Category Archives: Holidays

Christmas Around the World

"Merry Christmas" in many languagesguest post by Edmond Gubbins

Teaching in a small, rural, primary school rooted in the Catholic ethos in Ireland, Christmas is a central tradition celebrated by the students. Each year in December, the children perform a Christmas pageant, attended by their families and fellow schoolmates. However, my colleagues and I decided that, this year, we would divert from telling the traditional story of the birth of Jesus Christ and the Nativity and move instead toward teaching a more inclusive Christmas story, one that authentically captures the experiences of children from a range of diverse backgrounds. It is from this theme: “Christmas Around the World” that my journey into fostering an appreciation for the diversity of Christmas customs among my students originated.

Fostering an Appreciation for Diversity

As a teacher of 2nd and 3rd class students (ages 8-10), the children I teach have grown up hearing about the customs and stories familiar to them and their families during Christmas time. I wanted to push their understanding of this holiday and help them realize that the celebration of important feasts and festivals are dependent on a variety of factors, including (but not limited to) their nationality, belief systems, family values and personal identity. We have done much work this school year already on the concept of identity and how our identity shares features that are common to other people, distinct from other people and unique to ourselves. Arising from this conceptual understanding, it made sense to take our Christmas show in a similar direction and investigate some of the traditions in December through a multicultural lens. What better way to do it than through the medium of drama, where the children can truly step into the shoes of another and see Christmas traditions from a multitude of perspectives?

“Our show will help you see that Christmas isn’t the same for you and me!”

My students and I have learned much from this project. As we looked at how Christmas is celebrated in Poland through a retelling of Marek and Alice’s Christmas in class one day, discussion naturally followed about how the holiday is marked in other countries. There are some fantastic resources online that we used in devising the script for the show. Writing a script for over 30 excited children, making sure that every child has their time to shine on stage, while also allowing them to learn about cultures different from their own was no easy task, let me tell you! However, now that rehearsals have started, I can tell already that it is a project that has been worthwhile for my own knowledge but also for the children’s attitudes of acceptance and appreciation of diversity.

So what does Christmas look like around the world?

Our pageant looks at some of the customs, foods and songs associated with Christmas in a host of countries. For example, in certain parts of Russia, many people do not eat on Christmas Eve until the first star has appeared in the night sky. Families then eat 12 courses of food to represent the 12 disciples of Jesus. My children were fascinated to learn about the tradition of eating kutia, a porridge-like meal, during the Christmas feast. All the family eats from the same bowl to symbolise unity. Some families even hold the custom of throwing a spoonful of kutia up onto the ceiling and, if it sticks, they hope to enjoy good luck for the year ahead.

The traditional Christmas songs or carols that the children have been learning since they started primary school quite often originated in another country and from another language. For example, the song “O Christmas Tree” was originally in German and called “O Tannenbaum.” Other songs, such as “O Holy Night” (originally a French song), “Deck the Halls” (from Wales) and “The Little Drummer Boy” (from Czech Republic) are much loved by both children and adults alike. Part of our show sees the children singing the well-known song “Silent Night” in 3 languages – English, Irish, and German, the language it was originally sung in. The lyrics, with a phonetic pronunciation are here if you’d like try it yourself:

"Silent Night" lyrics in German

Ho, Ho, Who?

Of course, one of the most exciting parts of Christmas for children is the receiving of presents. In Ireland, Santa Claus (or Daidí na Nollag in the Irish language) travels around the country on his sleigh, delivering presents to all the boys and girls who have been good. Children usually go to visit Santa in the weeks leading up to Christmas to let Santa know what they would like him to deliver to them.

Our show has a scene where Santas from other countries are being interviewed about how they deliver presents to children where they come from. In the Netherlands, Santa is called Sinterklaas. He usually travels on a white horse, wearing a tall hat with a jewelled staff in hand as he travels through the night. His companion Grumpus is said to rattle his chains at children who are naughty!

In France, Père Noël wears a long red cloak to keep warm. Children leave their shoes out by the fireplace on Christmas Eve night in the hope that they will be filled full of presents when they wake on Christmas morning.

In Russia, Ded Moroz or “Father Frost” is assisted by Snegurochka (meaning “Snow Maiden”) on Christmas Eve night. You’d better watch out though because he has been known to kidnap naughty children!

