Winter Holidays in the Classroom

Winter Holidays in the Classroom

December brings with it a myriad of celebrations and advent activities, and not just for Christmas. The winter holiday season holds delights for many cultures and religious communities!

While Christmas remains the most commonly celebrated holiday in America, the percentage of people who celebrate it has declined significantly according to polls and census data. A 2023 Statista poll reports that 78% of the people interviewed celebrate Christmas, whether they were religious or not.

A teacher recently posted a comment on Twitter that gave pause for reflection. It was a comment on a repost from 4 years ago. You can read more of the post below, but the gist is that one teacher had posted that “unless you work in a Christian school, Christmas doesn’t belong in your classroom.” So the teacher polled her class and what she learned caused her to change the way she approached winter holidays in her classroom.

We don’t know what everyone else is carrying in their invisible second backpacks. Some students have suffered trauma during past holidays. Some students celebrate different holidays. Some students don’t celebrate because they don’t have adults present at home to celebrate with. Any easy way to make teens feel seen is simply to ask and to listen when they speak, like Mrs. Bond did. It’s also incredibly useful to know more about the winter holidays that the families around you might be celebrating.

Here are some common winter holidays you should know:

Advent: Sun, Dec 3, 2023 – Sun, Dec 24, 2023

The word Advent derives from the Latin adventus, which means an arrival or visit. Advent celebrates the coming of Christ and is traditionally observed the four Sundays before Christmas Day.

Advent traditions usually include lighting a candle each Sunday to celebrate a different aspect of the Christmas story; advent calendars with toys and chocolate; daily advent reading plans.

 

Hanukkah: Dec. 7, 2023 – Dec. 15, 2023

People outside the Jewish community often think it’s just the Jewish version of Christmas, but it has been celebrated since before Jesus’ birth. However, it commemorates the victory of the Macabees over the Syrian Greeks in 164 BC. The Hannukah story tells of when the temple was restored and there was not enough oil to keep the temple lit day and night, but the small amount of oil they had burned bright for eight days.

Common Hannukah traditions are lighting one candle of the menorah each day for nine days; playing dreidel; fried foods to symbolize the oil; and in America, small gifts for each night.

 

Kwanzaa: Dec. 26 – Jan. 1

Born in a time of racial unrest, Kwanzaa is a weeklong celebration of African-American culture and heritage. The name, “Kwanzaa”, is derived from the word “first” in Swahili and takes inspiration from the start of the harvest season in Africa when the first crops are gathered.

Kwanzaa is celebrated with black, red, and green candles; a banquet on December 31 with food and dancing; gifts for small children.

 

Winter Solstice: Dec 21

At the Winter Solstice, the sun travels the shortest path through the sky, resulting in the day of the year with the least sunlight, and therefore, the longest night.

A common winter solstice tradition is burning a yule log to celebrate the days getting “longer”.

Celebrating Winter Holidays and Creating Holiday Traditions that Unify

In the classroom, it’s important for every student to feel appreciated for their unique culture and background. There might not be room for a specific holiday or it might be an opportunity to explore different winter holidays.

The important thing is to take into account your school environment and the kids within it.

At home, shared traditions can bring opportunities to connect with teens and an excuse for much-needed fun.

Be sure to follow for fun ideas, a gift guide for teens, games to play as a family, travel tips, and other ways to make holidays with teens meaningful for kids and adults.

What are your family traditions? If you are a teacher, what are some ways that you make winter fun?

About the Author

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De-stressing Traditions (And Why They Matter)

De-stressing Traditions (And Why They Matter)

A few years ago I found some gingerbread houses on sale at Target and we put them together. My oldest son kept eating the weird candy dots in the box instead of decorating and the cookie itself was not at all delicious at all. Who wants to eat cookies everyone has touched anyway?

We didn’t ever finish, and eventually, I threw the whole thing away. The eco-minimalist in me cringed that we were destroying the environment and wasting food.

