Learn about Christmas around the world! For preschool classrooms, these lessons will include brief notes about how different countries celebrate the Christmas holiday as well as provide a corresponding activity.
Italy, France, Germany, Mexico, and Norway
Buon Natale! Fröhliche Weihnachten! Joyeux Noel! God Jul! Feliz Navidad! Merry Christmas! These lessons on Christmas around the world for preschool classroom learning will give your students a brief look at how the winter holiday is celebrated in many different ways. Each lesson is designed to take place in one day's time, for a week's worth of learning.
First Remember the Familiar
You may wish to discuss familiar customs before beginning your study of Christmas around the world. This may include selecting a tree, baking Christmas cookies, visiting Santa, decorating the house and so forth. Explain to the children that children living in different parts of the world have Christmas traditions that may be different than the ones they typically think of. To illustrate this, a good book to read is Children Around the World Celebrate Christmas, by Susan Titus Osborn. Go on to explain that together, you will spend some time exploring these different customs and celebrations.
For the rest of the lessons, it will be handy to have a large world map on display. If a world may is not available, a globe will be suitable.
Christmas in Italy
We begin our travels by learning more about Christmas in Italy. Begin by helping the children locate Italy on your world map or globe. You may wish to add a star to the location, or even a cut out of a Christmas tree, so that the children can later go back and find the location on their own.
Next, teach the children the Christmas greeting, "Buon Natale." Literally translated, this means "Good Nativity."
A fun story to read at this point might be Merry Christmas, Strega Nona, by Tomie de Paola. The author typically incorporates bits of Italian phrases into his Strega Nona stories, and this is no exception.
After reading the story, explain to the children that in Italy, Christmas celebrations go on for three weeks, starting 8 days before Christmas. This is known as the Novena. During the Novena, children go around their villages to all of the houses singing Christmas songs. Sometimes, the children dress as shepherds. The day before Christmas, the children and their families do not eat the whole day. Then, they next day they have a big meal to celebrate. Sometimes, for dessert, they eat a special cake called Panettone. Panettone may be purchased at most bakeries in the US. If none is available in your area, you can search online for a recipe of your own. Together, the class can mix and bake their own Panettone to share as a snack.
Christmas in France
The next lesson in your journey will be to the country of France, to learn about their Christmas traditions. As you did with Italy, find the country of France on your map.
In France, children wish each other, "Joyeux Noel." You can tell the children that instead of stockings, the French put a pair of shoes next to the fire place, with the hope that Pere Noel (Father Christmas) will fill them.
Families in France also like to eat a delicious treat known as Buche de Noel. Click the link for a kids' version of the Buche de Noel, or Yule Log.
Christmas in Germany
Some of the German Christmas traditions may seem familiar to your preschoolers. After helping the students locate Germany on your world map or globe, spend some time learning about these traditions through age-appropriate stories. Here are several suggestions to get you started:
Christmas in Germany, by Kristin Thoennes Keller
Frohliche Weihnachten: Learning Songs & Traditions in German, by Linda Rauenhorst, Linda Nelson, Judy Mahoney and Roberta Collier-Morales
Teach the children how to sing the German Version of "Oh Christmas Tree," which is "Oh Tannenbaum, O Tannenbaum," explaining that a "tannenbaum" is a fir (Christmas) tree. One version of the lyrics can be found in the book Oh Christmas Tree, by Debbie Trafton O'Neal.
Christmas in Mexico
The words, "Feliz Navidad" may be familiar to the children. They are Spanish for "Happy Nativity," or more commonly thought of as "Merry Christmas." Find the Spanish-speaking country of Mexico on the world map.
Explain to students that in Mexico, the Christmas celebrations begin on December 16th. The book Nine Days to Christmas, by Marie Hall Ets, does a nice job of explaining these celebrations through the eyes of a young child. One of the highlights for Mexican children is the pinata. You may wish to have a small pinata for your students to break. Try looking for the kind with pull-strings attached to the bottom. These do not need to be hit with a blunt object. Instead, all of the students "break" the pinata at once by pulling on the strings.
As a craft, you can show the children how to make luminaries using small paper bags.
Christmas in Norway
"God Jule" is the traditional greeting at Christmas time in Norway. Help the students locate the country on your map. Remember to mark it so that the children may return to find it later. The Christmas season in Norway begins with the St. Lucia ceremony on the 13th of December.
You can mimic this by putting on a St. Lucia ceremony of your own in the classroom. Have the children make crowns by cutting the center from a large paper plate and coloring the remaining outer rim green. Add 7 "candles" made of paper to the top. This represents the crowns of Lingonberry and candles traditionally worn. If you are able, you can also add the traditional white robe and red sash tied at the waist, which is often worn. Simply use white fabric or old sheets with a hole cut at the top so the children may slip their heads through.
The book Christmas in Norway, by Keller and Kristin Thoennes, gives a nice overview of the foods, songs, traditions and even the decorations popular with the people who call Norway home. One such decoration is the woven heart basket. If you plan to attempt this project in your preschool classroom, however, it is advisable to have a lot of extra hands available to help!
Continue the Lesson Beyond the Holidays
Have fun as you explore Christmas around the world! These lessons and traditions are bound to be exciting for all the students in your class. Continue displaying your world map even after the holiday season has passed, and refer to it frequently throughout the year.
Images from www.amazon.com