Around the world with your child at Christmas

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By Beth Pinyerd

One corner of learning that young children really enjoy and want to learn more about is how other children in different cultures celebrate Christmas and the holiday season. Around the world, children celebrate Christmas and the holidays in many different ways.
Keep in mind there is a world of activities and Internet sites focused on the cultures, traditions, and spirit of Christmas. Check them out!
The Classroom Observer would like to share a few that she teaches her students to get you started. Buckle up your seatbelts as we travel to Mexico, China, Norway, France and Sri Lanka. We will also dip down into Greece, Africa, Czechoslovakia, Australia, the Netherlands and Sweden. You can go around the world at Christmas just from your warm and cozy homes in Lee County.
Our first stop is Mexico, where one of the Christmas traditions is to make a pinata, fill it with candies and toys, blindfold each other, hit it with a stick and the children scramble to get their favorite candies. Here is a simple way to make a pinata at home.
Start with a large brown paper grocery bag. Decorate the bag with paint, streamers, yarn and colored paper. Fill the bag with candy, nuts, fruit, popcorn and small toys. Tie a cord or fasten a strong rubber band around the opening of the bag. Hang the pinata from a hook or put it on the end of a broomstick. Blindfold a person at a time, turn them around once or twice, let them hit the pinata with a wooden spoon or stick. Children, stand back and have fun!
Stop number two is China. Children in China celebrate the Chinese New Year with lots of fireworks-bright colored fountains, gold and silver sparklers and sky rockets! The way to say Merry Christmas in Chinese is “Kung Hei Shing Taan” phonetically (goong-hoh-sheng-tahn).
The beautiful country of Norway is our third stop where grud is the favorite dessert the Norwegian children enjoy. A nut is hidden in one of the dishes of pudding, and whoever finds the nut wins a candy pig!
This Norwegian tradition is easy to adopt in your home. Here is the recipe for grud:

  1. Combine two quarts milk and one cup of regular rice in top of a double boiler. Cook slowly over low heat until it thickens.
  2. Add a pinch of salt and gently stir.
  3. Cover, cool.
  4. Fold into rice mixture: one cup sugar, two tablespoons vanilla, and two cups whipped cream.
  5. Spoon into individual dishes, cover and chill. Don’t forget to hide a nut in one of the dishes. Merry Christmas in Norwegian is “God Jul” – phonetically (good yool).
    To celebrate the Christmas season in France, straw shoes are put on the fireplace to await special surprises for the next morning. When French children awaken on Christmas morning, the straw shoes will be filled with toys, candy and nuts.
    The French say Merry Christmas “Joyeaux Noel”-phonetically (Zwah-Yuh-noh-Ehl). Talking about shoes at Christmas, the children from Holland put out their wooden shoes on Dec. 6 and excitedly await the gifts from Sinterklass. We learned a lot at stop number 4.
    At stop number 5, we land in Sri Lanka where the children are making bright-colored chains to joyfully decorate for the holiday season. These are the old-fashion circle chains that children love to make and hook together. Merry Christmas in Sri Lanka is “Kirusmas Vazphuphal,” phonetically is (Krooz-ma FAR-too-dal).
    As we fly over the country of Greece. we notice in the homes evergreen trees decorated with tinsel and a star placed on top. Gift are exchanged on Jan. 1, St. Basil’s Day. The people from Greece greet one another by saying “Hronis polla,” or “many happy years.”
    In Africa, as we look at the Congo, the families gather together to prepare for the annual Christmas pageant. Caroling up and down the roadways seem to be an annual Christmas tradition.
    My late husband loved to travel. One of the places he lived and visited for four years as a Peace Corp school teacher was Swaziland in Africa. He reminded me that Christmas in this part of Africa is in the summer, the very heat of the summer. Christmas in South Africa is a summer holiday as well.
    South Africa reminds me of Lee County in the spring because of the many beautiful flowers, many beautiful varieties of cultivated and wild flowers to celebrate the Christmas season. On the west coast of Africa, in Liberia, oil palms are decorated for the Christmas trees and they are decorated with bells to ring in the Christmas season.
    As we make a five-minute stop in Czechoslovakia, we learn of a tradition shared by not only Czechoslovakia but Poland, which involves cutting a branch from a cherry tree putting it in water inside to bloom. If the bloom opens in time for Christmas it is considered good luck and also a sign that winter will be short and spring is on its way. This reminds us of the Christmas cactus with that much awaited bloom on Christmas day and too with the hopes of winter ending and spring a-coming reminds me of our American holiday “Groundhog’s Day.”
    In Australia, we think of “Christmas Down Under,” which parallels to so many of the same traditions, glitter and decorations that we celebrate in America. One must remember that Christmas in Australia falls during the summer holidays.
    Australia is so big with many different cultures represented. It’s like Christmas Around the World can be celebrated in one country. The Australians enjoy celebrating culturally diverse traditions of the Christmas season.
    When we think of the Netherlands, we not only think of windmills and dikes to hold back water and tulips, but also wooden shoes. Sinterklaas is the Dutch Santa Claus or St. Nicholas. Dutch children are excitedly told to prepare as Sinterklaas sails from Spain on Dec. 5. They fill their wooden shoes with hay and sugar for the horse and awake to find gifts of candy and nuts in their wooden shoes.
    Children everywhere would love to celebrate Christmas in Sweden because it lasts a whole month starting Dec. 13. The feast of Saint Lucia, a fourth-century Sicilian saint, is honored and loved by the Swedish people. On the feast day, the oldest daughter of the family dresses in a white dress with a red sash and wears an evergreen wreath with seven lighted candles on her head. She joyfully carries and serves buns and coffee to each family member in the home.
    We can say Merry Christmas in many different languages. Children love to do this in greeting each other. The Russian word for Merry Christmas is “S Rozhdestvom Khristovym”(z’roh-desht-vohm Kris-too-vim), African in Swahili is “Sikukuu ya Kuzaliwa Kristo” (see-koo-koo yah koo-zah-lee-wah kree-stow) and Brazil is almost like Mexico, but slightly different with the phrase “Feliz Natal.” Of course. other ways to wish everyone a season of happiness is “Season’s Greetings” or “Happy Holidays.”
    Happy Hanukkah to our Jewish children and Happy Kwanzaa to our African children who celebrate this holiday season. Of course, the Classroom Observer has only skimmed the surface of different cultures and holiday celebrations!
    That is your homework as you enrich your child with knowledge, celebration and fun during this season of the year. Time given to increase your child’s learning is the best seasonal gift that any parent can give their child. I hope with the weeks left before Christmas that you will enjoy learning the different traditions of celebrating Christmas in other countries.
    Of course, we can travel the whole world over, but isn’t it nice to come back home where a Christmas in Lee County is the envy of all!
    Pinyerd has taught young children in the early childhood classroom for 34 years as well as outreaching to the elderly in intergenerational settings. She has taught and outreached in the schools in Opelika and Baldwin County. She holds a master’s degree in early childhood education as well as a bachelor’s degree in family and child development both from Auburn University. Her husband is the late Carl Pinyerd and she has one son, Gus Pinyerd who has taught her so much about learning. Classroom Observer is here to serve the community in sharing the wonderful teaching programs in our local public schools, private schools, and homeschools. The column is provided to enrich the education of our children, youth, and families. Classroom Observer welcomes educational news, school news, pictures, and events by e-mailing her at donnapinyerd@charter.net.

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