Celebrations that Span the Globe
All around the world, people are joining together in various celebrations. Here are some of the celebrations your child will learn more about through Paragon this December, and some ways in which you can share their learning:
The Winter Solstice
December 21st is the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. In ancient times, the growing darkness was cause for fear, and the return to longer days brought rejoicing. Across religions and cultures, people celebrate the bringing of light to the darkness, and hope in time of despair.
With your child, you can watch the days grow shorter as the Solstice approaches, then longer as it passes. Together, you may wish to note and mark on a calendar the exact time that the sun drops below the horizon and it becomes dark. Your student will marvel that this time changes every day! Together, you can ponder the importance of the sun and celebrate the hope that comes from sharing light and warmth and love.
The 2010 Solstice is a special one: it coincides with a total lunar eclipse. Whether or not you actually witness the eclipse, you will be able to find information on the Internet, including photos and explanations. (Start with the link at the Weather Channel: www.weather.com and then conduct a search for sites.)
Over 2 billion people observe Christianity throughout the world. There are many different churches, each with slightly different ways of worshipping. Christianity shares many of its beliefs and some of its scriptures with Judaism. The primary difference between the two faiths is that the Christians believe that Jesus, who was born about 2,000 years ago, is the Christ, or Son of God. Christmas, the celebration of Jesus’ birth, is one of Christianity’s holiest days. How Christmas is observed varies greatly from one part of the world to another, but it is always a time to celebrate new life and the hope for peace. Many Christmas traditions incorporate lights and candles to symbolize Jesus as the “light of the world.”
At home, you and your child may wish to make a special ornament to celebrate your family. If your family observes Christmas, perhaps you will want to talk about holiday traditions that have been passed down over time and what they mean to your family. It may be fun to bring out your Christmas photographs from previous years (the further back you can go all the better) and share them with your children. What has changed? What remains the same? What are you grateful for? It is always fun to gather with friends and neighbors and compare traditions, as you celebrate this special time.
Diwali: The Hindu Festival of Lights
Hinduism developed some 4,000 years ago. It is known for its rich and colorful mythology and epic tales. Diwali, the festival of lights, is the Hindus’ most celebratory winter festival. It celebrates good triumphing over evil, light over darkness, coming home, and the renewing of hopes, happiness, prosperity and success. This celebration is associated with the ancient Hindu epic poem, the Ramayana. For Diwali, Hindus clean their houses, wear new clothes, draw rangolis on their door steps, eat special sweets, sing, dance, and light dipas or oil lamps to honor Rama’s homecoming and the triumph of the “light.”
At home, you may wish to ask your child about the story of Rama, and talk about the similarities and differences between the Diwali celebration and your family’s holiday traditions. Perhaps you and your child will want to make your own colorful rangolis, which are a form of Hindu traditional art representing a warm welcome to guests and visitors. Please note that rangoli in themselves are not religious symbols; they are rather an artistic medium.
Buddhism: Finding the Light Within
Buddhism arose out of the Hindu tradition and is now primarily practiced in Southeast Asia, the Himalayas and Japan. Buddhists believe that “god” is within, rather than without and that by following a path of goodness (right thought, right understanding, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right concentration, and right contemplation), one can achieve “enlightenment.”
Buddhists often celebrate, as people of other traditions do, the coming of the New Year. Just as many people make resolutions, Buddhists look forward and start their New Year fresh, by cleaning their homes. They also look back, and, honoring their ancestry, make cards for their elder relatives.
At home, you may encourage your child to start off the New Year with a clean room—and to make their own cards for the people they love.
Hanukkah: a Miracle in Lights
Nearly 18 million people around the world observe the Jewish faith, which is called Judaism. The Jewish holiday, Hanukkah, is an eight-day mid-winter festival marked by the lighting of ritual candles. It celebrates the rededication of the Temple of Jerusalem by Judas Maccabaeus after he recaptured it from an enemy army in 164 BC. As the story goes, when the people repaired the temple and prepared to relight its lamps, they found they had only enough lamp oil for a single night. Still, once lit, the lamps burned, miraculously, for eight days.
Hanukkah is a time to celebrate freedom, warmth, light, and peace, something we all need and hope for. For your own celebration, you and your child may wish to try your hand at making potato latkes (pancakes), a traditional food for this winter holiday.
Ramadan: the Muslim Holy Month
Islam is the third great monotheistic religion to come out of the Middle East. It began when the Angel Gabriel appeared to Muhammad circa AD 610 and ordered him to preach against false idols, and today it is practiced by more than 1.3 billion Muslims around the world.
Ramadan marks the time when Allah sent down the Koran (holy book) to Muhammad. Muslims fast during the month of Ramadan, and at the end of Ramadan, they celebrate with the festival of Id al-Fitr. As a part of this festival, besides eating delicious foods, Muslims send cards to their friends. It is a time of new beginnings and forgiveness.
Fasting is a part of many religious celebrations. You and your child may want to talk about how easy it is to take things for granted—and how giving something up requires sacrifice and helps one appreciate the good things one has.
Kwanzaa: a Celebration of African-American Values
Kwanzaa means “first fruits of the harvest” in the African language Kiswahili (or Swahili). This celebration of African-American values got its start in 1966 and has grown tremendously in popularity since then.
Kwanzaa is not a religious celebration, but like its religious counterparts, it too features light. Seven candles are found on the kinara lit for Kwanzaa: the black candle represents the faces of the African people and their descendents; the red represent the suffering and struggles of the people; and the green represent hope for the future.
During Kwanzaa, the people celebrate seven important values: Umojo (Unity), Kujichagulia (Self-determination), Ujima (Collective work and responsibility), Ujamaa (Cooperative economics), Nia (Purpose), Kuumba (Creativity) and Imani (Faith). You and your child can discuss the importance of these values to your everyday lives and for the world at large.
A Common Thread
Light in the darkness, hope and new beginnings, strong values, happiness and joy are a part of all of these celebrations. To learn more about these traditions, visit:
The economic realities of recent times have caused many families to rethink how they will celebrate the holidays. Perhaps you found opportunities over the past year to show your student that the best celebrations really are about light in the darkness, hope and new beginnings, strong values, happiness and joy-including the joy of giving in ways that are both economical and meaningful. If so, we encourage you to continue the tradition regardless of your current economic situation; if not, make this the year for a new tradition. This is what service learning is all about! Here are just a few suggestions to help you start or add to your fun and meaningful family celebrations:
- Many of the projects that your child will enjoy during our Holiday Festivals unit can be recreated at home and shared as decorations, gifts, or gift tags.
- Why not create an audiotape of you and your child reading a favorite story…and share it with grandparents and/or relatives who live far away?
- A family music video of favorite songs is another way to share with those who cannot visit-even with those stationed in the military, school, or jobs overseas!
- Decorate white paper placemats (white drawing paper will work just as well) with holiday or winter scenes; deliver them to a nursing home or other location that serves meals.
- Make “giving” wish lists instead of “getting” wish lists! Remind your student that giving time costs nothing but an hour or so—reading to senior citizens or young children; shoveling snow, walking pets, etc. make great gifts!
- Once you plant the idea, encourage each family member to come up with a meaningful and economical way to share the joys of the season!