My son loved it.

The next year it was ALDI I think.

Same story.

Grubby fingers, gross candy. Short-lived and not delicious.

Then in 2020, I didn’t go into stores, and so I didn’t have a kit. I started scrummaging for how to make the gingerbread houses. As I stared into my pantry under the spell of Great British Bakeoff, gingerbread recipe pulled up on my phone, trying to decide if it was worth it… I spotted my kids’ favorite snack.

Graham crackers.

And it dawned on me that I’d been making the whole thing far more complicated than it really had to be.

Of course, I did what any modern adult would do.
I googled it.

Friends, I found this video, and the deal was done. We even used leftover Halloween candy and pretzels we had in the house to decorate. (Check this construction tip out if you plan on having graham cracker architecture competitions)

Then everyone ate their house for breakfast the next day and a new tradition was born, like a phoenix out of the ash of 2020.

We did the whole thing again on repeat for the rest of the season.

It’s a silly story, but creating traditions can sometimes start out that way, can’t it? A little messy, a little thrown together, but a whole lotta fun.

In fact, the importance of a tradition lies in the shared meaning and value we give it.

We’ve got a great podcast lineup this fall, full of traditions that are fun for teens, too.

But why do traditions matter?

Why are we drawn to the idea of traditions? What do we gain from them and how can we maximize the benefits for our kids?

I felt like something about the chaos and the unknown of the pandemic itself made creating and keeping traditions more important than ever.

And it made perfect sense. Just like routines create a sense of calm and secureness, traditions create continuity and identity in a family, or in a group of friends for that matter.

But traditions are more than routine because they carry with them a deeper meaning. They strengthen bonds and pass on a sense of belonging.

When you look back on your childhood, traditions are, at their very best, the collection of moments that made your house a home. They are the moments that describe what’s important to your family, your school, your team, your group of friends.

Sometimes, they even become a right of passage into adulthood as you become responsible for carrying on the tradition- whether it’s lighting the shamash, carving the turkey or putting the star on top of the tree.

So what makes a good tradition?

  • It’s easy to repeat year after year.
    Think time and money.
  • Everyone looks forward to it.
    Because life’s too short!
  • It relates to your family values.
    Kids with a strong sense of identity are more confident and less likely to participate in risky behavior. This is a great opportunity to build on your family identity.

I saw a survey recently that said that 67% of parents say they feel the need to produce the perfect holiday. Talker Research published an article in November 2021 saying that 4 out of 5 parents feel pressured to get their kids the perfect gift. That’s a lot of holiday stress!

No matter what holiday you celebrate, I think we can all agree that it should be special, meaningful, and fun for everyone- parents included. Believe me when I tell you I am preaching to myself here. The best-laid plans are worthless if all you are is stressed.

So take a deep breath and let go of all the things you feel like you have to do to make the holidays perfect. Then cling to the things that bring you and your family joy.

It could even be a fun dinner conversation to ask what everyone remembers most fondly about past holidays and go from there! It doesn’t have to be fancy. Or perfect. It just has to be yours.

And if you’re worried about everything being perfect, the University of Nevada did a little research on gift wrapping in 2019. Researchers found that poorly wrapped gifts were better received than well-wrapped gifts!

Sometimes when things aren’t perfect, we actually appreciate them more for what they are, instead of measuring them against our false expectations of what we think they should be.

Think of your traditions as a gift from one generation to the next. They don’t have to be fancy. They don’t have to be many. In fact, it might even be better if they aren’t.

 

P.S. If you’re looking for easy, fun tradition ideas, check out episode 36 of the Teen Life Podcast or this list from AHAParenting.com or this one from VeryWellFamily.com.

Kelly Fann

Kelly Fann

Digital Media Manager

Kelly has a desire to empower young people to grow into the best version of themselves. Using her background in branding and word-smithing, she is a master at highlighting resources that help teens learn skills that will enable them to grow and to adapt, to enjoy life and to be better citizens. Kelly has a MA in Linguistics from North Texas University.

