Holidays can be a fun experience for those students that celebrate them. Some holidays are a great opportunity to teach students about different traditions and infuse fun into learning. For some English Language Learners, they might be unfamiliar with the winter holidays that their classmates have celebrated for years. It can be helpful to go over basic holiday traditions and facts before the holiday begins.
For American holidays such as Martin Luther King Day, Groundhog Day, or Veterans day most students will celebrate them (though it is important to be aware that this is not always the case.) For cultural holidays such as New Year’s or Valentine’s Day, there is a greater chance that some students might not participate. Did you know that Valentine’s Day does not have many religious connections now but started out as a Christian and gory holiday?
Teaching about religious holidays requires more care. Not all students will celebrate the holiday. Even aspects of the holiday that may not seem religious still connect to the religious holiday. I suggest avoiding using “holiday” themes for academic materials such as candy canes, Santa Clause, stockings, or Christmas trees. Instead, teach about religious holidays without centering any one religion as the most “important” one. Take a look at this interfaith holiday calendar for examples of holidays to introduce throughout the year. Think about if you teach about world holidays all year, or only in December.
Resources for Navigating December Holidays
Teaching Tolerance has a number of articles and resources about teaching about holidays in December. This includes Avoiding the Holiday “Balance” Trap. This article has some general tips about making holiday instruction more inclusive. It is also part of an Addressing the December Dilemma learning pack with materials for students to examine cultural and family traditions. For older students, they can use it as part of a close reading lesson or analyze it through shared reading.
TESOL has suggested materials for teaching about December celebrations from around the world. They remind educators to keep materials respectful and academic.
Comparing and Contrasting Holidays
One way to integrate these holidays into lessons is to find aspects that are similar across different cultures. For example in the wintertime looking at how different cultures and religions use the symbol of light in their winter holidays. Also, consider surveying students at the beginning of the year to find out what holidays they celebrate. Then include books about these holidays in a holiday book basket.
If you decide to teach about holidays consider doing so throughout the school year. There are many important holidays that do not occur in December. For example, in Jewdisum the most significant holidays of the year occur in the fall (Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur). Students that are Muslim celebrate their most holy day (Ramadan) during a different month each year.
This set of materials about Holidays Around the World comes with fact sheets, picture vocabulary cards, and graphic organizers to help students compare and contrast a range of holidays all year long.
You can use posters of holidays from around the world along with picture vocabulary cards about each holiday to create a poster of holidays that share a similar theme. Then students can use the pictures to compare and contrast the holidays.