Celebrations & Traditions

Bellingham Public Schools | November 2021

Image of leaves in the background.  Text says Native American Heritage Month

Celebrating and learning during Native American Heritage Month

November is Native American Heritage Month, established as a full month in 1990.

During November, and all other months, we honor and acknowledge the contributions, wisdom, and experiences of Indigenous peoples historically and today. Bellingham Public Schools' students represent over 20 tribal ancestries, including Alaskan Native, Colville, Cowlitz, Jamestown, Lummi, Makah, Nisqually, Nooksack, Port Gamble S'Klallam, Puyallup, Quileute, Quinault, Samish, Sauk-Suiattle, Skokomish, Squaxin Island, Stillaguamish, Suquamish, Swinomish, Tulalip, Upper Skagit, and Yakama. Please let us add your ancestry to the list by contacting us to update our records.

Signed on Jan. 22, 1855, by Isaac Stevens (1818-1862), Governor of Washington Territory, and by Duwamish Chief Seattle, Snoqualmie Chief Patkanim, Lummi Chief Chow-its-hoot, and other chiefs, subchiefs, and delegates of tribes, bands, and villages, the Treaty of Point Elliott removed Indigenous peoples from the majority of their ancestral lands in exchange for fishing, hunting, and gathering rights.

Professor Josh Ceretti provides an in-depth virtual walking tour of Bellingham History from Below. Learn more about the land we learn, work, and play on.

A scholar participates in inquiry, writing observations and questions on sticky notes.

This year, we have a 3 ft x 5 ft foam board copy of the treaty, which will make its way around our schools as our scholars learn more about sovereignty. The Treaty Tour started at Roosevelt Elementary in Mrs. Roselli's 3rd grade class.

Learning resources

celebratory images of Dia de los Muertos in purples, blues and oranges, La Catrinas and an altar.

Celebrating the ancestors

The roots of Dia de los Muertos go back almost 3,000 years to Indigenous rituals that honored life with a cyclical view, making death an integral part of life in Mesoamerica. Contemporary practices in many Mexican and Latinx households include food and other offerings on ofrendas, providing navigational support and sustenance for deceased loved ones for their travels between the spirit world and the physical world.

"Celebrating Dia de los Muertos is a healthy way of connecting with your ancestors, honoring them and placing yourself in the lineage," said Lalo Alcaraz.

Key elements associated with the altar, or ofrenda, the portal for the deceased:

  • The strong scent and vibrant petals of marigolds are used for navigation.
  • Monarch butterflies hold the spirits of the ancestors. The first monarchs arrive in Mexico for the winter each fall on Nov. 1, which coincides with Dia de los Muertos.
  • Sugar skulls are brightly decorated and represent the life cycle, left on ofrendas for children.
  • Candle to illuminate the path.
  • Food and drink.
  • Incense, which represents the transformation from physical to spiritual.
  • Photos or other mementos connected to loved ones.

"You don’t have to be from Mexico or have any Mexican heritage to build an altar or celebrate Día de Muertos," Alcaraz said. "It’s a holiday about love and celebration and honor, so if you participate in that spirit, you’re doing it right."

Sugar skull face painting

La Catrina, "the elegant skeleton" has been a part of Mexican folklore for centuries, created by José Guadalupe Posada as a political statement reminding us that death supercedes economic class.

Learn the meaning behind the face painting and connect the act to honoring loved ones. Avoid intersecting La Catrina with a scary or bloody costume. The feeling of love and respect should arise from creating and wearing the makeup.




colorful image with candles lit for Diwali
Diwali brings the people of India together in a five-day celebration of light over dark, and good over evil. The key rituals of Diwali occur on day three: Lighting of Diyas and candles all around the house, worshipping the Laxmi Ganesha to summon health and wealth and bursting crackers.

From diwalifestival.org:

In the midst of today's busy lifestyle, Diwali gives an opportunity to pause and be grateful for what we have, to make special memories with family and friends, to laugh and enjoy what life offers us. Though the festival of Dipavali has undergone some changes, in due course of time, yet it has continued to be celebrated since the time immemorial. Every year, the festive season of Diwali comes back with all the excitement and merriment. Times may have undergone a sea change but customs and traditions remain the same.





Diwali: Lights of India

Oct. 23 from 12pm - 4:30pm on Facebook & YouTube


Diwali: Lights of India is part of the virtual festál series with generous support from 4culture. The 2021 theme, "where the world gathers" links together the series of 24 free festivals presented throughout the year, each with a unique cultural focus, identity, and a range of engaging activities.

Image of hand holding sign that says Trans Rights are Human Rights

Nov. 13-19, 2021: Transgender Awareness & Nov. 20: Transgender Day of Remembrance

From the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD):

The week before Transgender Day of Remembrance, an annual observance that occurs on Nov. 20 to honor trans lives lost to violence, people and organizations around the country participate in Transgender Awareness Week to help raise the visibility of transgender people and address issues members of the community face.

From the Gay, Lesbian, & Straight Education Network:

Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR) is a day to reflect on the violence and loss caused by anti-transgender fear, discrimination and hatred.


a large pumpkin with give thanks written on a white background

A day to share gratitude

Large community potlucks, books, and even plays helped many of learn the familiar story of the very first Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving isn't a celebration for everyone, though, and navigating that nuance can be difficult for educators and families. As we learn more together, we become collectively better equipped to share history and answer the questions of our scholars.

From Learning for Justice:

Teaching about Thanksgiving in a socially responsible way means that educators accept the ethical obligation to provide students with accurate information and to reject traditions that sustain harmful stereotypes about Indigenous peoples. Challenging the dominant and inaccurate narrative about Thanksgiving, providing students with a more balanced perspective of this oft-romanticized holiday, and refusing to dress students in feathered headbands are socially responsible actions. They’re actions that every teacher should undertake to benefit their students and the society their students will inherit.


American Indian Perspectives on Thanksgiving provides narratives and ideas for the classroom.

Native Knowledge 360 provides terminology, focuses on storytelling, and answers questions from teachers and students.

Project Archeology provides lesson plans, interactive games, and videos.

a menorah and small gifts with Happy Hanukkah against a blue background

Festival of Lights

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.

From my Jewish learning:

Many Hanukkah foods are deep-fried in oil, symbolizing the oil from the menorah used in the Temple. These include latkes, or potato pancakes, and jelly doughnuts. Other favorites include the Sephardic delicacy bimuelos and use, of course, applesauce as a latke topping. Chocolate gelt, a candy that gets its name from the Yiddish word for money, is another popular Hanukkah treat.

Books that Celebrate Hanukkah

Further your learning and understanding of Hanukkah