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.
- The oldest girl in the family is declared St. Lucia on December 13th. On this day she dresses up wearing a white robe with a red sash and a wreath with candles on her head.
- The "St. Lucia" of the family serves everyone a special bun called Lussekatter.
- Schools have a celebration with a St. Lucia choir. All the girls dress up as St. Lucia and the boys are "Star Boys."
- Have students make a St. Lucia wreath by cutting a hole in the center of a paper plate so that a child's head will fit in it. Cut out leaves from green construction paper and have students glue them to the paper plate. Make 7 paper candles stand up around the inside rim of the plate.
- Have boys dress as Star Boys. Cut an 18 inch wand from cardboard. Cover it with construction paper. Make a white star on the end of it. To make the hat roll a piece of construction paper so that it has a point on the end and staple it in place.
- Have students parade around the classroom or school.
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.
- Explain to your students that French children put their shoes by the fireplace on Christmas Eve in hopes that "Pere Noel" (Santa Claus) will bring them some toys. They leave a snack and a glass of wine for Pere Noel and beet greens for the donkey that travels with him. Pere Noel is tall and thin. He has a long red robe trimmed with fur. Download our PDF Pere Noel picture.
- Pere Noel brings toys to children in a sack. As he comes, he calls out “tralala, tralala, bouli, bouli, boulah.”
- Families go to church at midnight on Christmas Eve. After church everyone eats a huge dinner called "Le Reveillon." After this large dinner of goose, turkey, chicken, or beef; a fish dish, cheese, bread, wine, and fruit, many families serve a "Buche de Noel." The Buche de Noel is a sponge cake decorated like a yule log. Some families burn a real log in the fireplace. Download our PDF Yule Log. Students can make a replica of a"Buche de Noel." See Make a Buche de Noel.
- French families think that mistletoe is also lucky and hang it everywhere. Have students write a wish for the New Year on an index card and attach it to the downloaded Mistletoe picture.
- Teach your students how to say “Joyeux Noel” (Merry Christmas) and “Bonne Annee” (Happy New Year) to each other. Happy Hanukkah is “Joyeux Hanukkah.” Have students practice in groups.
- Teach your students to sing "Jingle Bells" in French. Here are the words:
Tintez Cloches, Tintez Cloches (Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells)
Tintez dans la nuit (Ring in the night)
Pere Noel et ses grand daims (Santa Claus and his big reindeer)
Arrivent toute de suite..ite (Are coming soon)
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
- Let students play a game with a spinning top called a dreidl. This game can be played online at Torah Tots
- Make special foods such as potato pancakes.>
- On Hanukkah it is traditional for parents to give their children money or "gelt." This tradition can be replicated in the classroom by distributing small bags of chocolate "gelt" which is wrapped in foil to look like money.
- Have students send Hanukkah cards at Primary Games.com.
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.
He always helped those in need, in need
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.
- Make a paper boat with students to launch. Boats in Thailand have flowers and candles on them.
- Brainstorm with students what bad feelings or happenings they would like to put on the boat to send away. Explain how children in Thailand come to school dressed in special costumes on this day to launch their boats.
- Have students look at pictures of this festival on the internet. Go to Holidays of Thailand.
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.
- Although it was originally a Hindu celebration, Diwali is now enjoyed by people of every religion in India. It is a family celebration which takes place in October or November and lasts for five days. This festival of lights celebrates the victory of good over evil and the glory of light.
- Commemorating Lord Rama's return to his kingdom Ayodhya after completing a 14-year exile, people decorate their homes, light thousands of lamps and give out sweets. There are fireworks in the streets.
- Diwali is a time for fun and rejoicing. However, before the celebration begins there is a lot preparation.
- The house must be thoroughly cleaned and windows opened in order to welcome the Laxmi, the goddess of wealth. People light up their homes using thousands of clay oil lamps to welcome the Goddess. >
- During Dawali, Indians buy puffed rice to offer to Lakshmi, the Goddess of Prosperity. Have students put one cup of puffed rice in small squares of plastic wrap. Tell them to hand the rice out to friends.
- New clothing is also purchased to be worn during the celebration.
- In India a design using rice flour is made on the floor in front of the family's shrine. Have students make their own Rangoli design in your classroom. Use white chalk to draw a design on black construction paper. Have students color in the design with colored chalk. You can find a pattern at Diwali.Be sure to spray the finished designs with a fixative.
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.
- Nine days before Christmas a special mass is celebrated where the story of the birth of Jesus in reenacted.
- Parols are displayed and fireworks heard over the next nine days.
- On Christmas Eve a procession is held and Mary and Joseph's search of shelter is reenacted. Members of the procession carry "parols" to light their way.
- Paroles of all sizes can be found decorating the homes of people in the Philippines. There are contests to pick the most beautiful parols.
- Families may pass down their expertise in parol making from one generation to another.
- Strolling musicians play handmade banjos in the streets. This is an important feature in the celebration of Christmas in the Philippines.
- Have students make their own lantern to decorate your classroom.
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.
- Have students discuss one of their own holiday customs and share it with their class or ESL group.
- Point out Mexico on the map and ask questions about the location of Mexico such as "What continent is Mexico on ? Is is north or south of the U.S.? What language is spoken there?"
- Explain that most Mexicans are Catholic and celebrate Christmas. In Mexico Christmas holidays start on December 16th and last 9 nights. Each night families act out the journey that Mary and Joseph made to Bethlehem. They knock at doors asking for shelter.
- Have students look at information about Christmas in Mexico on the internet. See Mexico Connect. Brainstorm a list of the different events of the Mexican celebration with students.
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
- Have students compare their holiday celebrations with Christmas in Mexico, download PDF Christmas in Mexico Venn Diagram.
Other Festivals of Light
- New Year's Eve in Brazil
- Kwansaa in the United States
It is summer in Rio de Janeiro on December 31st. Although this isn't strictly a New Year's Eve celebration, people go to the beach at midnight and ask Iemanja, the African goddess of waters, to give them good luck. Hundreds of candles are lit in the sand. People throw white flowers into the water as a gift to Iemanja. They also give her combs and perfume. The celebrations, with drumming and singing, begin at midnight and go on until dawn.
Kwanzaa begins on Decembe 26th to honor African harvest traditions. It was created in 1966. Candles representing the seven principles of Kwanzaa are lit each night for a week. Family and friends come together to take pride in their unique culture and to celebrate their common heritage.
© 1998-2009 Judie Haynes, www.everythingESL.net