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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Holidays or Holy Days: A Mini-Lesson on Celebrations

Maurice Elias

Professor, Rutgers University Psychology Department and Edutopia Blogger

This is a season of celebrations. Whether it's Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, or commemorations that are linked to the lunar calendar coming up now, such as Ashura, the 10th of Muharram, it's safe to say that most of the world's populations are taking time to remember some important events during this month.

For this reason, in every elementary school classroom, and language arts and social studies-related classes in secondary schools, a few moments should be taken for class discussion about celebrations. Here are some questions that can guide the discussion. Some will be more developmentally and situationally appropriate than others and some will require adjustment:

  • What does it mean to celebrate?
  • What are some things your family celebrates at this time of year (it's fine if students mention personal celebrations, such as a parent's birthday, though the goal is to get at more cultural/religious celebrations)?
  • Can you think of someone you know that celebrates something different from you and your family around this time of year? Why do they celebrate it?
  • What are some different ways to celebrate? Are celebrations always happy? (Here, you want to encourage acknowledging that some events are celebrated, remembered, in ways that can be sad; sometimes celebrations are quiet and involve emotionally meaningful actions, such as laying a wreath or flowers on a commemorative location)
  • Why do so many different people and groups celebrate things?
  • What's the most important part of celebrations? (Here, you want to encourage all responses -- food, fun, being with family, remembering important things, stories, rituals, gifts, appreciation, gratitude -- while making the point that one should always be sure to understand what is being celebrated and keep it in mind.) Consider supplementing this lesson with stories about celebrations. You can have students go to the Internet to learn about one kind of celebration they heard about from classmates that they did not know about.

You can have students interview family members about past family celebrations. In social studies and civics classes, there is opportunity to explore national and civic celebrations, historical celebrations that may not in fact still occur, as well as others that are relatively new. Mentioning national and local monuments as part of celebrations can be interesting and lead to useful Internet research.

Ultimately, you would like to make the point that it is in our nature to celebrate and that people everywhere and always take time to remember important people and events. That does not mean we should only think about these things once per year, or whatever the celebration period is. The celebration is to make sure we don't go too long without remembering and, usually, coming together with others who share the meaning of the celebration with us.

Celebrations are part of the way in which we learn to be emotionally intelligent and promote our students' social-emotional and character development.




Maurice Elias

Professor, Rutgers University Psychology Department and Edutopia Blogger
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