Four Holiday Traditions from Ambassador Teachers’ Home Countries
The month of December is an especially busy time for teachers and students as you celebrate the winter holidays and look forward to a restful break. With all the excitement and extra activities, it may be especially hard for your students to focus on their studies over the next few weeks. However, celebrations and academics don’t have to be mutually exclusive! With thoughtful activities and lessons, you can honor different cultural traditions while keeping students engaged in global learning.
To help you get started, we have outlined winter holiday traditions from a few of the home countries of our Ambassador Teachers. These celebrations are an amazing look into the unique customs around the world that are cherished by the people who observe them. Your students will probably see similarities between their own traditions and those you study together.
Christmas in Kenya
In Kenya, the month of December is a time to travel to your hometown to spend time with family and celebrate Christmas. Larger cities like Nairobi often empty out as people make their way back to where they grew up.
Christmas is celebrated with a church service on Christmas Eve during which people sing hymns and usher in Christmas Day at midnight with ringing church bells. On Christmas Day, most families eat a celebratory meal in which the main dish is nyama choma. Nyama choma is barbecued meat, often goat or beef, cooked over a grill. Boxing Day, December 26, is a national holiday, when people often rest after a few days of nonstop Christmas celebrations.
Simbang Gabi in the Philippines
In the nine days leading up to Christmas Day, Filipino Christians attend Catholic Mass every morning as the sun rises. This series of church services is called Simbang Gabi, meaning “Night Mass.”
Families attend church together and are met with colorful Christmas lights and lanterns lining the streets each morning. Food vendors are up early too, selling rice cakes like puto bumbong and bibingka outside churches, among other festive treats.
Junkanoo in the Bahamas
Junkanoo is a colorful street parade celebrated on Boxing Day and New Year’s Day. Participants spend months creating elaborate costumes out of materials like cardboard, feathers, and beads. Cowbells, whistles, and goatskin drums are played throughout the street procession as dance troupes perform their routines.
The origins of Junkanoo are uncertain, but some believe it originated from enslaved people who celebrated three days of rest during Christmas. Others believe it is a celebration of the Ahanta king, John Canoe, who fought Europeans trying to enslave his people on the Gold Coast of Africa.
Día de las Velitas in Colombia
Day of the Little Candles, or Día de las Velitas, marks the eve of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary. Families celebrate by putting small candles or paper lanterns along windowsills and balconies in their homes. Streets and parks are also decorated with Christmas lights and lanterns for the occasion.
The tradition of lighting candles is widespread throughout the country, but each region has its own unique events. In the capital city of Bogotá, people attend fireworks shows, and in Medellín, the Medellín River is decorated with elaborate light displays over the water.
We hope after learning about these celebrations you will feel equipped to teach about different cultures and connect them to your students’ own traditions. Whatever winter holidays you learn about in your classroom, be sure to use a culturally responsive approach to your activities and lessons. Your students will feel more comfortable opening up to you and their peers, deepening learning experiences for everyone.