Families around the world will be celebrating this holiday season in many ways in the coming weeks. Why not use this as a teaching moment with your children, and explore different holiday traditions from other cultures together? Au pairs can help to introduce host children and parents to their own holiday customs firsthand, making this an even more special time of year. The following are some ideas to help you incorporate holiday traditions around the world into your own home.
The Advent calendar originated in Germany when families started counting down the first 24 days of December by drawing a chalk line on the door each day. Families began to adopt more elaborate ways to mark the days including lighting candles and hanging small religious pictures on the wall—later, printed advent calendars similar to the kind we use today were invented. Use the Cultural Care German Advent calendar template to create your own Advent calendar for a special friend or family member.
Italians have a fun character called Befana the Witch who delivers presents to children on January 5th. The Legend of Old Befana tells the story of how Befana flies through the air on her broomstick, following the star of Bethlehem looking for the Christ child. She leaves presents in the stockings of good girls and boys and a lump of coal in the stockings of the naughty ones. Befana also uses her broomstick to sweep up the floor and clear away all of the problems of the past and allowing a fresh clean start to the new year. After reading the tale of Befana, make this beautiful Epiphany star ornament or make your own Befana broomstick.
The Swedes have many wonderful holiday traditions. One is the largest celebrations is the feast of St. Lucia which falls on December 13th. This is the shortest day of the year so the feast is a festival of light (Lucia = light). Children throughout Sweden practice songs for a concert for their families and dress in special clothing. They wear St. Lucia crowns on their head to signify the day. Families then get together and enjoy a meal including special saffron buns.
On Christmas evening, Tomte, the Swedish Gnome (a version of Santa Claus) arrives with his reindeer and sleigh bearing gifts for the children, which are opened on Christmas Eve. You can share this tradition with your children by reading the book The Tomten by famous Swedish author, Astrid Lindgren. You can also make little tomte with your kids.
In Mexico, Santa Claus is not predominant, but his bright red suit is represented in the traditional flower of the season. The legend of the poinsettia states that as a little girl was walking to church to see the Nativity she realized she had no gift to bring the Christ child so she gathered up some plain green branches. As she walked in, she was laughed at, but upon placing the branches near the manger they began blooming a bright red poinsettia flower. This beautiful poinsettia is a very fun and easy craft you can do with your kids at home.
While au pairs love teaching host children about their holiday traditions, our host families also love sharing their own culture with their au pairs. Many Jewish host families welcome their au pairs to celebrate the Hanukkah holiday with them. In Jewish tradition, the menorah is lit every night during the eight days of Hanukkah and the dreidl is a spinning top that is used in a game played with family over Hanukkah. A tasty dreidl DIY and menorah card craft are great ways to help your children and au pair get excited for the holiday together.
Have fun learning about world holiday traditions this holiday season!