This past weekend, as my family was trimming the Christmas tree, neighbors down the street were getting ready for Hanukkah while friends across town were fasting for Ramadan. It's winter holiday time, a time when many Americans end the year gathering with relatives, enjoying great food and giving gifts. It's also a great time of year to teach kids about the importance of having an open mind about different cultures and traditions. So in our house, even though we only celebrate Christmas, we also acknowledge the other winter holidays with books, crafts and activities.
Here is a list of some of the greatest winter holiday information and activities for children. I tried to cover all of the biggies. Did I miss any? How do you and your family celebrate the winter holidays?
Lighting candles is one of many activities involved in Diwali. (Photo: GPS [CC BY-SA 2.0]/Flickr)
Diwali is five-day festival of lights celebrated by Hindus around the world in the fall. It celebrates the triumph of good over evil, light over darkness, and knowledge over ignorance, reports the BBC. As part of the festivities houses, stores and other public places are all decorated with diyas, which are small clay oil lamps or candle holders.
People celebrate Diwali by cleaning their homes, then leaving the windows and doors of their houses open so that Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, can come in. People decorate their homes with paper chains and flower garlands, and make designs out of colored powders on the doorstep for good lucks. They dress up in new clothes, exchange gifts of sweets and dried fruit, play card games and have festive meals.
Some Diwali activities to do with your kids:
- Tape together loops of colorful paper to make paper chains.
- String together paper flower shapes with yarn to make garlands.
- Draw colored chalk designs right on your doorstep or on paper, taped to your doorstep.
- Mold clay into small bowl shapes to make diyas or Diwali lamps.
- Find recordings of Indian music online or at your library.
- Make sweet treats with coconuts and dried apricots.
Hanukkah is an eight-day commemoration in Judaism marking the rededication of the Temple by the Maccabees after their victory over the Syrians. The Jews only had a small amount of oil, which was only enough for one day. But it lasted for eight days. The Jewish Festival of Lights is celebrated by lighting one candle each night on a special candelabra called a menorah.
Kids often play games during Hanukkah. The most popular game involves a dreidel, a four-sided spinning top with Jewish letters on each side.
- Make a paper dreidel that you can play with or use as a decoration.
- Decorate in traditional Hanukkah colors: blue, white and silver.
- Make a paper menorah.
- Make latkes — potato pancakes that are served with applesauce.
Ramadan is a month of daily fasting during daylight hours for Muslims that culminates in the holiday of Eid al-Fitr. Ramadan is the fourth of the five pillars of Islam. It is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar; the dates are determined by the Islamic lunar calendar, so it can fall at different times of year.
Most Muslims try to give up bad habits during Ramadan, and some will pray more or read the Quran, the Muslim holy book. Many will try to read the whole Quran at least once during Ramadan and many will attend services in mosques where the Quran is read.
Eid al-Fitr is the Festival of the Breaking of the Fast and is a time of celebration, forgiveness, giving gifts, giving to charity and spending time with family and friends.
Christmas marks the birth of Jesus Christ for Christians. It's preceded by the season of Advent, which is the period of getting ready for Jesus's birth. Although the exact date Jesus was born is unknown, Christmas is celebrated in most of the world on Dec. 25.
It has evolved past just a religious holiday and has become a secular celebration too. Traditions include lighting an Advent wreath or opening an Advent calendar, gift giving, caroling, hanging stockings, attending church services and decorations such as Christmas trees, lights, mistletoe and holly.
Do a search for "Christmas crafts" and you'll find all sorts of fun holiday projects to create with your kids. You can make paper garlands, wreaths or Christmas tree ornaments. For something tasty, make Christmas cookies, or do some exploring and learn about Christmas traditions around the world.
Kwanzaa is a seven-day celebration of African heritage and culture. It was created in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga, a professor of Africana Studies and California State University, Long Beach. After Watts riots in Los Angeles, Karenga was searching for a way to unite the African-American community, reports the History Channel.
The name Kwanzaa comes from the phrase “matunda ya kwanza” which means “first fruits” in Swahili. Kwanzaa begins Dec. 26 and ends Jan. 1. On each of the seven nights, the family gathers and a child lights one of the candles on the Kinara (candleholder), and discusses one of the seven principles, which are ideals created by Karenga. There are also seven symbols, which represents the values of African culture. People also celebrate Kwanzaa with feasts, music, poetry and dancing.
Some Kwanzaa activities for children:
- Draw a Kwanzaa candle holder and color in a flame each night.
- Play counting games that reinforce the number seven, which is so integral to the holiday.
- Draw or cut out pictures of harvest fruits and vegetables onto a paper plate to symbolize "first fruits."
- Decorate in the holiday colors of black, red and green.
Chinese New Year
The Chinese New Year celebrations include lanterns and colorful parades. (Photo: Paul [CC BY 2.0]/Flickr)
The Chinese New Year, or the Spring Festival, marks the end of winter and the start of spring. It's based on the lunar calendar, so the dates change every year. The first day of Chinese New Year starts with the New Moon and ends on the Full Moon 15 days later. The festival always falls between mid-January and mid- to late-February. Traditionally, the celebration was a time to honor ancestors and deities.
People celebrate by cleaning their homes, then decorating with red paper cutouts, lanterns and phrases about good fortune. Fireworks are set off and there can be parades, featuring dragon and lion dances. Friends and family come together to celebrate. Children often receive "luck" money, given in red envelopes.
Crafts and activities to celebrate Chinese New Year with kids:
- Make a simple paper lantern.
- Make some dumplings, a traditional food eaten during celebrations.
- Use red paper to make decorations to hang around the house.
- Fill red envelopes with candy coins.
Other winter holiday celebrations
Although these are some of the most well-known winter holidays celebrated in this country, that doesn't mean they're the only holidays. Other popular winter holidays include:
- Santa Lucia Day, an ancient Swedish festival during which blond-haired girls wear crowns of green leaves studded with lighted candles.
- Winter Solstice, the first day of winter and the longest night of the year, is also celebrated with festivals, decorations and ancient ceremonies that honor nature.
- Three Kings Day, also known as Epiphany, marks the day the three kings arrived to visit the newborn Christ child. This day is most commonly marked with festivities in Hispanic countries and cultures.