Celebrations & Traditions
Celebrations and traditions around the world create fun and excitement in the classroom and they can be educational and culturally valuable, creating awareness and empathy among scholars. In Bellingham Public Schools, we focus our time and energy on increasing curiosity, knowledge, and connection.
We believe children will continue to engage in lifelong learning as they form relationships with the values inherent in diverse celebrations and traditions.
December has arrived and with it, the promise of crisp air, colors, celebrations and traditions. Annual and seasonal festivities across diverse cultures connect communities with giving and service opportunities, song, dance and, almost always, food.
We engage our scholars and families in celebration of:
- Leaders and organizations dedicated to the needs of others;
- Connections to the many traditions represented in our community;
- Shared stories of winter festivities important to our heritage and identities;
- Student philanthropic acts and service projects; and
- Music and art from around the world.
Decentering Christian and Eurocentric holidays is not equivalent to cancelling holidays. Our students and staff bring diverse cultural and religious traditions to the learning environment, creating thoughtful opportunities to be in community with one another.
To create culturally responsive learning environments, we can:
- Ensure cultural identities are recognized equitably through our actions and teaching and learning resources.
- Research, vet ideas with a diverse group of educators, share best practices, and accept feedback to create culturally responsive learning environments.
- Provide lessons that are fun and engaging at the appropriate social-emotional learning levels.
- Involve students and families while avoiding reliance on them as the sole resource.
Hanukkah — Jewish families began celebrating Hanukkah, or the Festival of Lights, on Nov. 28. On Hanukkah, Jewish people celebrate and retell an important story with themes of miracles, strength, and light. The eight-day celebration commemorates the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, where according to legend, Jews, outnumbered and outmatched, were victorious in their battle against their Greek-Syrian oppressors, securing their religious freedom
Hanukkah, or dedication, is the Festival of Lights. Hanukkah is celebrated by lighting a menorah (each night one additional candle is lit from the previous night), playing dreidel, and eating Hanukkah foods.
Bodhi Day — Buddhist families celebrate Bodhi Day on Dec. 8, signifying the day Prince Siddhartha Gautama sat underneath the Bodhi tree and attained enlightenment. Mahayana Buddhists in China, Korea and Vietnam honor Bodhi Day as part of a larger tradition. Mahayana Buddhists celebrate Bodhi Day on the eighth day of the twelfth month of the lunar calendar, which means the dates change from year to year. In Japan, however, Bodhi Day follows the Gregorian calendar. Every year, Bodhi Day in Japan is celebrated on Dec. 8.
Human Rights Day — Observed annually on Dec. 10, this year's Human Rights Day theme, EQUALITY - Reducing inequalities, advancing human rights, aligns with the United Nations' principle that equality is at the heart of human rights.
Las Posadas and Noche Buena — Dec. 16 marks the beginning of celebrations in some Mexican traditions. Carols, a parade and a piñata are among the many highlights of the season, which lasts until Dec. 24. Noche Buena, on Dec. 24, is an anticipatory celebration where families gather in community often well into the night. Celebrations vary widely, but common elements include high energy festivity, food, music and community.
Simbang Gabi — Catholic Filipino traditions include a nine-day series of Masses in anticipation of Dec. 25. Simbang Gabi begins Dec. 16 and ends Dec. 24 with Misa de Gallo, a midnight mass. One origin story states that priests from the Spanish colonization period held pre-dawn masses so farmers could attend before going to work.
Filipino homes might be decorated with parols, colorful star-shaped lanterns to light up the festivities.
Winter Solstice — In the northern hemisphere, the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year
and the start of winter, will occur Monday, Dec. 21.
Winter solstice traditions share themes of gathering and sharing food with family and community, taking place in the darkest and coldest time of the year. Shorter days and colder weather brings us indoors and provides time for introspection and focus on personal goals.
Christmas — Around the world, Christmas traditions vary. The annual Christian celebration is held on Dec. 25 to celebrate the birth of Jesus. The name joins "Christ" and "mass" to mean the holy mass of Christ.
Some cultures focus on giving during Christmas, and others see it as a time of spiritual growth, healing, and belonging.
Kwanzaa — From Dec. 26 to Jan. 1, a tradition for many Black Americans includes celebrating umoja (unity), kujichagulia (self-determination), ujima (collective work and responsibility), ujamaa (cooperative economics), nia (purpose), kuumba (creativity) and imani (faith), or Kwanzaa. Kwanzaa was created by Maulana Karenga to unite and empower the African American community, modeled after African harvest festivals.
The celebration caps on Dec. 31 with a banquet featuring food from various African countries. If gifts are exchanged, they are often homemade or purchased from Black-owned businesses.
We appreciate the diverse cultures and traditions represented in our schools. Please let us know what we have missed and how we can improve our communications.
Teaching and learning resources
- The December Dilemma - includes link to webinar and student unit packet
- Culturally Responsive Instruction for Holiday and Religious Celebrations - includes bulleted list of look-fors and applicable classroom ideas.
- How Do You Celebrate? An Introduction to Holiday Customs. Students read about and discuss Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa customs, and use a graphic organizer to compare and contrast the holidays. - includes lesson plan, books for grades 1-5.
- Holiday Charity: A Math Activity About Poverty - includes lesson plan for grades 6-8. Teachers/families will need to update data and wages.
- Inclusive Holidays in the Classroom - includes articles and professional development.
Policies and practices
Depending on the holiday, family traditions and beliefs, some students or staff may miss school or class to observe a holiday. Please refence Policy 3122 and Policy 5409.
- Holidays may have an element of fasting and/or late-night events. We ask staff to make reasonable accommodations to support staff and colleagues.
- We also ask staff and PTAs, including coaches/advisors to try to avoid high holidays for events and exams, whenever possible, in accordance with 2340P.