Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Montessori Classrooms Celebrate Winter Holidays Around the World

NAMC Montessori Classrooms Celebrate Winter Holidays Around the World Hanukkah menorah Montessorians know that in order to promote peace and understanding of different people and cultures, it is necessary to study not only the geography and history of those people, but also to look at the human story. Looking at the ways we celebrate gives us some insight into our similarities and differences. The winter season brings many festivals and celebrations around the world. Through study and experience, children gain a better understanding of those around them.

NAMC Montessori Classrooms Celebrate Winter Holidays Around the World chinese dragon

Here are a few celebrations happening around the world at this time of the year that your students will enjoy learning about!

Montessori Classrooms Celebrate Winter Holidays Worldwide


Chanukah is Hebrew for “rededication”. It begins on the 25th day of Kislev in the Jewish calendar (usually in late November/early December). It is celebrated for eight days to honor the Jewish victory and the miracle of oil lasting for eight days to rededicate the temple.
There are several symbols that represent Chanukah.
  • The Menorah is a candelabra of eight candles which are lit with the ninth candle, called the Shamash. The first candle is lit on the first night, with subsequent candles being lit on the following nights.
  • A dreidel is a four-sided spinning top with a Hebrew letter on each side. These letters mean “A Miracle Happened Here”. The dreidel game is played for coins or candy.
  • Latkes and Sufganiyot are food fried in oil. Since oil plays such an important role in Chanukah, it is only fitting that the food are made in oil, too. Latkes are fried potato pancakes and Sufganiyot are jelly filled donuts.

Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year is a 15-day celebration which starts with the New Moon on the first day of the New Year. New Year's Eve and New Year's Day are celebrated as family holidays, a time of reunion and thanksgiving. The celebration was traditionally a religious ceremony given in honor of Heaven and Earth, the gods of the household and the family ancestors. The honoring and sacrifices to the ancestors is most important as it unites the living members with those who had passed away. Departed relatives are remembered with great respect because they were responsible for laying the foundations for the family.
  • Day one – welcomes the gods of the heavens and earth. Many people abstain from meat on the first day of the New Year because they believe that this will ensure long and happy lives.
  • Day two - Chinese pray to their ancestors as well as to all the gods. They are extra kind to dogs and feed them well because the second day is the birthday of all dogs.
  • Day three and four are for the sons-in-laws to pay respect to their in-laws.
  • Day five - people stay home to welcome the God of Wealth.
  • Days 6-10 - the Chinese visit their relatives and friends freely as well as visiting the temples to pray for good fortune and health.
  • Day 7 - The seventh day of the New Year is the day for farmers to display their produce. The seventh day is also considered the birthday of human beings. Noodles are eaten to promote longevity and raw fish for success.
  • Day 8 - The Fujian people have another family reunion dinner, and at midnight they pray to Tian Gong, the God of Heaven.
  • Day 9 – Offerings are made to the Jade Emperor
  • Days 10-12 – Friends and relatives are invited over for dinner.
  • Day 13 – Cleanse the system with simple foods of rice congee and mustard greens.
  • Day 14 – Preparation for the Lantern Festival
  • Day 15 – Lantern Festival

Eid (ul-Fitr)

Eid marks the end of Ramadan (see below). Eid is Arabic for “festivity”. Muslims wear their best clothes and give money to the poor. Families wake up very early, say their first prayer of the day, and eat a little to symbolize the end of Ramadan. They then go to pray at mosques. Afterwards, they greet and hug each other in the spirit of peace and love. They then visit friends and relatives to give thanks. Eid ul-Fitr is a joyous, religious occasion celebrating the achievement of enhanced piety. It is a day of forgiveness, moral victory, peace fellowship, brotherhood and unity. Muslims thank God for the help and strength that he gave them through the previous month to help everyone practice self-control. It is a time of giving and sharing. Diwali
Diwali is a five-day holiday celebrated by Hindus. Diwali means “rows of lighted lamps” and is often called the Festival of Lights. During Diwali, homes are cleaned and windows are opened to welcome Lakshmi, goddess of wealth. Candle and lamps are lit and gifts are exchanged. It is celebrated during October or November.


