In December, Christmas can feel all-consuming, especially to kids who are eager to participate in their favorite once-a-year activities. But as our world becomes more diverse, it’s more important than ever for parents and sitters to expose kids to different cultures. The winter holidays of Christmas, St. Lucia Day, Winter Solstice, Hanukkah, Mardi Gras, Kwanzaa, and Chinese New Year provide a perfect opportunity to teach kids about the myriad of religious and cultural traditions that surround us. Get started with these tips for teaching kids about different holidays around the world.
Learn About the Winter Holidays Around the World
If your family celebrates Christmas, begin by learning about other traditions and investigating other winter holidays:
- Hanukkah is the Jewish eight-day, wintertime “festival of lights,” celebrated with a nightly menorah lighting, special prayers, and fried foods. Learn more about Hanukkah.
- St. Lucia Day honors a saint on December 13 in Sweeden. Many girls in dress up as “Lucia brides” in long white gowns with red sashes, and a wreath of burning candles on their heads. They wake up their families by singing songs and bringing them coffee and twisted saffron buns called “Lucia cats.” Learn more about St.Lucia Day.
- Winter Solstice occurs on or around December 21 and is the shortest day of the year. People all over the world mark the occasion with celebrations and festivals. Learn more about the Winter Solstice.
- Kwanzaa means “First Fruits” and takes place from December 26 to January 1. The holiday is based on ancient African harvest festivals and celebrates family life and unity. Learn more about Kwanzaa.
- Chinese New Year falls between January 21 and February 20 each year and is an important traditional Chinese holiday that celebrates the beginning of the Chinese calendar. Learn more about Chinese New Year.
- Mardi Gras is the Tuesday before Lent that begins a time of merry-making for many people around the world. In New Orleans, people wear costumes and attend huge parades for the festival of Mardi Gras. Brazil’s Carnaval also features parades, costumes, and music. This day is also known as Shrove Tuesday. Learn more about Mardi Gras.
You can also teach kids about how other cultures and countries celebrate the same holidays. Around the world, different communities have special traditions that don’t look anything like American Christmas or Hanukkah celebrations. For example, in Yemen, the seventh night of Hanukkah celebrates women and honors Hannah and her seven sons who refused to give up their beliefs. In Italy, Christmas isn’t all about Santa. La Befana is a kind witch who leaves gifts for children on January 5. Research other countries to find out how their holiday celebrations differ from your own.
Tap into Cultural Resources
Museums, libraries, and cultural institutions provide a wealth of information about the world around us and often have special displays, exhibits, and events during the winter holidays. Find options near you and take advantage of these local resources that celebrate diversity.
Go Beyond Your Comfort Zone
People often live in communities with populations that are demographically similar. In other words, your neighbors probably practice a familiar faith and celebrate holidays in recognizable ways. Make the effort to introduce your kids to people outside of these circles. Learning about different traditions and religions requires us to push beyond our comfort zones to broaden our children’s understanding of the world.
Participate in Other Cultural Traditions
Kids love celebrating any holiday, which is why exposing them to new cultures when they are young can have a lasting and positive effect. If you and your family are invited to celebrate a holiday with people who practice a different faith, don’t hesitate to accept. Being immersed in a cultural tradition—even if only for a short time—can bring a new level of understanding, provide kids with the opportunity to ask questions, and help them understand the similarities that exist between different cultures.
The Winter Holidays are Just a Starting Point
Learning about different traditions doesn’t end on December 31. There’s a calendar full of holidays that are important to other cultures and religions. Consider creating a calendar of major religious and cultural holidays around the world. On each holiday, talk about the meaning of the day and how it’s observed. Search for photos and videos of people celebrating and discuss the differences and similarities to holidays your children are familiar with.
Remember: Appreciating that the world is a diverse place is critical, but it is also important to acknowledge that in so many ways, we are similar. While different cultural and religious backgrounds may worship differently, eat unfamiliar cuisine, or pray in a different language, holidays often focus on similar activities—celebratory feasts, music, times of reflection and prayer, connection with others. As you begin to teach your child about winter holidays in different cultures, encourage empathy and understanding by celebrating what is unique while recognizing common ground.