Winter Holidays Background Information for Teachers and Parents

Grade Levels: K-3

This page contains information to support educators and families in teaching K-3 students about winter holidays, including Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and the winter solstice. The information is designed to complement the BrainPOP Jr. movie Winter Holidays. It explains the type of content covered in the movie, provides ideas for how teachers and parents can develop related understandings, and suggests how other BrainPOP Jr. resources can be used to scaffold and extend student learning.

In our part of the world, several holidays are observed during the winter season. Thus, this season is a time to celebrate culture and diversity and spend time with family, friends, and community members. This movie will explore four major holidays that occur during winter: Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and New Year’s. Help your children understand the significance of these holidays and share the many ways people celebrate them around the world.

Religion is a sensitive and personal topic for many students. Help your children understand that people hold different beliefs and religions and these should be respected and honored. Help them realize that cultural and religious diversity make our communities strong! Remind your children that Christmas is celebrated on December 25th. It honors the birth of Jesus Christ, who Christians believe is the son of God. Families and communities celebrate Christmas in many different ways. Discuss different ways your children and members of your community celebrate Christmas. Some attend church, but others also do activities that are not religious, such as decorating trees and singing songs. Many people spend time with family members and exchange gifts. In some cultures, people say a man delivers presents on Christmas. He goes by different names in different cultures, such as Santa Claus, Kris Kringle, Saint Nicholas, Father Christmas, and Papá Noel. Your children may have heard songs about Kris Kringle or Old Saint Nick.

Many children focus on receiving presents during Christmas. Help your children understand that Christmas is a time when many people contribute to their communities by donating items to those in need or volunteering. We recommend staying away from the consumerist nature of Christmas and focusing on community–building efforts to help your children understand that Christmas is about giving and receiving.

Hanukkah is an eight-day holiday observed during winter, usually somewhere between November through December. The dates for Hanukkah change every year, since it is based on the Hebrew calendar and not on the Gregorian calendar. Review with your children that thousands of years ago, there was a ruler named Antiochus IV. He disagreed with the Jewish religion and mistreated Jews. He ordered the desecration of a temple in Jerusalem, but bands of Jews came together to fight off soldiers. The Jews believed a flame should always burn inside the temple. However, most of their oil had been desecrated by soldiers. While they prepared more holy oil, they feared the flame would go out in the temple. They believed there was only enough oil for one night. However, the flame burned for eight nights, giving enough time to prepare more holy oil. Hanukkah honors what happened and people light a candle on the menorah each of the eight nights. The holiday is also known as the Festival of Lights. Other customs of the holiday include playing games with a dreidel, or a four-sided top with Hebrew letters on each side. Many people give gelt, or small amounts of money, and some exchange chocolate coins to symbolize money.

Kwanzaa is observed from December 26th to January 1st each year. It is a holiday that honors African culture, heritage, and history. The holiday was started in 1966 by Ron Karenga to encourage people of African descent to celebrate their culture and support their communities. Each of the seven nights focuses on a different principle of Kwanzaa: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith. Many people celebrate Kwanzaa by creating a table with symbols that stand for African heritage and culture. The table offering might include fruit and vegetables, including ears of corn, to represent the harvest. The offering might also include books about African history to represent learning, and cloth of green, red, and black to represent the colors of Africa. A kinara is a special candleholder used during Kwanzaa celebrations, and a candle is lit each of the seven nights.

The New Year is the beginning of a calendar year. Different cultures use different calendars, so the New Year is celebrated on different days around the world. Cultures who use the Gregorian calendar celebrate the New Year on January 1st. People celebrate this holiday in different ways. Many families and communities come together and countdown the seconds until the New Year. Some light firecrackers and attend festivals. In Mexico and parts of South America, people wear red and yellow underwear as a sign of good luck. In Japan, it is considered good luck to watch the first sunrise of the New Year. Many people set resolutions, or goals or promises, to keep during the coming year. Help your children come up with positive and attainable New Year’s resolutions.

Winter holidays are a time to celebrate with family and community members and take a look at the year ahead. Discuss with your children about how they celebrate the holidays and invite them to share their experiences.