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Bring the Kwanzaa Principles to Your Family

December 30, 2014

By Jessica Vician

Bring the Kwanzaa Principles to Your Family | Happy Kwanzaa illustration with the candles, presents, and fruits.

From December 26 through January 1, many African-Americans celebrate Kwanzaa. Taking place over seven days, each day focuses on a principle that reflects tradition and reason and celebrates the culture’s African heritage.

Use this opportunity to bring the holiday’s principles into your New Year as you continue the holiday spirit through practicing compassion toward others and honoring your strengths as an individual, as a family, and as a community. Here are three principles that might resonate well with your children.

Unity. This principle is rooted in the belief that we are all united. In fact, it stems from an African saying, “I am We” or “I am because We are.” Talk to your children about your family, your community, and the connections that bind you all together. Share your family’s history. Did your family come from Africa, Europe, Asia, South or Central America? Are you native to the United States? Explain your ancestry to your children to help them understand their heritage and take pride in it. Help your children see how fluid the world is, always changing and moving, but always connected. 

Self-Determination. Teach your children the importance of speaking for themselves and determining their own paths in life. There are many children’s movies that feature a main character finding his or her own path and standing up for his or her personal beliefs. Watch the movie with your children and talk to them afterward about those lessons.

Creativity. Help your children understand that as humans, we must help better and beautify our communities through our talents and contributions. If you live in a warmer climate, demonstrate this principle by planting flowers or a tree. In cooler climates, create snow sculptures or work together to make blankets for senior citizens or the homeless. Remind your children that caring for their surroundings and community and bringing beauty to the world is important.

These are only three of the seven Kwanzaa principles, which also include Collective Work and Responsibility, Cooperative Economics, Purpose, and Faith, all of which you can incorporate into your family’s life.

Tags :  holidaycultureacademicsocial
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Happy Hanukkah!

December 23, 2014
Happy Hanukkah! Happy Hanukkah graphic with a menorah.
Illustration by Dex Gonzalez. 
Tags :  holidayculture
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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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Paisanos: 3 Tips To Help Your Child During the Holidays

December 9, 2014

By Ana Vela

Paisanos: 3 Tips To Help Your Child During the Holidays | A mother buckles her children into the backseat of the car.

When we think of the holidays, we think about being with family. Well, what if your family is in a different country? You then travel hundreds, even thousands of miles to be with your loved ones. That’s what paisanos, about 2 million people, do every year. Paisanos (countrymen) are Mexican citizens who live and work in the United States and travel to Mexico to visit family. For paisanos, this migration can start as early as one week prior to Thanksgiving, returning to the U.S. after New Year’s.

When I was growing up, we were considered paisanos, as my father would drive us from our home in Virginia to spend the holidays in Mexico. I recall other paisano families leaving before the school holiday break to get a head start on the long drive to Mexico and to spend as much time with family as possible. While it’s wonderful to spend an extended amount of time with their families, taking children out of school before the designated break can have a serious impact on them as students.

Schools who serve students from paisano families understand the setbacks these students experience when they return to school. El Valor, the second-largest provider of early childhood education programs in Chicago, plans for this every year. “Sometimes families leave for a whole month,” says Clara Lopez, vice president of El Valor. “It’s important to build awareness around the importance of attendance so families can make better decisions. Routines are everything for a child.”

The Mexican government established a Paisano Program to help make travel to Mexico during the holidays as smooth and safe as possible. Yet, there is no information regarding the impact to U.S. students during this migration. Here are some tips to help your child have a successful return to school:

Value attendance
Do not take your child out of school before the holiday break. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, attendance is an important factor in student achievement. Each day your child misses class is a day that your child misses an opportunity to learn and may fall behind, making it more difficult to catch up. If you have no other option, then at least notify the school and your child’s teacher of his or her planned absence so you can work together to ensure your child does not fall behind academically.

Keep up the routines
Although it may be challenging during travel, try to keep some level of consistency for your child such as bedtime, meals, reading, and learning activities. This will help your child have a smoother transition when he or she returns to school. Contact your child’s teacher for ideas to help him or her continue to learn while traveling. “At El Valor, we hand out educational goody-bags to families filled with books and activities to provide some level of comfort for the children,” says Lopez.

Take advantage of the quality time
Life can get busy. Use the substantial travel time to catch up with your child. Ask about school, friends, and how he or she is feeling. It’s also a great time to discuss your child’s cultural identity and encourage practicing his or her native language. According to an article in The New York Times, “Being bilingual, it turns out, makes you smarter. It can have a profound effect on your brain, improving cognitive skills not related to language and even shielding against dementia in old age.” Being bilingual also prepares your child to succeed in a globalized job market.

Enjoy your travels and family, and remember to make every opportunity a learning experience for your child. I myself still hold on to the fond memories during our paisano travels.

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Happy Birthday! You can vote now.

November 4, 2014

By Amelia Orozco

Happy Birthday! You can vote now. | A teen shows his "I Voted" sticker.

This December, my middle child will be turning 18 years old. Although she still seems so young in my eyes, the U.S. government will legally consider her an adult. Many new adventures and possibilities come with that age. As parents, it is important to instill a sense of pride in our children early on about democratic values and their rights and responsibilities as citizens. One important and exciting way for young adults to exercise these rights is through their legal right to vote.

It Starts With History
Depending on where you live and which offices are up for election, parents and educators have an opportunity to integrate voting history and practice in regular lessons and interactions.

Perhaps one of the most important aspects of voting is the actual right to vote. There are countless stories we can share with our sons and daughters about the fight for voters’ rights, democracy, and the continuous struggles that some countries still face today when it comes to electing governing officials.

Here are some notable topics and activities to discuss with your children:

  • Learn the history of the 15th Amendment, which granted African-American men the right to vote in 1870.
  • Click the colored states on this map to learn when women gained the right to vote in that state.
  • Read about the Voting Rights Act, which eliminated legal barriers—like literacy tests and poll taxes—that prevented many, including African Americans, from exercising their legal right to vote.
  • Tell stories about other countries’ fights for fair elections. For example, one critical moment in South Africa’s journey to end apartheid occurred in 1994, when they held their first fully democratic election, electing Nelson Mandela as president.

Share these stories with your children, as well as current events and happenings around the world. These examples will give your sons and daughters a real-world connection to help develop their thoughts and opinions.

Democracy in Action
Over the years, my children have witnessed me go to the polls to vote, listened to me talk about the issues, and we’ve even laughed together at those issues through funny sketches on Saturday Night Live.

We’ve formed some of our most memorable moments while participating in events together. Each year, we attend events honoring the late Latino hero, Cesar Chavez, and the United Farm Workers movement. At these events, my children have made picket signs and marched in re-enactments of historical events. That part of our history, along with the firsthand experience of having physically joined the activities, has enabled me to expand on the message of democracy and show my daughters what the end result can be when we cast a ballot and make our voice heard.

It’s not always necessary for your children to be part of the school debate team to understand and appreciate politics and democracy. It is mostly important for them to understand the process and that their voices and opinions really do count. Volunteering at or visiting a campaign headquarters, where they can get a behind-the-scenes look, is an excellent hands-on learning opportunity.

This new phase is an exciting one for your children as they go to college or embark on a career. They will be making their own decisions and expressing their support for the issues and candidates. Be assured of their successes, whichever their paths, because your children’s first teacher, YOU, has prepared them every step of the way.



Amelia Orozco is the senior editor and writer at the Chicago Zoological Society/Brookfield Zoo and a community and entertainment reporter for TeleGuía Chicago. 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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