Festivals of Light Around the World

Festivals of Light Around the World

by Judie Haynes

The diversity in many classrooms provides a starting point for children to begin to understand and value the many distinct cultures of the world. What better way to do that than to feature a winter unit on light festivals from around the world. Teach your students about the cultural traditions in France, Sweden, Thailand, Philippines, India, Egypt, Holland, and Mexico. More light festivals will be added so keep checking back.

When English language learners see their home cultures and languages being studied in the classroom, they feel their culture has been validated. This helps to develop positive self-esteem in culturally and linguistically diverse children.

Festival of Light: St. Lucia's Day in Sweden

According to folk tradition, December 13th follows the longest night of the year in Sweden. During the winter there are only a few hours of sunlight each day. St. Lucia is honored this day with her wreath of candles.

Traditions of light: Christmas in France

The Christian tradition of light during the Christmas season is demonstrated by the Advent Candles which are lit each of four consecutive Sundays before Christmas Day. Additionally some families burn a yule log. This tradition goes back pre-Christian celebrations during Winter Solstice.

Instructional Sequence

Information for Christmas in France was contributed by Christine Gorman.

Traditions of light: Hanukkah

Hanukkah is the Jewish Festival of Lights celebrated in countries all over the world. In 165 B.C. there was a great battle between the Maccabees and the Syrians. The Jews won the battle and when they went to their temple, they found that the Syrians had allowed their sacred light to go out. They only had oil for one day. The miracle of Hanukkah is that the oil lasted 8 days until a messenger could return with more. There are nine candles in the menorah.One of the is used to light the other candles and the other eight stand for the eight days that the oil kept burning

Festival of Light: St. Martin's Day (Sint Maarten) in Holland

Saint Martin's Day is on November 11th and is celebrated in Holland. Children carry lanterns and go from house to house singing songs. People give them candy and other treats. Here is a song they sing to the tune of “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean:”

Saint Martin once saw a beggar
Who needed some food and some clothes
So he ripped his cape in two pieces
And eased some of the beggar’s woes.
Martin, Martin
He always helped those in need, in need
Martin, Martin
He was a saint, yes indeed!

Martin was a good and kind man. On a winter night hewas returning home during a snowstorm. He was wearing a clock A homeless man appeared in the darkness. Martin felt sorry for the man and gave him half of his cloak. Now he is called St Martin and is known for his kindness to strangers. That is why Saint Martin's Day is celebrated in Holland.

Festival of Light: Loi Krathong (loy-kruh-thong) Festival in Thailand

This holiday is celebrated in Thailand in November each year."Loy" means "to float" and a "Krathong" is a lotus-shaped vessel made of banana leaves. The Krathong usually contains a candle, three joss-sticks, some flowers and coins.

The festival starts at night when there is a full moon in the sky. People carry their Krathongs to the nearby rivers. After lighting candles and making a wish, they place the Krathongs on the water and let them drift away. People are offering thanks to the Goddess of water.

It is believed that the Krathongs carry away bad luck. The wishes that people make for the new year will start. It is the time to be joyful and happy as the sufferings are floated away.

Festival of Light: Diwali in India

Diwali, meaning array of lights, is a Hindu light festival. It symbolizes the triumph of light over darkness. It is one of the most important celebrations in India.

Festival of Light: Christmas in Egypt

Many Christians in Egypt belong to the Coptic Orthodox Church. Christmas is celebrated on January 6th and 7th. The churches have always been decorated with special lamps and candles. Copts also give candles to the poor. They represent the candles Joseph used to protect Mary with when Jesus was born.

On the night of the 6th, the Coptic Christians go to the church for mass and at midnight they eat dinner On the morning of the 7th gifts are exchanged and people visit each other.

There are four weeks of Advent during which a candle is lit each week. In Egypt, Advent lasts for forty-five days and people fast. They do not eat any meat, poultry or dairy products.

Everyone buys new clothes to wear to the Christmas Eve church service.

Before Christmas, Christian homes are decorated with lights, Christmas trees and small mangers.

On Christmas morning people people visit friends and neighbors. They bring a gift of shortbread which is called "Kaik."

Festival of Light: Christmas in the Philippines

The Philippines is the only country in Asia that is predominately Christian. This festival of light is marked by the sight of "parols" or star lanterns.

Festival of Light: Christmas in China

Christians in China celebrate Christmas by lighting their houses with paper lanterns.

They also Christmas trees called "Trees of Light," with paper chains, flowers, and lanterns.

Chinese Children hang muslin stockings and await a visit from Santa Claus, whom they call "Dun Che Lao Ren" (dwyn-chuh-lau-oh-run) which means "Christmas Old Man."

Most Chinese people are not Christian so the main winter festival in China is the Chinese New Year which takes place toward the end of January. This is when children receive new clothing, eat fancy meals,get new toys, and enjoy fireworks.

Festival of Light: Christmas in Mexico

During the nine days prior to Christmas, Mexican families march from house to house with candles looking for a room at the inn. They are replicating Joseph and Mary's search in Jerusalem.

a. Families gather together. They march around the house singing a special prayer and carrying candles. They pretend they are Mary and Joseph looking for a room in an inn. This procession is called the “posada.”
b. Introduce the piñata to your students. Ask students to talk about their own experiences with a piñata. Explain that they come from Mexico and are made of paper-mache. If you can not obtain a real piñata, have students color a picture of one and write a few sentences about how it is used.
c. Families go to midnight church services on Christmas Eve.
d. On January 5th the children put out their shoes for a visit from the Three Wise Men who leave gifts.
e. Discuss the legend of the poinsettia. Have students color the poinsettia and explain how it got its name. Find information at Nochebuena - Poinsettia

Other Festivals of Light

Activity Downloads

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PDF fileBuche de Noel (70k .PDF)

PDF fileMexican Christmas Venn (2k .PDF)

PDF fileReveillon in France (109k .PDF)

PDF filePere Noel (42k .PDF)

PDF fileMistletoe (96k .PDF)

Related Links

Christmas in Mexico
This holiday season promote peace and appreciation for the diverse cultures in your school by taking advantage of the natural resource that is in your classroom. Begin with this lesson on Christmas in Mexico.

Harvest Festivals Around the World
Harvest Festivals have been held as long as people have been sowing and gathering food. Show your students how people all over the world celebrate the harvesting of a good crop.

Christmas in France
"Joyeux Noel" to all of you who want to learn more about Christmas in France. This lesson can be taught in an ESL, mainstream or World language classroom.