Teaching for the Holidays: Take Time to Smell the Gingerbread

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There’s nothing like the smells of a new school year—cracking open the brand new books, sharpened pencils and a box of crayons, a clean slate and a fresh planner. But even with all the joys that come with a well-planned schedule, eventually, the materials get older, and the daily routine turns into a bit of a grind. It doesn’t mean we don’t enjoy the school days, but there are certainly times when a shake-up is necessary!

Well, guess what? We can do that very thing—close the textbooks and put away the workbooks at least for a day and still keep learning alive. Every month of the school year is chock-full of holidays and days to celebrate, and who doesn’t like to take time for a celebration? But does your child know the background of each holiday? There can also be various elements to research and study within a holiday. Taking a break from the regularly scheduled schoolwork not only gives the kids something fresh to look forward to but also can renew them for when it’s time to return to the regular curriculum.

Common Holidays

Nearly every month contains holidays we are all familiar with, and each one has a story behind it. Let’s take a quick peek at the months and some of the most common holidays within them:

January: New Years Day (1), Martin Luther King Jr. Day (third Monday of the month)
February: Valentine’s Day (14), President’s Day (third Monday of the month)
March: St. Patrick’s Day (17)
March-April: Passover (varies), Easter (varies)
April: Earth Day (22)
May: Mother’s Day (second Sunday of the month), Memorial Day (last Monday of the month)
June: Flag Day (14th), Father’s Day (third Sunday of the month)
July: Independence Day (4)

August:
September: Labor Day (first Monday of the month), Patriot Day (11)
October: Halloween (31)
November: Veterans Day (11), Thanksgiving (fourth Thursday of the month)
December: Hanukkah (varies), Christmas (25), New Year’s Eve (31)

This is not exhaustive, and you’ll notice that August seems to take a break when it comes to common holidays. However, each month is loaded with both National and festive holidays, as well as a bunch of “month-long” celebrations and recognitions. 

Not-So-Common Holidays

Can you believe there is a “National Empanada Day”? Now that’s a day our family likes to celebrate, being that my husband, Ed, is from Argentina! Not into little meat pies? Then how about this one: National Pi Day! When is it? Why it’s March 14, of course (3.14 in mathematical terms.. get it?). There seem to be holidays to celebrate foods, festivities, and fun all over the world. Let’s take a look at a couple in each month:

January: National Spaghetti Day (4), National Clean Your Desk Day (13)
February: National Frozen Yogurt Day (6), National Love Your Pet Day (20)
March: National Let’s Laugh Day (19), Absolutely Incredible Kid Day (21)
April: National Siblings Day (10), National Jelly Bean Day (22)
May: National Day of Prayer (7), International Hummus Day (13)
June: National Donut Day (5), National Eat Your Vegetables Day (17)
July: International Joke Day (1), National Milk Chocolate Day (28)
August: National Watermelon Day (3), National Heroes’ Day (31)
September: Talk Like a Pirate Day (19), National Pepperoni Pizza Day (20)
October: National Be Nice Day (5), National Grouch Day (15)
November: Go to an Art Museum Day (9), National Homemade Bread Day (17)
December: Gingerbread House Day (12), National Ugly Sweater Day (20)

There are also celebrated weeks and months, like “National Handwashing Awareness Week (December 1-7, but doesn’t that feel like a year-round celebration right now?) and National Nutrition Month (March). Of course, this is just a handful of the MANY holidays and special days to celebrate! There are many to choose from, and some may speak specifically to your children or family! 

Dive Into the History of the Holiday, Hands-On!

You may want to take just one day of that week to study the holiday, or you might want to stretch it out a bit if there are many avenues to adventure down that intrigue your children. Topics like Thanksgiving and Christmas can easily cover several days with various subjects. Let’s take Christmas and look at a few ideas of what you can research:

1) You can study the roots of Christmas both Biblically through scripture as well as through church history. However, there were pagan roots before it was a Christian holiday. It’s enlightening to understand the reasoning behind why the holiday came about at the time that it did. With the history you discover, write a newspaper interviewing people of history or being a reporter on-the-spot at a specific event. 

2) Research how various cultures have celebrated Christmas in other countries. Perhaps pursue research on the Tannenbaum or the yule log. Why did children originally hang stockings?  What was the history behind the Tannenbaum? Create a booklet or a lap book with paper projects on each of the topics related to Christmas and the history behind them.

3) The person of Saint Nicholas has gone by many names in different cultures. Who was he and how did he originate? Write a journal from his perspective on Christmas Eve.

4) Have any animal lovers in your family? Don’t forget about the reindeer! What climates and countries do they live in? Look for books in your library specifically on them.

5) Although Christmas takes place around the world, we often picture snow and the North Pole. This is a great time to do experiments or artwork with snowflakes. That can also delve into the area of geometry when you study quadrant graphing or patterning.

6)  And don’t forget the many foods that celebrate the season that have a history of their own! Get the kids involved in making something a little different than the annual Christmas cookies, such as a yule log or homemade candy canes. And what Christmas is complete without a gingerbread house? There are people who compete and make extremely ornate gingerbread creations. Find a video on youtube to watch!  

7) Of course, it goes without saying that there are many forms of art you can use to celebrate Christmas, from creating ornaments to making Christmas cards reflecting the many aspects of the holiday. 

These are just a few ideas for incorporating various subjects into one holiday. Some holidays lend themselves to many areas to study, while others might just need a day with a good read-aloud book and discussion. Whatever you do, take time to break away from the regular schedule and give the kids a new understanding of a common—or not-so-common—holiday. After all, who wouldn’t look forward to celebrating National Donut Day?

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1 thought on “Teaching for the Holidays: Take Time to Smell the Gingerbread”

  1. These are some great ideas! We always include one of the lesser-known holidays on our whiteboard every week. It keeps things interesting, even if we only find a few fun facts about it, but even more, if we find a way to take part in celebrating it. Thanks for sharing.

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