Christmas Around the World December 04 2009

I grew up as an Army Brat, and consequently I spent three of those childhood moving-around years in Germany. For part of that time, we lived in a tiny town called Obermumbach, and I was exposed to German culture in a way I wouldn't have been if I had lived on the local Army base the whole time.

I was fascinated and delighted by it all, especially the Christmas Markets held in December - the spicy lebkuchen, the gluhwein, and the smell of woodsmoke as carvers made designs into wooden Christmas ornaments. One of those ornaments - engraved with my first name, scrolls and a flower - hangs on my Christmas tree today.

Because I was an Army Brat and became interested in other cultures and ways of life, I've  spent a good part of my life traveling the United States and the world. And as my classroom has become more diverse over the years, I no longer have to travel so much - the cultures have come to me!

Christmas traditions are no exception when it comes to cultural differences, and there are several resources of information to help you and your students study elements such as Christmas presents, food, music, decorations, and gifts. Use the following social studies lesson plan to help your students compare and contrast this information with their own experiences.

Read and Highlight

The first year I did this study, I included the cultures represented in my classroom - these included Mexico, Russia, Romania, and Nigeria. I copied and pasted the information into a pdf format to photocopy with my kids. I made this Christmas Around the World Packet for download, which highlights countries from different parts of the world (the website reference is in the footer).

It's fairly high-level reading, so if you want material that's shorter and easier to understand, try There is a list of countries with facts that are easy to pick out.

If you want to keep the packets to use for more than one year, consider having your kids use highlighter tape to mark important information. Then when they're done with the information, peel off the tape and collect the packets to use again next year.

Grid and Map

With your Christmas Around the World Packet, copy out a Christmas Around the World Process Grid for each student to fill in while reading. I chose four different categories for comparison, and left the "country" column blank. However, don't forget to include either the "United States" or "My Own Family Traditions" as one of the countries studied. I usually make a larger process grid on butcher paper and hang it in my classroom during our study. This way, students can share information that goes on the large classroom process grid as well as their own individual grids.

The process grid is a valuable organizational resource, and lends itself to a variety of activities, writing in particular. Once the grid is filled out, students can complete a compare and contrast piece using their traditions and one from another country, or they can compare and contrast two cultures apart from their own. Students can also write about one culture in particular, which is a bit easier to organize and good for younger students.

If you'd like your students to connect the countries studied with where they are in the world, I found a couple of free map resources for classroom use. Eduplace has free downloadable pdfs of different kinds of world and country maps; National Geographic Xpeditions also has a variety of maps (these are prettier).

Write or Speak...Or Both!

In my corner of the world, we have to have assessment samples in reading, writing, math, speaking and science. I like to use this project to knock out a couple of those, namely writing and speaking.

To help kids produce a writing sample, there are a variety of angles for Christmas Around the World. Some examples include:

  • Expository - Compare and contrast another country's or culture's Christmas traditions with your own.
  • Narrative - Tell a story involving a favorite Christmas tradition in your family  - OR - Write about three of your family's Christmas traditions.
  • Persuasive - Use a country's Christmas traditions to persuade people to either visit or move to that country.
  • Imaginative - Imagine that you are in charge of creating three new Christmas traditions and write about them.

Because it's a stressful time of year, you might want to have your students' speaking samples go along with their writing projects in the form of presentations. That way, their research and work could be used for both projects, cutting down on the stress of having to do too much in a short amount of time. Set aside some time right now - I usually choose a couple of afternoons early in the last week of school before break begins - for your students to present their projects.

Technology Resources

There are a couple of fun and free technology resources that go along with Christmas Around the World. Pleasant Valley Elementary has a list of Internet Scavenger Hunts, where students use websites to find specific cultural information. Consider having students pair up to find the answers to these questions.

No matter what cultures or countries you decide to study, using a process grid will bring an extra element of fascination to your students' study of the Christmas season.