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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The Importance of Asking…Twice.

The Importance of Asking…Twice.

This post was written by one of our facilitators, Sarah Brooks. Sarah is a blogger, mom of 3 boys and social media expert! She has spoken across the country at various groups, churches, and schools about social media (the good, the bad, and the confusing), most of which stemmed from a post she wrote called Parents: A Word About Instagram. Sarah currently facilitates a High School Support Group in Fort Worth ISD.

———

I had a mild panic attack the morning I was set to lead my first Teen Life group. When I started looking over lesson one, I was shocked by how personal the discussion questions were. There was no building rapport, no easing in to sensitive topics with these people. No – right out of the gate, they expect me to walk into a group of teenagers I’ve never seen before, teenagers who are presumably hurting and/or experiencing significant life crisis, and ask questions like,

“On a scale from 1-10, how do you feel about yourself?”

and

“How much do you feel others care about you?”

For real??

I’m a wealthy suburban housewife facilitating a group in one of the lowest performing, lowest income high schools in our area. I knew these teens would be skeptical of me before I even said a word, but after reading lesson one I was afraid they’d actually be mad at such a blatant invasion of privacy.

None of it made sense….except that it worked. All the questions. None unanswered.

How? How is that possible?

I think the answer is in something I heard from a different group of teenagers a few weeks ago.

———

During a small group discussion at a church student conference last month, a group of high schoolers and I were talking about the topic of friendship. What it looks like, the difference between online connection and in-person community, etc.

I asked them what traits they looked for in a friend.

“Authenticity.” one said. “No judgment.” said another.

Then one girl said, “I want a friend who will ask me how I’m doing….twice. Once for the fake answer, then again for the real answer. I want a friend who will wait and press for the real answer.”

(*pause to slow clap for that answer*)

I knew exactlywhat she was talking about, because over the past several months I’ve been conducting a social experiment I find hysterical that my husband is ever-so-slightly embarrassed by.

It goes like this: we’re eating a restaurant and the waiter comes up and asks one of a few standard questions, either “How are you tonight?” or “How was your food?”

Something along those lines.

My husband answers “Great!” at the same time I answer a loud “MEHHHH” with a noncommittal shrug. Sometimes if I’m feeling extra obnoxious, I say, “Not great!”

I’ve done this countless times in countless restaurants with countless waitstaff and not a single personhas a) heard me or b) asked a follow up question.

Nobody hears me because nobody is actually listening.

I mean, it’s dinner at a restaurant. Who cares, right? I don’t need to be best friends with Olive Garden James.

But I’m beginning to realize we do this a lot in regular life, too.

We ask all the right questions – because we’re interested and polite, of course – but we don’t actually listen for the answers.

How many times have you had an entire conversation with someone in which you didn’t hear a word they said?

You say, “Hey! How are you?” and as soon as the person starts answering your mind bounces to your work inbox and how you need to pick up the dry cleaning before they close and how your kid has that weird science project with the apples and – oh! he’s finished talking I should ask another question…

We live in a culture with really long to do lists and really cheap communication. We get so busy we forget to actually stop and listen.

———

And this exactly why my Teen Life groups work. This is why those first students didn’t storm out on day one.

The curriculum we use provides practical, helpful tools for teenagers about how to live life better. It’s incredible.

But more than that, these students know that in a world stuffed so full of “connections” we’ve somehow disconnected ourselves from real conversation, they have a place once a week where they can come and be heard.

Even better, they’re heard by an adult who isn’t paid to talk to them, who didn’t give birth to them, and who apparently has no better hobby than to drive across town every Thursday to listen to what they have to say, simply because she – and the rest of the Teen Life team – believes in them.

We stop and we listen. (Curiously. We listen curiously.)

In today’s society, with today’s teens, that can make all the difference in the world.

The Place Where No-One is Turned Away

The Place Where No-One is Turned Away

Working for Teen Life the past seven years has afforded me the opportunity to walk the halls of many schools across our area. Every campus has a look and feel – even a smell! Some come equipped with the latest technology and new carpet while others seem to barely keep the lights on. These campuses are the epicenter of everything – education, culture, social life, development, relationships – all of it. Think about it – in our ever-fracturing society where everything is done online, the public school is the one place where ideas are exchanged and problems are solved – face to face.

