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7 Cultural Winter Festivities to Explore

December 17, 2014

By Amelia Orozco

7 Cultural Winter Festivities to Explore | A dreidel, star piñata, a moon and snowflake, three crowns and a wrapped gift, a red lantern, and a Christmas tree

Stretch the holidays over those long winter days by engaging your son or daughter in activities that honor multicultural traditions. Although your family’s customs are part of his or her identity, teaching your child to recognize different cultures instills a sense of community that he or she will carry on for years to come. It is also an excellent opportunity to touch on some fundamental principles such as being thankful, cherishing family time, and giving to others.

Although it is not possible to honor all traditions, it is possible to learn about the different customs and teach children to respect how others may celebrate certain holidays. Following is a brief list and a short, although not thorough, explanation of the basic ideas and aspects of each holiday.

Hanukkah
Hanukkah, which means “dedication” in Hebrew is also known as the Festival of Lights. The holiday lasts for eight days on the Hebrew calendar. In 2014, Hanukkah will begin on the evening of December 16, ending before the evening of December 24. This Jewish holiday is in remembrance of the rededication of the Temple according to religious tradition. The celebration includes singing carols around the menorah, which is a special candleholder for eight candles. One candle is lit each day of Hanukkah. Children play with a dreidel, a spinning top, and are given gelt, which are chocolate coins covered in shiny gold paper. Traditional Hanukkah menu items are latkes (potato pancakes), sufganiyot (jelly-filled doughnuts), and as a main course, brisket.

Las Posadas
Las Posadas is a traditional Latin American celebration. Many Hispanic communities in the United States celebrate Las Posadas. The festivities last nine days, from December 16 to December 24. The nine days represent the nine months the Virgin Mary carried Jesus in her womb. Each evening, a home hosts a celebration where families get together to sing songs and eat together. Children receive bags of treats such as peanuts, cookies, and candies. The nightly procession is a reenactment of Mary and Joseph looking for shelter in the days leading up to Christ’s birth. On the final night, children break star-shaped piñatas, and everyone enjoys traditional foods such as tamales, warm punch, or hot chocolate.

Christmas
Christmas is the Christian tradition of celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. Families who celebrate this holiday will usually set up a Nativity scene in their home. This consists of figurines depicting Christ’s birth in a manger, with Mary, Joseph, the angels, and the three kings. A Christmas tree is also part of the celebration, with ornaments and lights. Each family has a different tradition for Christmas breakfast or dinner, but most children will make a list for Santa Claus and open gifts on Christmas morning. Reconnecting with family and giving to others are central themes throughout the Christmas season.

Winter Solstice
Winter Solstice, also known as Yule, is celebrated on the first day of winter, December 21. It is also the shortest day of the year. Winter Solstice has been celebrated all over the world for centuries, from Peru to Poland. And each culture has different practices for their tradition. Overall, the purpose of the festivities is the celebration of light and life. Festivals are held with feasting, dancing, and singing. A bonfire is usually part of the celebration. Today, many of the aspects of this pagan, midwinter festival have been enveloped into Christmas.

Kwanzaa
Kwanzaa is celebrated from December 26 through January 1. It is a holiday that reconnects people with family, community, and their African-American culture. During this time, it’s important to reinforce values and emphasize the spirit of unity, responsibility, and collaborative work. There are three colors associated with the holiday, each with a symbolic meaning: black represents the people; red represents the struggles; and green symbolizes the future and the hope that sustains it. Those who celebrate Kwanzaa know it is important not to mix its customs with other celebrations. Gatherings are celebrated with colorful African art, fresh fruit and vegetables, and exchanging meaningful gifts, which are usually hand-made to encourage creativity.

Three Kings Day
Three Kings Day, or the Epiphany as it is known by the Christian church calendar, is celebrated on January 6. This holiday is the remembrance of the arrival of the three kings who greeted Jesus Christ at his birth. Each wise man or king, Melchor, Gaspar, and Balthazar, came bearing gifts. Likewise, in today’s tradition throughout Latin America, Spain, and in some Latino communities in the United States, children await this day to receive gifts. According to tradition, gifts were left inside children’s shoes. Nowadays, it is more common to find them under the Christmas tree. A traditional food for this holiday is the Rosca de Reyes, which is bread in the shape of a wreath decorated with dried fruits and nuts, made especially for this holiday.

Chinese New Year
Each family celebrates Chinese New Year or Spring Festival differently, but essentially the element of good fortune is fundamental. We celebrate the end of the old and the beginning of the New Year by praying for good fortune and participating in activities that bring good luck.

The next Chinese New Year will begin on February 19, 2015, and will last for about two weeks. It is traditional to have a New Year’s Eve dinner, which is a great time for a family reunion. Families cast away bad luck with fireworks and welcome good luck by cleaning their houses and decorating them with red lanterns. The festival also entails parades with dragon and lion dances. Gifts are exchanged, usually in red packages for good luck.

Remember, making the most of your time with your son or daughter is most paramount, whether you celebrate these traditions or not. The winter months, when children may spend more time indoors, is a great time to learn about these cultural celebrations and just spend time together.



Amelia Orozco is the senior editor and writer at the Chicago Zoological Society/Brookfield Zoo and a community and entertainment reporter for TeleGuía Chicago and Extra Newspaper. A mother of three, Amelia also maintains an active role in her community and church by working with youth and promoting education and diversity through her writing and volunteer efforts.

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