Kwanzaa was created by Dr. Maulana Karenga in 1966 and developed from the elements of African heritage. Kwanzaa is a seven-day celebration (December 26 – January 1) and is built around seven principles known as “Nguzo Saba”. Each day a candle is lit to represent each principle.
  • Day 1 - middle candle - Black - Umoja – Unity
  • Day 2 - innermost red candle - Kujichagulia - Self-determination
  • Day 3 - innermost green candle - Ujima - Collective Work and Responsibility
  • Day 4 - middle red candle - Ujamaa - Cooperative Economics
  • Day 5 - middle green candle - Nia – Purpose
  • Day 6 - outermost red candle - Kuumba – Creativity
  • Day 7 - outermost green candle - Imani – Faith

There are many symbols of Kwanzaa.
  • Kinara - the Kwanzaa candelabra
  • Mkeka - the straw mat upon which the kinara is placed
  • Vibunzi (or muhindi) - ears of corn also placed on the mat, one to represent each child in the household.
  • Mazao - a fruit basket that is placed on the mkeka
  • Kikombe cha umoja - the unity cup is also placed on the mkeka
  • Mishumaa Saba - the seven candles that are placed in the kinara
  • Zawadi - gifts that are traditionally given on Imani, the last day of Kwanzaa


Ramadan is the ninth month of the Muslim calendar. During the month of Ramadan, Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset. In the evening they eat small meals and visit with family and friends. It is a time to worship and take extra time for family, inner reflection, and spiritual growth.

Shichi Go San

In Japan, Shichi-Go-San means Seven Five Three. Odd numbers are considered lucky numbers in Japan. Shichi-Go-San is a festival for girls who are three and seven years of age and boys who are three and five years of age. On November 15th (or the closest weekend), children dress in their finest clothes, either traditional kimonos or western-style clothing. They visit shrines ensure a future free of sickness and misfortune. The children are given candy called chitose-ame in a long white paper bag covered with symbols of luck and longevity such as the pine, bamboo, plum, crane, and tortoise. Chitose-ame means “thousand-year candy”, signifying many years of life.

St. Lucia Day

In Sweden, December 13 is St. Lucia’s day and represents the beginning of the holiday season. St. Lucia lived during the first century of Rome. She was tortured and killed by Emperor Diocletian because she would not give up her faith to marry an unbeliever. Stories of her courage were brought to the Swedes by missionaries. It is said that she would go out early in the morning, clothed in white robes and a crown of light, bringing food and drink to the poor.

Today, the oldest daughter brings her parents a breakfast of sweet saffron buns and coffee while wearing a white gown and a crown of holly. Her siblings follow her, also dressed in white and carrying candles.

Winter Solstice

Solstice means “sun standing still”. In the Northern Hemisphere, it signifies the first day of winter and marks both the shortest day and longest night of the year. It occurs on the 20th, 21st, or 22nd of December.
To druids, Winter Solstice was the night of the Great Mother Goddess who gave birth to a new sun, restarting the beginning of the seasons. It is also called Yule; the day the Yule log was added to the bonfire around which they would dance to awaken the sun from its winters sleep.

During Roman times it came to honor Saturn’s, the harvest god, and Mithras, the ancient god of light. This form of sun worship had come to Rome from Syria a century before with the cult of Sol Invites. It announced that winter is not forever, that life continues, and provided encouragement to cold, dreary times.

Young children learn about these celebrations through stories and songs, as well as from guest speakers. Older children are able to do more research. They should be able to answer the following questions:
  • When is the holiday or festival celebrated?
  • Who celebrates the holiday or festival?
  • Where is the holiday or festival celebrated?
  • How is the holiday or festival celebrated?
  • Why is the holiday or festival celebrated?

Learning about holidays and celebrations should be fun. Bring in as many “real life” examples as you can. It’s a great way to build community and create a sense of unity and peace.

You will find more on Cultural Celebrations around the World in NAMC's Lower Elementary program and curriculum .
As much as possible, NAMC’s web blog reflects the Montessori curriculum as provided in its teacher training programs. We realize and respect that Montessori schools are unique and may vary their schedules and offerings in accordance with the needs of their individual communities. We hope that our readers will find our articles useful and inspiring as a contribution to the global Montessori community.
© North American Montessori Center - originally posted in its entirety at Montessori Teacher Training on Wednesday, December 12, 2007.


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