!Feliz Navidad! Joyeux Noël! Buon Natale! Mele Kalikimaka! God Jul! Shnorhavor Amanor yev Surb Tznund (Շնորհավոր Ամանոր և Սուրբ Ծնունդ)! Merry Christmas!
It is officially the holiday season! We have less than 25 days until Christmas. This means our house will be teeming with excitement, the smells of gingerbread and tons of family activities. The hustle and bustle of December also makes it harder to complete lessons and stay on task. Math and writing lessons get pushed to the bottom of the “we will get to it tomorrow” pile.
Unfortunately, homeschooling moms like myself also carry a twinge of guilt in December as Christmas gets closer and closer and less and less schoolwork gets accomplished. Being a Type A person, December always brings a different kind of stress for me. Our family never seems to have enough time to get our school work completed. There are so many fun fieldtrips to go on, so many friends and family in town to visit, so many cookies to bake and so many presents to make and wrap. And this year, my eldest graduates college and turns 21 in December! There will be lots of celebrating and little school work being done.
One year, God reminded me of the main reason we homeschool: the freedom and flexibility to learn about Jesus as a family! One year out of desperation, we decided to take off the entire month of December. Yes, the entire month! I know, traditional schools maybe get two weeks of vacation, but we decided our family would take some much needed time off and spend our time making memories and spreading some Christmas cheer. However being Type A, I felt guilty about not doing “school” for a whole month. So I turned our Christmas traditions and holiday errands into part of our “school day.”
Some of my favorite holiday “school work” were the years we learned about how other countries around the world celebrate Christmas. Since “Coffee with Carrie” blog spent the first few months of the 2019-2020 school year sharing how to “travel” the world in 80 Books, we decided to extend the “travel” theme to Christmas time too!
In our Christmas “travels,” some years we learned how other countries and cultures celebrate Christmas. Some years we focused on the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, the season of Advent and then learned about Kwanzaa and Epiphany after Christmas. Since I am from New Orleans, we always incorporated Epiphany and Kings Day into our Christmas “lessons.” After all, Mardi Gras season starts on Epiphany or King’s Day. On Epiphany, we eat King Cake, read the story of the Wise Men, and talk about the cute plastic baby Jesus hidden inside the cake.
HISTORY AND GEOGRAPHY
The first resource you will want to get if you are going to learn about how Christmas is celebrated around the world is Christmas Around the World by Lankford. It not only comes with short descriptions of how different countries celebrate Christmas and birth of Jesus, but it also gives cooking and craft ideas too. We even used some of the ideas to make Christmas presents for family and friends. Another great resource to use is Celebrate Christmas Around the World.
Start the Christmas season off by celebrating St. Nicholas Day on December 6th. Saint Nicholas was a Christian bishop who helped the needy. After his death, the legend of his gift-giving grew. Saint Nicholas was born in Patara, Lycia, an area that is part of present-day Turkey. He reportedly used his inheritance to help the poor and sick. A devout Christian, he later served as bishop of Myra. There are many legends about Saint Nicholas. One story tells how he helped three poor sisters. Their father did not have enough money to pay their dowries and thought of selling them into servitude. Three times, Saint Nicholas secretly went to their house at night and put a bag of money inside. The Dutch continue to celebrate the feast day of Saint Nicholas on December 6. It is a common practice for children to put out their shoes the night before. In the morning, they discover the gifts left by Saint Nicholas. Dutch immigrants brought the legend of Saint Nicholas, known to them as Sint Nikolaas or by his nickname, Sinterklaas, to America in the 1700s. Our family loved putting out our shoes out on the eve of Dec. 6th. The kids would wake up to chocolate gold coins in a brand new pair of shoes. As the kids reached puberty, they grew out of their shoes faster than they could adequately use them, so in the spirit of St. Nicholas, we donated presents and some of our slightly used shoes (and a few new pairs) to a local community center in our town. The presents and shoes were then given to needy families in our area.
In Mexico, Christians celebrate Los Posadas. With your family this holiday season, learn about Los Posadas and even attend one if you can. We live in Southern California so visiting Olvera Street during the holiday season was always a treat!
In Egypt, Coptic Christians make up only a minority, around 10 percent of the population, but they have longstanding Christmas traditions, such as the Feast of the Nativity. The Coptic Christians also observe the month of “Kiahk,” starting from Nov. 25 through Jan. 6, where they fast and eat a vegan diet. On January 6th, they celebrate Christmas with a liturgical service, which is then followed by a fellowship meal where they break their fast and continue to rejoice in the birth and incarnation of Jesus. While our family never fasted during Advent, the season leading up to Christmas Day, we do host a feast on Christmas Eve for our family.