What used to be done in houses of worship and other public spaces can really only be found in public schools. And the reason for this is why I am endlessly fascinated with public schools especially – there is no requirement for entry. Public schools have no financial, educational, socio-ethnic, or religious requirement for entry. Simply put – if you live within a certain boundary of a public school – you can go and learn!

To me it is kind of like our national park system. A long time ago, our nation’s leaders decided to reserve wide swaths of land, preventing anyone from exploiting or taking advantage of its natural resources. This would be a public space for all to enjoy nature without barriers to entry (save a daily fee, I guess).

You get to see nature in it’s most preserved state and know that you won’t see a shopping strip or oil rig. It will never be exploited for profit, and nature can just be enjoyed – by everyone.

Public schools in this way have to take everyone who passes through their doors. They have to accommodate all levels of learning and manage classrooms that are ever diversifying. Walking through the hallways and watching how the women and men work with their students is really a beautiful thing to watch.

For many students, the public school might be the only safe place they experience. For some, it is a shelter from abuse. For others, it represents a hot meal and badly needed resources. For others, access to compassionate adults who can advocate on their behalf.

This is a time of year where we shift back to the ebb and flow of the school day and calendar. Even those who do not have kids in school feel the effects of this time of year. We at Teen Life are so excited to start another year helping students on public school campuses across our area, and nationwide! Within the next few weeks across our nation, students head back to the classroom and our educators get back to work. Let us be looking for ways to support those who serve any and every student who come their way. It is a calling unlike any other.

Pray for our educators. Check in with them. Ask what they need. Provide it if you can. Support them. Advocate on their behalf.

School is back! Let’s lean into our local schools and make this year the best one possible!

Chris Robey, Teen Life’s CEO, has worked with teens for over a decade and strives to help students see the best in themselves.
Some Encouragement for Educators

Some Encouragement for Educators

We, at Teen Life, love the local school. Over my six years with the organization, I’ve been on what feels like hundreds of school campuses and interacted with the women and men who create these learning environments. They have a hard job and it seems like everything is changing – always! Whether it’s new students, students leaving, policy changes, administration changes, shifts in educational standards – whatever it is – our educators exist in a dynamic work environment. Literally it’s something new every day.

And for those tasked with the social/emotional health of students, things can become more complicated. In order for a child to learn, they need to have basic needs met, and one of those is safety. We sometimes view safety as shelter from physical harm, but it absolutely stretches into emotional and social safety. A child needs to know they will be supported and given the things they need in order to engage in any kind of learning process. Those counselors and interventionists are tasked with a big job – especially considering the pressures put on them to keep struggling kids in their classrooms.

As another summer looms large, let us remember the rest and rejuvenation ahead for our educators. The rigors of a school calendar can be draining and push people to the limit. In our religious tradition, we find the practice of Sabbath on a weekly basis to create intentional time to rest, rejuvenate, worship, and play. In the scriptures, we find examples of longer sabbaths where the people took a rest from their work for extended periods in order to let their communities rest.

The summer break was originally put in place to allow families to have their kids home on the farm for harvest, now it is just a way of life. But I believe it allows for a natural rest cycle to happen not only for the students, but for educators as well.

So if you are an educator reading this – take advantage of this time! Here are a few things to think about:

  • Make a plan for your rest. Yeah, I know that seems counter-intuitive, but there is something about having some goals set to make you a better person on the other end of the break. What books do you want to read? Where do you want to go? What projects have been pushed aside? What Netflix needs to be consumed?
  • Do you need to say “no” to anything this summer? Are other people trying to take time away from your break? Obviously say “yes” to the important things, but depending on what you need, you might have to say “no” every now and then.
  • Ask yourself, “How do I want to be better after this break?” Do you want to create a new habit? Learn more about something new? Achieve a goal? Write that down and put it somewhere that you will see it.
  • Stay off social media. Not much else to say here.

 

Educators – you have earned the break. Thank you for loving our kids and pouring so much into their development. Thank you for creating welcoming environments to an ever-diverse student body. Thank you for dealing with difficult parents, the bureaucracy of public schools, and the politics of this day and age.

Teen Life loves our local school friends! We will see you in August!

Chris Robey, Teen Life’s CEO, has worked with teens for over a decade and strives to help students see the best in themselves.