Bleary-eyed from lack of sleep and coffee, I stumbled into preschool today with Milo.
Approaching the building we heard the familiar lilt of Jingle Bells…in Spanish. And there she was – a black-clad Elvira-esque character leading the kids in ballet moves. Plie, arms up! On tippy-toes, arms down! Now CORRE CORRE CORRE and stag-leap across the room! One! Two! Three.. Leap! Quatro! Cinco! Seis… Leap! FELIZ NAVIDAD A TODOS! Hooray!!! The room was festooned with garlands and Christmas tree construction paper art and menorahs and hand-turkeys and stars, and looked every bit the global festival.
It struck me that we – here in the city, in 2008 – are wildly lucky to be able to step into a crazy, mixed up scene like this and feel right at home. Our children will feel even more so, as diversity is imprinted in their spongy minds as the natural order of things.
Growing up in a small town in Western Massachusetts in the 70s, my parents and I spoke reverently of “Other Cultures”, for people who lived elsewhere, looked funny, and had strange habits and different languages. Our great hope was that we’d be able to travel to – even to live, for a time in – a Foreign Country, to Learn their Customs. Foreigners were positive, to be sure, like museum pieces to be admired and studied; but I never knew I could really know a kid who wasn’t mostly like me.
Of course I grew up, and traveled, and lived abroad, and forcibly re-programmed myself to approach the world differently. Those early reactions still linger, though. When I travel, it is still with a residual hesitation (Am I going to point my chopsticks the wrong way? Will I shake someone’s hand improperly? Should I bow? Will I stand out more if I dress in their clothes, or mine?)
It is – therefore – with overwhelming pleasure and pride that I watch my 2 year old plie and stage leap and chatter just as easily with his Peruvian friend and the Indian girl, and little Marcello from Italy, and Tumbe from Kenya, as though it were the most natural thing in the world. Which it is, really.
The holidays with little ones can be crazy. Just getting presents bought, wrapped and shipped, and Christmas cards out on time can be about all a new mom can handle. And for the past four Christmases our family has been doing the bare minimum to get festive. Only half the decorations come out, very little baking is done and gifts are bought online to save time.
But my oldest is almost five, and this year I decided it was time to start making some memories and teaching Christmas to my kids. It was clear they were understanding more and more about Santa. But I wanted them to get the whole holiday in more than just a commercial context. So that meant a little reflection on my part. What things are important for me to share about this season with preschoolers?
December can be filled with shopping and spending or it can be about savoring the lights, colors, songs, smells and tastes of this month. Because once January and February comes, it continues to be cold and it’s back to business as usual.
I had read in a Wondertime article about a mom who did an activity a day with her kids during Advent in lieu of candy/gifts everyday. We’ve done the candy Advent calendars and still do because it’s just fun to have chocolate, but this year we took our wooden Advent calendar and filled it with fun things for us to do together as a family. Things that, for me, make the season what it is. So here are 24 days of activities:
Make paper snowflakes and decorate the windows
Learn/sing some traditional Christmas carols
Decorate the house with decorations
Make a gingerbread house
Make Christmas cookies for a friend
Celebrate St. Nicholas Day (Dec. 6)
Decorate the Christmas tree
Read a Christmas classic
Do something nice for someone we don’t know
Look at Christmas lights
Bring food to someone who needs it
Go see The Nutcracker
Celebrate St. Lucia Day (Dec. 13)
Attend a Christmas event
Make popcorn garland
Read the Christmas story
Make hot chocolate
Go ice skating
Watch a Christmas movie
Make a Christmas paper chain and hang it
Hang lights up in the house
Family game night
Buy a toy for a child who doesn’t have one
Unwrap/open one present each
By doing these, our family gets some dedicated time together. But we’ve turned Christmas “chores” into fun activities. I even had them wrapping presents and helping to stamp the Christmas cards.
Celebrating St. Nicholas Day and St. Lucia Day are important for me to incorporate in some way during the season. Saint Nicholas imparts the real Christmas spirit of giving–which is what the season is about. After living in Germany as a child for a while, this became a familiar name, but the tradition has been lost. St. Lucia Day is a Swedish holiday, one we learned about while living there. While not celebrated so much at home anymore (more at school), it’s still a wonderful way to celebrate the season.
We’re less than halfway through the month, but the kids still run to the calendar each morning to see what we’ll be doing for the day.
If you’re looking for a new way to introduce your little citizens to the great big world, a new video series may be just the ticket. The Global Wonders animated series takes kids around the globe exploring cultures throughout the States and abroad, including in Mexico and India. The characters’ play dates feature cultural lessons, language jams, music and even talk about a variety of holidays. It looks like music CDs and videos featuring Italy and China are coming soon. Enjoy world hopping with your little ones and let us know what you think!
