In my preschool classes, I try my best to teach about the holidays that are familiar to my students and ones they are not familiar with. Teaching at a Christian preschool, we put a lot of focus on Christmas, but we also learn about many other holidays, not just in relation to or at the same time as Christian ones. That is vital to learn about holidays and festivals as they happen. Teaching children about diversity means not just learning about the differences outside of their experience but the variety and differences in the group they already identify with. If children think that we are all the same just because we all celebrate Christmas or go to the same school, anything outside of that group is that much more separate. If we give preschoolers an opportunity to understand that even within their groups, there are differences to be celebrated, they will learn to be more open to other differences. This simple Christmas traditions lesson plan is a great way to teach children about the diversity all around us.
These simple lessons about Christmas traditions also incorporate tenets from the Funds of Knowledge theory I feel so strongly about using in my teaching practice. If you want to know more about that, read about it here. I have to add that this lesson is not appropriate for many school settings. If you are not teaching at a school that explicitly celebrates Christmas like a church-affiliated school, feel free to create a holiday traditions book but don’t do it at Christmas time or use the Christmas books, as that still centers the norm around Christmas.
Simple Ways to Learn About Christmas Traditions At Preschool
I start teaching my students about differences in families and traditions long before Christmas. At the start of the school year, I create a bulletin board with photos of each student and their family to see our similarities and differences. Later in the school year, when we learn about food, we talk about favorite dishes, the foods we use to celebrate birthdays, and special days. We read stories about all kinds of families and how every family is unique. We talk about what we call our grandparents ( even the most seemingly homogenous group of kids will have various names for grandparents, I guarantee it). Then we read, specifically, this book.
Our Favorite Day Of The Year by A.E Ali s all about holidays and what makes a day special enough to be our favorite day of the year. I love that this book includes so many different traditions from religious and non-religious perspectives. Too often, children who are not religious are excluded from these types of books. It specifically has children in it saying things like “I don’t celebrate that day.” which helps teach preschoolers that we don’t ALL celebrate the same special days, and that’s wonderful!
As we ramp up for Christmas, I ask parents to share one Christmas tradition that is special for their family and send a photo along with it. Here is the example email I sent to my families:
As promised we will be talking a lot about family traditions this month and compiling a collection of holiday traditions. My goal with this activity is to show the diversity of traditions within our class community.
Please share one holiday tradition that is special to your child and family. If you have a photo to go with it, wonderful, if not I’ll work with your child to draw one. Here is an example – written as if my daughter Molly was a Grasshopper:
In our family, we make donuts on Christmas Eve. The tradition started with my great-great-grandmother and we still use her original recipe. I like dipping the hot donuts in sugar and cinnamon. Before we go to bed on Christmas Eve we leave fresh donuts out for Santa.
My dad and making and tasting donuts on Christmas Eve.
While waiting for my students’ families to send in their traditions, I spend a few storytimes sharing books that focus on the different ways Christmas is celebrated worldwide. These two are my favorite! As you read, these books have a map and a small figurine ready to travel from country to country! My students loved seeing Santa get closer and closer to the USA while we read A World of Cookies For Santa.
Picture Books About Christmas Around The World
Disney, It’s A Small World Christmas Around the World by Disney Book Group & Calliope Glass is a hidden gem. The story isn’t complex, but readers get a glimpse into children worldwide. The fun animation-style illustrations are bright and fun! My daughter loves getting a sneak peek into different countries. I like trying to find the flag on each page. It really is brief and perfect for an introduction to various celebrations, not an in-depth study of other cultures.
A World of Cookies For Santa by M.E. Furman is a long but fantastic book. The concept is simple, you follow Santa’s Christmas Eve journey around the globe and learn a little about the celebrations in each location. Who brings the gifts, and what treats do the children leave for them. This book was too long for my students to read in one sitting. Instead, I chose to focus on a few countries per continent. As far as accuracy goes when reading a book like this, it’s essential to clarify that even in specific countries, not everyone leaves this type of cookie or drink… and then use that as your post-book discussion. I grew up in Canada, and I did NOT leave Santa Nanaimo bars. I still eat them at Christmas, but Santa got sugar cookies! This doesn’t make the book wrong, it is just another opportunity to celebrate the many differences in every group.
Celebrating Family Christmas Traditions At Preschool
When I have all the submissions from the families, I turn them into one book and print. I pop it into a folder and read it to my students. I also send the pdf copy to every family to read and print out if they want to.
Children love seeing themselves in anything, but when the lesson is to learn about the different ways we celebrate Christmas, making it personal makes all the difference.