In Italy, the tradition of the jolly man wearing red is quite different! La Befana is a witch who travels around on her broomstick every year to deliver gifts to children. Sometimes, she may even sweep the floors of the houses she visits with her broomstick to sweep away any bad luck. Both the children and I had never heard of this particular tradition and many were eager to play this part in the show.

Piquing the children’s natural interest in the figure of Santa Claus provided a rich stimulus for discussion about traditions that their own families celebrated. Some children in my class contacted relatives in other countries in places as far from Ireland as Australia to hear about how they eat their Christmas dinner on the beach!

Before the Curtain Goes Up

What has been gained from looking at Christmas from an international lens? Undoubtedly, the children’s knowledge has broadened in myriad ways through our exploration of the theme “Christmas Around the World.” In investigating the traditions, foods and songs of other countries, the children have been enabled to hold a mirror up to their own traditions and see similarities and differences between their culture and the cultural identities of other boys and girls around the world. Through music, dance, and drama, the children are very tangibly realising that the holiday of Christmas may be celebrated differently around the world, but that does not make it any less special. Our show hasn’t even been performed yet, but I hope the children will remember it and what it has taught them for many years to come.

Edmond Gubbins is a 2nd and 3rd class elementary teacher from County Limerick in Ireland. Owing to his extensive work with Language Lizard during the completion of his Master’s in Education at West Chester University in Pennsylvania, he has a keen interest in multiculturalism and fostering an appreciation for diversity in his students.

Unique Multicultural Gifts for the Holidays

bilingual shirts and mugs

Celebrate diversity and show your support for bilingualism with these fun and unique gifts! Perfect for bilingual students and teachers in diverse classrooms.

Discounts on ALL Bilingual Book Sets – Available in 40+ languages!

We hand-selected our most popular titles for bilingual book sets to save you time and money. All books include English and one other language of your choice. Tailored to meet the language needs of teachers and librarians, they make ordering easy! Our book sets include the most accessible, popular, and culturally appropriate books for the children you want to reach.

Exclusive PENpal Interactive Literacy Sets are a great way to support dual language learners! We offer an extensive selection of literacy sets that include the PENpal Audio Recorder Pen, along with our award-winning bilingual “talking books.”

Discount is applied during checkout – no code needed!

Multilingual Posters – Great for teachers with diverse classrooms!

To help you decorate your multicultural classroom or library, we are offering a discount on our multilingual poster 3-pack. This set of 3 posters lets you display “Hello,” “Thank You” and “Welcome” in over 30 languages. The discount is available online – no coupon code required.

Unique T-shirts & Mugs Celebrate Diversity and Bilingualism!

bilingual shirtsWe’re excited to offer new multicultural t-shirts that celebrate bilingualism and diversity with messages like: Welcome Your Friends (with “HELLO” in different languages), I’m Bilingual, What’s Your Superpower? and We All Smile in the Same Language.

There are many more design and color options available at our Amazon store, as well as bilingual, Spanish-only, French and German versions of some of the designs.

bilingual mugsSimilar designs promoting multiculturalism are also available on mugs! (Note that there are multiple pages.)

Gift Certificates – Let Recipients Choose What They’d Like!

Language Lizard gift certificates are great for students, teachers, librarians, and others who support dual-language children. Your recipients can choose books in over 50 languages, including Arabic, Chinese, Farsi, French, German, Gujarati, Haitian-Creole, Italian, Japanese, Nepali, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Somali, Turkish, Urdu, Vietnamese and more!

You can select gift certificates in any value, add a special note of thanks, and have them sent via email within one business day!

Celebrating the Bilingual Child Month – Giveaway & Discounts Extended!

Celebrating the Bilingual Child Month is a great opportunity to recognize the many children who speak two or more languages and understand multiple cultures. Let’s encourage literacy and parental involvement, and celebrate the children who work so hard to learn a new language.

Huge Bilingual Book Giveaway – Extended!

Language Lizard has given away a surprise set of bilingual books to a new winner every month. We’ve already given away OVER $1,000 in bilingual books!

In the spirit of Celebrating the Bilingual Child Month, we’re extending our huge Bilingual Book Giveaway through the end of 2018!

New winners are selected every month, so enter today for a chance to win a surprise set of bilingual books in your choice of languages!

