Remember in grade school when every couple of weeks class would end 30 minutes early because it was someone’s birthday? The whole class would sing, eat cupcakes and goof around? It was usually the best part of the day.
If only our teachers could have turned that excitement of celebrating into a lesson of some sort.
That’s one reason studying other cultures with your kids is so fun – celebrating is part of the learning! Holidays are built into the fabric of a culture and its history. Bang on pots and pans while dressed in all red to ring in the Lunar New Year while learning about China. Throw colored powered all over one another and eat coconut pudding to study India. Play games and make flower crowns on the summer solstice to talk about Scandinavia. What better way could there be to give kids a great impression — and one that lasts — of a country’s traditions, food, people and history?
We’ve put together a list of some of our favorite holidays and festivals that you can easily bring into your home and your homeschool. We’ve included one holiday for each month of the year. Some involve food, others have activities and others are wide open to interpretation. But they’ll all give you a perfect starting point for talking about a new country.
January: New Year’s Day (worldwide)
New Year’s Day is the most celebrated holiday in the world, but not all countries ring in the new year the same way. Have you ever tried making wax shadows like they do in Germany? Or eating grapes at midnight like in Spain? Click here to learn these and other fun New Year traditions you can bring home.
February: Lunar New Year (Chinese New Year)
For more than a billion people on this planet, the Lunar New Year is the biggest day of the year. It’s also a perfect introduction to studying China, one of the most colorful and culturally rich countries in the world. Find your zodiac sign, make some lucky dumplings and put on something red for a good start to another New Year. Click here for more ideas on how to celebrate Chinese New Year. If you have our stories, start the day with The Patchwork Dragon, and follow young Jia as she tries to save the town’s annual New Year festival after their dragon is destroyed in a fire.
March: Holi (India)
India’s Festival of Color, also known as Holi, is a time for Indians everywhere to let loose and celebrate the coming of spring. Children and adults from all walks of life fill the streets to bombard one another with colored powder and water. Needless to say, it’s a messy but festive scene. Holi falls on March 9 – 10 in 2020, but you can throw your own backyard Holi festival anytime the weather starts to turn warm. For even more Holi fun, listen to Lost in Color, a story about India.
April: King’s Day (Netherlands)
The birthday of the King of the Netherlands (April 27th) is cause for celebration by Dutch everywhere. Most importantly, you have to wear orange – the Dutch royal color. After that, it’s all about having fun and acting Dutch. Pour chocolate sprinkles on your buttered toast (a typical Dutch breakfast), take a long family bike ride like the Dutch do (even in the rain) and create your own mini windmills for the yard. Use the day to talk about this little but innovative and interesting country. And meet the king himself in our story about The Netherlands – King’s Day.
May: Children’s Day (Japan)
Japan is known for showing respect for the elderly. But on May 5th each year Japanese parents take the day to also honor their children — to respect their individual personalities and celebrate their happiness. On Kodomo no Hi (Children’s Day) there are festivals held around the country where kids can go on rides, play games, and watch live music. At home, Japanese families hang fish-shaped windsocks and eat sweet mochi. This holiday is a perfect opportunity to create your own family traditions while also learning about Japan. Play games, picnic in the park and do whatever makes your kids happy. You might not have the fish-shaped windsock handy, but this mochi recipe is perfect to make and eat with your kids.
June: Mid-summer (Sweden)
The summer solstice has been recognized as an important event around the world for thousands of years, but few countries still celebrate it like Sweden. This year on Midsummer (June 21) make your own flower crown, whip up some pickled herring (or strawberries and cream if that’s more your taste) and decorate a backyard tree to dance around with the kids. Finally, gather as many friends and family as possible to help celebrate. Of course a perfect accompaniment would be our Sweden story, The Midsummer Fairies. Glad midsommar!
July: Bastille Day (France)
France’s independence day falls just after America’s, so you should still be in the patriotic mood when it comes around next July 14th. Use this day as a way to start talking about France. Make croissants, macarons, or try this easy crepe recipe with your kids. Look at some photos of paintings by Monet, Renoir and Degas and learn a few French words to describe them. Then gather the family and turn on our France story, A Magical Bastille Day.
August: The Lavender Festival (France)
Summers in southern France also bring fields of gorgeous, sweet smelling lavender. And this colorful plant is cause for celebration in Provence, where the Fête de la Lavande (Lavender Festival) is held every August 15th. Pick up some lavender, create art with it, decorate with it, cook with it or infuse your drinks with it. Be sure to let your kids listen to The Forgotten Lavender, a story about Provence.
September: Chuseok (South Korea)
Chuseok is Korea’s Thanksgiving Day. It’s a time for family gatherings and giving thanks. But, of course, just like America’s Thanksgiving, it’s a time to eat! Check out our recipe for half moon dumplings here. Just make sure you have plenty of rice, and remember, forks are not allowed. And if you have our stories, be sure to plan time for our story about Korea –The K-Pop Dilemma.
October: White Night (Art)
On the first Saturday in October, Paris opens its art museums and cultural centers at night for the Nuit Blanche (White Night) festival. It’s a night for people to celebrate art in all it’s forms — paintings, sculptures, literature, theater and music. Have your own Nuit Blanche at home. Hang printouts of famous paintings in the living room alongside your kids’ originals. Display their favorite books around beanbags with cozy lighting. Put on music, do dramatic readings from your favorite books and fill everyone’s wine glasses with sparkling juice.
November: St. Martin’s Day (Germany)
St. Martin’s Day (November 11th) is our favorite family holiday. Everything about it is fun – lantern making, a kids parade, candy, sweet bread shaped like little men and, best of all, a great story of compassion to go with it. Click here to learn about St. Martin’s Day as well as ways to celebrate this special holiday with your family at home. If you have our stories, start the day listening to A Royal St. Martin’s Day, a story about Germany.
December: A whole month of celebrations
December is certainly a big month when it comes to holidays. In Germany kids wake up on December 6th (St. Nicholas Day) to find their boots filled with goodies. This is a great one to try at home. Oranges, candy canes and chocolate are traditional treats.
There’s Hanukkah, Boxing Day in the UK and Kwanzaa in Africa. In Sweden, girls put on long white dresses and wear candle crowns for Santa Lucia. Christmas is celebrated in many countries around the world, all with different traditions and ways to celebrate, from ornate markets in Europe to Kentucky Fried Chicken in Japan. In short, there are endless ways to celebrate in December. Choose a new one this year to celebrate with your family.
However you choose to celebrate, we wish you a wonderful year full of joyful learning!
Love this absolutely! If we knew/understood cultures better i think we would have more compassion for the people on this globe. I ordered the stories for my grandchildren who are growing up in INDIA. So loved the Holi/Diwali celebrations that I’ve come to understand…Have just substituted in a predominantly Mexican community and saw the celebration: Day of the Dead…always want to understand the reasoning behind the celebration. I’ll be visiting my grandchildren soon and am very interested to hear how they have enjoyed the stories that they have been receiving I’m excited for what you’ve done and how you’ve brought cultures into homes it will be good to have you back stateside…eager to hear your next pursuits.
Hi Karen! I couldn’t have said it better myself! Absolutely agree – if we (and our children) learn more about other cultures, we become much more compassionate people. I’m so happy to be sharing our stories with your grandkids! We hope so much they are enjoying them and learning from them! ❤️