color the sticks beforehand.  You could use pipe cleaners instead of sticks.
    • Organize a plate of fruit into the shape of a menorah
    • There are more great craft ideas listed here.

You will find 101 Hanukkah activities for kids of all ages at

Printable worksheets

Printable worksheets are a great way to engage students in learning a new topic. KidsKonnect is a growing library of high-quality, printable worksheets for teachers and homeschoolers.  They have loads of Hanukkah Facts and Worksheets that include a fact file and activities for a range of ability levels.

Hanukkah online and multi-media resources

My Jewish Learning is offering a live community candle-lighting over Zoom every night of Hanukkah. has a platter full of Hanukkah resources, videos, recipes, and activities for all ages.

Making your classroom more holiday-inclusive

This can be a challenge, particularly in today’s pluralistic society.  Here are a few ideas for celebrating holiday ideas upon which most families can agree no matter their faith or absence of it.

  • Move the spotlight off the individual student and onto others by underscoring the spirit of giving
    • Students can study figures from history who spent their lives focused on the needs of others
    • Children can also make gifts for each other, their parents/guardians, or other family members
    • Have your students taking part in a food drive or toy drive as a method to teach about the spirit of giving
  • Create multicultural celebrations
    • Acknowledging the various beliefs of students in your classroom can extend beyond the month of December
    • Celebrations of the major holidays of various faiths could occur throughout the year at the appropriate time
    • Why not make a commemoration of a holiday an opportunity to give a history lesson on the development of the holiday?
    • You can have your students investigate the cultural significance of the celebration
    • Learning about various faiths does not signify an endorsement by you or the school of that belief system
  • Limit celebrations to foundational ideas
    • A vital part of multiculturalism is to teach children about various points of view
    • By focusing on common ideas such as charity, celebrations become more universal without the added layer of religious debate
  • Maintain anti-bias goals
    • Holiday celebrations are a great way to have students examine the similarities and differences of our shared society
    • Shedding light on these differences, and celebrating them in a non-judgmental manner, is a great lesson for children to learn
  • Finally, keep parents/guardians informed
    • Let the parents/guardians of your students know ahead of time what and how religious holidays will be commemorated
    • In this way, parents can nuance what you are teaching in the classroom with their own beliefs
    • Some parents may want their child to opt out of the holiday celebration, so be prepared with an appropriate response which honors their beliefs
    • Let your school administrator know what you will be doing with regard to religious holidays, and follow the school’s guidance on the issue

Teachers and administrators may find this article helpful when assessing options for instruction about religions in U.S. public schools.

Hanukkah may be a Jewish holiday, but this festival of lights can be celebrated by all.

Hanukkah sameach!

Image source: Hanging Stars Vectors by Vecteezy

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