One of our writers, Dana Lightstone, mentioned briefly this week a set of great books to talk with your little citizens about culture around the globe. Amy Wilson Sanger’s World Snacks board books include Chaat and Sweets, Mangia! Mangia!, Lets Nosh and Yum Yum Dim Sum. They make great gifts for your kids and for other friends who are raising little citizens. What better way to teach the next generation about the great big world than through fun phrases and pictures of yummy food? Maybe you can even get them excited about joining you at your favorite neighborhood restaurant.
What I’d find in my Christmas stocking every year as a child was often the best gift of all. Santa would fill mine to the brim- where surely the hook was about to give way to the weight of the goodies inside.
I never thought much to what the meaning could be- this tradition celebrated in many American homes every Christmas Eve. I just knew it was magical and exciting.
There is an old European legend about kind Saint Nicholas being sensitive to a family that had been well off but just lost all their money. He heard them crying as he made his rounds bearing gifts- they had nothing to eat or make them happy. There were three daughters and they had no money for dowries to marry be married.
The family was too embarrassed to accept any charity so St. Nicholas saw a different way to bring them gifts. The three daughters had washed their stockings and hung them over their fireplace to dry. In the night, he quietly climbed down the chimney and placed three purses of gold in each of the girl’s stockings that would be enough to marry them off. When the family woke in the morning to find this blessing, they were very thankful to God and the noble St. Nick.
I’ve hung the stockings in our home this year- I have four to be filled now. We’ll leave treats for Santa and his reindeer. And we’ll think of those really in need all over this world. Hoping Santa doesn’t miss a single stocking this year.
My daughter was born on the last day of spring.When she was about to turn 4 she gloriously announced she would like to have a “Princess Party…you know…Snow White.Ariel.Sleeping Beauty.”I took a deep breath trying to cope and conceive of the fact that I could actually be further immersed in Princess.This was when I had my epiphany.I replied to her “Sure.No problem.But why not a REAL princess.Like….say… Nefertiti?”She agreed that was a WONDERFUL idea and I was off the “Disney” hook.We went to the library checking out everything we could find with regard to Queen Nefertiti, mummification, tombs, Egyptian children and all things Egypt.
On the last day of spring in 2007, twelve little citizens of San Francisco arrived at our house for the celebration after having deciphered their invitations written in hieroglyphics.They wrapped each other up like mummies using toilet paper then I taped a world map on the wall and they played Pin the Pyramid on Egypt.We spray painted cigar boxes gold and the kids glued gems on them prior to searching for treasures in the back yard such as pencils with cat images, rubber snakes, gold coins and colored Lucite rings.The kids also had an archeological dig in the sandbox for small plastic dinosaurs (it is really hard to find bones when it is not October so dinosaurs had to do.)The grand finale was the amazing golden pyramid cake.The children went home with their “goodie bag” consisting of the golden boxes filled with their new Egyptian treasures and a DVD of The Prince of Egypt.
Who knew 6 months later we would be in Saudi Arabia just across the Red Sea from Egypt.My husband and I decided we would be remiss if we did not actually show Olivia the real pyramids since we were so near-by (6 hour flight) so we made a left turn on our way out of Saudi en route France landing in northern Africa.
Gifts are a great way to teach kids to think with a global perspective. Two gifts really stand out to me as great globally oriented gifts –one that we gave and one that we received.
We recently went to the 2nd birthday party for a friend’s son. On the Evite invitation they asked that instead of gifts guests consider making a donation to an organization called Heifer. When I went onto the organization’s site I saw the great selection of gifts that could be purchased for this organization which aims to relieve hunger and poverty around the world. We chose a portion of a water-buffalo. While my daughter Zoe at 14 months is a little young to understand what she gave to her friend for his birthday over time she will start to understand. The birthday boy received a card with a picture of an animal that described our contribution. The organization describes this and other gifts as the “must-have gift of the year: self-reliance.” How great is that gift?
This gift inspired me: for Zoe’s next birthday and as she gets older and more aware I am going to request that some of her gifts be donations to help Ijot, a children’s library in rural India that I’ve been involved with for years. At some point I plan to bring her to the library to meet the children who use it. Children, libraries, and animals are all things that small children can relate to and for this reason they are great donation gifts for children.
On a lighter note, we have received some great board books about different cuisines by Amy Wilson Sanger. We have one about Indian snack food and one about sushi. These are two of our favorite cuisines and we always take the books with us to the restaurant. Zoe loves to look at the pictures and hear the rhymes about the food that she is going to eat.