Discounts on all Bilingual Book Sets in over 50 languages!

Bilingual Book SetsWe’re also extending our discount on all Bilingual Book Sets. No code needed! 

We hand-selected our most popular books to save you time and money. These book sets will help you choose the most accessible, interesting, and culturally appropriate books for your little language learners.

Bilingual Summer Reading List

Whether your summer is action-packed or laid back, there are stretches of time that are perfect for getting in some bilingual reading. But what books are perfect for the long ride to grandma’s, or the quiet afternoon by the lake? We’ve brought together some of our favorite summertime reads that are sure to appeal to kids of all ages and interests. Bonus: They’ll be improving their bilingual skills. Our titles are available in English with your choice of over 50 languages! Continue reading Bilingual Summer Reading List

Diverse Gifts for Teacher Appreciation Week & to Celebrate Bilingual Students

Spring is a great time to celebrate the outstanding educators and language learners in your life!

Teacher Appreciation Week & More!

Teacher Appreciation Week is May 7-11. It’s the perfect opportunity to say “thank you” to the teachers and school staff that work tirelessly to make a difference in our children’s lives. Continue reading Diverse Gifts for Teacher Appreciation Week & to Celebrate Bilingual Students

8 Great Folktales for Kids – Favorite Folktales from Around the World

World Folktales and Fables Week is celebrated the third week of each March. (This year it’s March 18-24.) Be sure to enjoy a good folktale at home and in your classroom! Use #WorldFolktales on social media, and tell us about your favorite folktales and fables.

World Folktales & Fables: Important Teaching Tools

Every culture has its own way of teaching lessons and sharing how different things came to be. Many do this through the telling of fables or folktales. Here, we look at eight folktales from around the world. Each one explores the origin of different phenomena and reflects important values. These folktales, which are all part of our Multicultural Book Sets, are a perfect way to teach your students or children about different cultures and languages from around the world.  A special discount for World Folktales & Fables Week is offered at the end of the article.

How the Moon Regained Her Shape, By: Janet Ruth Heller and Ben Hodson

This accomplished children’s book is the winner of the Benjamin Franklin Award and the Moonbeam Children’s Book Award. This Native American folktale follows the story of the moon and her journey to understanding that other people’s words should not define her. Moon lets the Sun’s hateful words get the best of her and it makes her feel inferior and small just like a bully’s tormenting can make a victim feel small and oppressed. The Moon’s true friend, Round Arms, then shows her all the great things that people say about her and that she should not be discouraged by the hateful words of others.

The Empty Pot, By: Demi

This book provides a great vehicle to convey the message that honesty is the best policy. This Chinese folktale about the Emperor looking for a successor shows children that you will be rewarded for your honesty in ways you could never imagine. The Emperor had given all the children seeds and said that whoever returns with the most beautiful plant in one year will be the new emperor.  All the children but one return a year later with beautiful plants. Yet the one boy with an empty pot, Ping, becomes the new Emperor. The Emperor had given everyone cooked seeds so nobody should have been able to grow a plant. Ping claimed his reward for his honesty and became the new emperor of China.

Once a Mouse… By: Marcia Brown

Winner of a Caldecott Medal, this book teaches children to be thankful for what they have as things can change at any moment. In this Indian folktale there is a hermit sitting in the forest when all of a sudden he sees a mouse running away from a crow. The hermit then turns the mouse into a cat and then into a huge dog and many more animals all increasing in size until what was once a mouse is now a tiger. The tiger becomes greedy and wants more power. The hermit spots his greed and turns him into a mouse once again because he is not thankful for what he has. Children will learn from this book that it is important to be thankful for all the good you have in your life and not focus on what you don’t have.

The First Strawberries, By: Joseph Bruchac and Anna Vojtech

This Cherokee folktale about the first man and women teaches children the important lesson to forgive and forget. The story tells of the man coming home one afternoon from hunting and getting angry at the women because she did not prepare any food for him. They fight and then the woman runs away, leaving the man stricken with sorrow and trying to catch up with the woman to win her back. The woman finally stops fleeing when she sees the strawberries, giving the man ample time to catch up with her. They then forgive each other for their mistakes and go back home. Reading this book is a great way to celebrate Cherokee culture and to learn how to forgive someone even if they hurt you.