Italy is where the tradition of nativity scenes or creches originated. The Nativity scene is said to have originated with Saint Francis of Assisi in 1223 when he constructed a nativity scene in a cave in the town of Greccio and held Christmas Eve mass and a nativity pageant there. Greccio reenacts this event each year. We made our own clay and wooden figures nativity scene, which I still put on the mantlepiece every year.
Some Church historians state that the tradition of the Christmas Tree, also known as Tannenbaum, began in Germany. German and Dutch immigrants also brought their traditions of trees and presents to the New World in the early 1800s. The evergreen Christmas tree is a symbol of everlasting life and in some cultures also represents the Tree of Life, which is why many ornaments are apples. Germany is also known for the tradition of all things gingerbread. One of our favorite traditions to this day is decorating our Christmas tree the day after Thanksgiving and then making a gingerbread house the first week of Advent. Celebrate with your fellow Germans by making homemade ornaments for your Christmas tree and then bake and decorate a homemade gingerbread house.
In France, the land of good food and fabulous chefs, one Christmas celebration is to bake and eat 13 different desserts! All the desserts are made from different types of fruit, nuts, and pastries. The Yule Log (the literal tree and the chocolate version) originated in France as well. In Provence, it is traditional that the whole family help cut the log down and that a little bit of it is burnt each night. If any of the log is left after the Twelfth Night, it is kept safe in the house until the next Christmas to protect against lightning! A Chocolate Yule Log or ‘bûche de Noël’ is a popular Christmas dessert or pudding. It’s traditionally eaten in France and Belgium. The Yule Log is made of a chocolate sponge cake roll layered with cream. The outside is covered with chocolate or chocolate icing and decorated to look like the bark of a tree. Some people like to add extra decorations such as marzipan mushrooms! While we did not bake 13 different desserts for Christmas Day, we do spend a lot of time baking tons of cookies!
Although in total secrecy, Christians find a way to mark the birth of Christ in countries where Christians are persecuted, such as North Korea, the country that has been ranked as the most oppressive place for believers in the world for 15 straight years by major watchdog groups, such as Open Doors USA. While many Christians around the world are not free to publically celebrate Christmas, it doesn’t stop them from secretly celebrating the birth of our savior, Jesus Christ. While there are not many Asian or Middle Eastern Christmas traditions to try, our family did spend time praying for persecuted Christians around the world during the Christmas season.
There are so many more Christmas traditions to explore and participate in. Don’t forget to pick up a copy of Christmas Around the World by Lankford (biblically based) and Celebrate Christmas Around the World. (secular).
EXTENDED FAMILY READ ALOUDS
In December, the one thing we did not skimp on was family read aloud time. Since we didn’t have official lessons to do, we actually had more time to read great books while sitting around in our PJs. One of my new favorite picture books is A World of Cookies for Santa: Follow Santa’s Tasty Trip Around the World M. E. Furman. This super fun book takes readers across the globe to see all the treats that await Santa on Christmas Eve. The children head to the Philippines where puto seko cookies and ginger tea are left out for Santa; jet to Russia for a honey-spice cookie then set out for Malawi for a sweet potato cookie! When you finish the book, the journey’s still not over. Recipes are provided in the book for your family so you can bake some of the cookies mentioned in the story.
Some of our favorite Christmas chapter books were The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Robinson, A Little House Christmas by Laura Ingalls Wilder and A Christmas Carol by Dickens. We also spent many hours reading classic picture books such as The Polar Express, The Night Before Christmas and How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Each year I always added a picture book that told the true meaning of Christmas. Some of our favorites are Humphrey’s First Christmas and The Legend of the Poinsettia..
WRITING AND SPELLING
During our December “break”, we had no problem finding writing “assignments” to do. The kids helped me write and address our Christmas cards. They wrote Christmas notes to send to friends and then wrote thank you cards for gifts they received. They created our gift tags and place cards for Christmas Eve brunch. They copied favorite recipes to include with homemade gifts and favorite Christmas verses to add to cards. They created shopping lists, “to do” lists, grocery lists, and guestlists. Today, brush writing and calligraphy are the new craze! With your older kids, learn how to write your favorite bible verses using colorful markers and brush writing. They make beautiful gifts and keepsakes. Don’t feel guilty! There were always plenty of writing opportunities to do in December.
SCIENCE AND BAKING
Don’t feel guilty about spending time baking either! After all, there is a fine art to baking which is only made possible by science! From yeast rising to cookie batter ratios to spices in gingerbread, science “experiments” with chemical reactions, compounds and mixtures are happening every time you bake another dozen cookies! Still feeling guilty, don’t forget about all of the measurements, multiplication, and fractions that are being used every time you triple your famous pumpkin bread recipe!
Of course, don’t forget to celebrate the reason for the season! Even if you do not get to play any of these games, read any of these stories, or do any of these activities, make sure you take the time to go caroling, serve your neighbors, and spread the good news of Jesus’ birth, death and resurrection this holiday season.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year,