What Are Family Values and Why Do They Matter?

What Are Family Values and Why Do They Matter?

What are family values?

As parents we want what’s best for our kids. We want them to grow into vibrant, healthy adults who are capable of navigating challenges and success.

Families have the opportunity to craft a clear picture of what success means – what priorities they care about and the climate they want to create in their home.

Whether or not you consciously define your values, you are communicating and transferring values from one generation to another. Why not be intentional?

Core values set parameters for staying the course and remembering the why.

 

The benefits of family values for parents

There aren’t really any cons to being intentional about defining family values. For parents, it’s easier to choose your battles when you’ve already defined which kinds of “battles” to choose.

You aren’t locked into only setting rules around your family values, but it does make it easier to set healthy limits and boundaries and to define the “why” for your kids when you do.

Plus, it’s a team building exercise that helps bring everyone on board and makes life easier for you.

 

The benefits of family values for kids

Kids can (and should!) be part of the process of defining your family’s values, which increases their sense of value to the team. When kids have a strong sense of identity, they are less likely to participate in risk-taking behaviors. They are more likely to develop the character traits that you define together because they learn and repeat them again and again.

Kids with a strong sense of belonging and identity are more resilient. Because they are less likely to seek belonging or identity from their peers and/or social media, they are less likely to be adversely affected by disagreements or negative pressure.

 

What makes a good list of family values?

You should choose values that matter most to your family! Great family values reflect your morals, ethics, and the things that make your life better.

Here are a few ideas to try:

  • Empathy
  • Family
  • Honesty
  • Love
  • Loyalty
  • Perseverance
  • Respect
  • Integrity
  • Flexibility
  • Fairness
  • Self-compassion
  • Kindness

Perhaps it’s the marketer in me, but when my first child was born, I was already crafting the poster with pithy sayings. In our house, we put God first; we do our best; we believe the best; we cheer people on; we don’t give up.

The same list could also look like this: faith, integrity, empathy, kindness, perseverance.

Keep it simple, but make it memorable.

 

How do I start?

A family meeting is a great place to start! Plan for snacks (or pizza!) and brainstorm a list together. Then try to narrow it down to 3-7 values that you will be able to remember and repeat. Bonus points if you can make an acronym or another mnemonic device! Keep in mind, they are values for the whole family. If honesty is one of your family values, for example, make sure that you are honest 100% of the time. When kids see that you aren’t making your values a priority, they will follow your lead and won’t make them a priority either.

Most importantly, have fun!

Kelly Fann

Kelly Fann

Digital Media Manager

Kelly has lived in three countries and worked with teens across the world, encouraging them to pursue their passions and to be kind. She’s been refining messages and telling stories for brands and non-profits since 2009.

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Ep. 105: Teacher Appreciation & Teen Terms 5

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You’ll also want to hear more about the latest teen terms! Be sure to check out the first four teen terms episodes in the notes below.

In this episode, we mentioned or used the following resources:

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Chris Robey

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Chris has worked with teens from a variety of backgrounds for over a decade. He has a desire to help teenagers make good choices while also giving their families tools to communicate more effectively as choices are made.

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Ep. 104: Panic Attacks & OnlyFans

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Summary:
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In this episode, we mentioned or used the following resources:

Have a question? If you have a question about something you heard or just want to give us some feedback, please leave us a comment below.  We would love to hear from you!
About Us:
Chris Robey

Chris Robey

CEO

Chris has worked with teens from a variety of backgrounds for over a decade. He has a desire to help teenagers make good choices while also giving their families tools to communicate more effectively as choices are made.

Karlie Duke

Karlie Duke

Director of Communications

Karlie was in one of Teen Life’s original support groups and has always had a heart for teenagers and the vulnerable life stage they are in. She has a wealth of experience to share from working with teens in ministry and leading support groups.

Follow Us