Traditions Around the World: Celebrate Autumn

Display for Día de los Muertos (or Day of the Dead in English), a holiday celebrated mainly in Mexico and by people of Mexican heritage living in the United States and Canada. The holiday is dedicated to the remembrance of friends and relatives who have died.

The air is becoming cold and crisp. Leaves are turning a vibrant gold, red and purple. Pumpkins dot the countryside and hay rides are a dime a dozen. Autumn is in full swing.

In addition to the changing of the seasons and the euphoric smell of hot apple cider, this time of year brings with it a wealth of cultural traditions from around the world. This has always been a time to be thankful for the summer bounty that was produced and to start preparing for the coming of the winter chill and darkness.

This time of year is also for remembering those who are no longer with us – to honor our family, friends and loved ones who have passed on. Celebrations and festivals centered around the dead and departed can be found in cultures all over the world, each with their own set of traditions.

Given that this time of year is bursting with global festivals and celebrations, it is a perfect opportunity to help your children and students appreciate the different ways that communities celebrate around the world. You can encourage children to share their own family’s traditions as well as introduce celebrations that are new to them.

Here are tips for how to celebrate global autumn traditions with your children and students:

  • Family traditions: Have your students share which traditions they celebrate at home during this time of year. They can talk about what kinds of foods are eaten, what activities are involved, how each member of the family participates, and when the traditions take place. Do an in-depth focus on each of the traditions represented by your students by having them bring in items from home to share. But you will want to make sure that no one feels left out! If you have too many different traditions represented in class, then it might be best to choose a few ahead of time (before your students talk about their own) and let the students know which you will be focusing on.
  • Student participation: The activities centered around traditions from this time of year are endless. You can have your students crush yams and eat moon cakes, make a Festival of Lights candle collage, or even do some Halloween/Day of the Dead activities in Spanish.  Simple cut-outs and coloring pages can provide a lot of information, especially if you combine it with historical background and context. The key is to get your students involved by having them actually make things themselves that represent each tradition or celebration. Plus, by making items in class that they can take home, they have an opportunity to talk with their parents about each tradition as they learn about it.  Include parents in the celebrations as much as possible by giving them opportunities to come to the classroom to share their family traditions with students.
  • Include geography: A wonderful way to help children apply their geographical knowledge is to hang a map on the wall and indicate where each of the traditions take place and/or originated. This is a great way to get students in your class talking about where their families are from, which languages are spoken in different countries, and which countries students may have visited over the years. Even though younger children may not know much about world geography, this can give them a fun and fascinating head start.
  • American traditions: There is no reason to separate American traditions and celebrations from the list of global ones. It is important that children see American traditions as part of the many that take place around the world, rather than something special and separate from the rest. Talk with children about how immigrants brought many of the current American traditions with them when they arrived in the United States. Outline where each of the traditions may have come from originally and how they may have changed over the years. This can be fascinating for children who have never thought about this aspect before.
  • Historical context: Myths, fairy tales and historical accounts can be a wonderful way to bring autumn traditions alive for young children. Not only will such stories give children a sense of why some traditions came about, they also help to make the traditions more colorful and meaningful. Don’t be afraid to share the historical background of festivals and celebrations with young children for fear it will be too dry. The key is to make historical accounts meaningful and memorable through activities, stories and mini plays. Show children why people in the past may have relied on myths and stories to explain the world around them, and how these then became many of our traditions today.
  • Appropriate age level: When introducing traditions, make sure that what you cover is appropriate for the age of children in your class. Some children and families may feel uncomfortable talking about traditions that involve certain things – religion, death, spirits. Make sure that you can talk about traditions without specifically mentioning things that could upset young children or their parents.

As when talking about any tradition, make sure that students understand that it is important to be respectful of others. Practices in one culture may appear strange to another culture. Remind children that carving faces in pumpkins or going from door to door asking for candy might be viewed as very odd to people in other cultures, just as we may see the traditions of others as strange.

There are so many autumn celebrations from which to choose, each with its own history, traditions and activities. The most difficult part may be deciding which ones to focus on. Regardless of which you share with your students, the most important thing is that everyone has fun while also learning to appreciate cultural diversity.

Note: You may want to reference the Free Multicultural Lesson Plans available on the Language Lizard website which provide tips and resources for discussing holidays and family traditions with students.

Photo credit: carmichaellibrary

Which autumn traditions do you share with your students? Are there certain traditions that you prefer to avoid? Which classroom activities are your favorites?

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