Toad is the Uncle of Heaven, By: Jeanne M. Lee

This Vietnamese folktale tells the story of the toad and how his determination and strength must be respected regardless of his size and appearance. There was a horrible drought in Vietnam, people and animals were dying and the toad knew that something must be done. He set off on a long journey to find the King of Heaven and ask him to pour rain down on the Earth. Along the way other animals joined him to the Heavens. When they got there, the King refused to speak with them, so the toad and the other animals had to prove themselves. Finally the King listened to their complaints and rained water down over all of the Earth. The King now respected the Toad for his bravery and determination and called him “uncle” which is a sign of respect. The bravery and courage of the toad teaches children that with a little courage of their own they can do anything.

Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears, By: Verna Aardema and Leo and Diane Dillon

This entertaining African story about a pesky mosquito who will not stop buzzing and own up to his faults is the winner of a Caldecott Award. The iguana’s anger towards the mosquito’s foolishness sets off a chain reaction which spirals out of control, and one of the Owl’s children ends up dying because of it. The animal council then tries to find who is at fault until they finally realize it is the mosquito’s fault for telling nonsensical stories. This folktale teaches children that it is more important to tell the truth than to exaggerate facts and be dishonest.

Liang and the Magic Paintbrush, By: Demi

Originating in China, this folktale tells the story of Liang and the paintbrush he was gifted by the old man on the phoenix. It was a magic paintbrush because everything he painted with it came to life! Liang used it to paint things for the poor and the needy, and everyone was very thankful. Until one day the greedy emperor found out about the paintbrush and tried to steal it from Liang. But since the emperor could not paint well, everything turned into something he did not want it to be. The Emperor then freed Liang with the condition that he would paint whatever the Emperor wanted.  In the end, Liang was ordered to paint him an ocean and the Emperor drowned in it. This shows that if you are humble and you do things to benefit the needy then you will be blessed, but if you let greed get the best of you then there will be nobody to save you from drowning.

Rabbit and the Moon, By: Douglas Wood and Leslie Baker

This fable about friendship and giving is of Native American origin and still resonates with many people today. Rabbit has always wanted to go see the moon, and the crane was the only bird willing to fly the rabbit all the way there. The story goes that Rabbit is still on the moon now and anybody looking at the Moon from Earth can see Rabbit hopping around. In return for the trip to the moon, Rabbit gave the crane a red spot on his head. Crane’s legs were stretched out because the rabbit held on to them for so long during his flight. This story teaches that lending a helping hand to others will be a rewarding experience for all involved.

Language Lizard is offering a special 10% discount on some of our favorite bilingual folktales for World Folktales and Fables Week. Use code WFF2018 to get a 10% discount on The Dragon’s Tears, The Giant Turnip and Yeh Hsien: A Chinese Cinderella through the end of March 2018.

Multicultural Children’s Book Day – January 27

multicultural children's books in outline of earthLanguage Lizard is a Proud Sponsor of Multicultural Children’s Book Day on January 27th. Let’s work together to get more books that celebrate diversity into our classrooms and libraries! Check out our previous post on 3 reasons why multicultural children’s books are so very important. Continue reading Multicultural Children’s Book Day – January 27

Why Multicultural Children’s Books Are So Very Important

child reading a multicultural bookWe’ve written before about the benefits of bilingual books at home and in the classroom. But what about multicultural books, with characters as diverse as our communities are today? There’s a movement to bring attention to the need for more multicultural children’s books, and to bring more of those books into classrooms and libraries. Here are 3 reasons why it’s so important that kids have access to more multicultural books… and how you can help get more diverse books out there. Continue reading Why Multicultural Children’s Books Are So Very Important

Giving Thanks Around the World

Thanksgiving is here! Let’s take a look at the meaning behind this holiday in the US, and what its traditions have in common with celebrations in other parts of the world. And learn to say “thank you” in different languages!

Harvest Celebrations

basket with food itemsThe first Thanksgivings celebrated by the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Indians were a celebration of a good harvest.

Harvest celebrations are held in every part of the world, throughout the year. For example, Vietnam celebrates the Mid-Autumn Festival, and Israel celebrates the festival of Sukkot. (Check out our post for fun and easy kids crafts that celebrate these harvest celebrations and more.) Continue reading Giving Thanks Around the World