Christmas, New Year and other traditions

The Magical Season
Nina MK, Ph.D.

The magical holiday season is almost upon us. In some countries lovely decorated trees are already installed, and there are lots of colourful markets. Nativity scenes can be seen in or near many churches and cathedrals. For some countries the New Year is the main family gathering celebrated annually. Traditions and dates vary according to the cultural and religious traditions and beliefs. While in the Western European countries the Twelfth Night on January 6 marks the end of the season, with the traditional walks and parades of the Magi, with the townsfolk dressing up into the medieval costumes, in my own country it is Christmas Eve, and the Old New Year comes on the night of January 13-14. This year the Jewish Hanukkah coincides with the catholic Christmas, though in other years the dates may vary. The African Kwanzaa, the Chinese New Year are all national holidays observed by millions of people. For some reason the Oriental symbolism is very popular in Russia; each year is represented by a different animal, and there are plenty of souvenirs, decorations, calendars etc. on sale everywhere. There are also ice sculptures of hens, chickens and roosters erected on town squares and playgrounds. Thanks to the internet we know that 2017 is the Year of the Golden (Fire) Hen. The content varies slightly through each twelve-year cycle, for instance 2005 was the Year of Rooster; now the female is at the fore.

Christmas in the Multicultural Classroom
Global migration, population changes created a lot of challenges for the teachers. We have to deal with multiculturalism and multilinguism which are not yet reflected in the national curriculum or in the methodological manuals. I believe that a lesson for school children and a seminar or workshop for teachers devoted to the discussion of various cultural traditions connected to the holiday season may be quite useful. We may begin by studying the class roster and asking questions about the celebrations of various significant dates in the family. Students may talk about anything they prefer, share their knowledge. For example in my region there are lots of newcomers from the former Asiatic republics; there are also plenty of ethnic Koreans and Germans. In recent years there is a great influx from China. Northern nations are also widely represented. There are many mixed families where one parent may be Jewish and another Yakut or Korean; Russian – Cuban, Russian – African are not a rarity. American - Russian, Russian – French, Russian – German… There are more than a hundred nationalities peacefully co-existing in Siberia. Sometimes students ask me what nationality they may call themselves if they come from a very mixed line of parents and grandparents. The rule of thumb is simple: we teachers do not initiate personal matters discussions, but we do give some answers when asked, even when the obvious answer is, “You should ask your parents”.

Embrace the Difference
Where to look for some guidance on these modern topics? Open up any educational site starting with Teaching English. Use Google, just type any notion like “multiculturalism” into Search. Holiday season lessons should be prepared in advance. Once you know about your class family traditions, be sure to prepare a short talk on tolerance. To be different does not mean to be bad. Muslim children would be curious about the Nativity scenes, and Christian children would be interested in the unfamiliar customs. They often may have no idea that in some other countries Christmas is observed in a different way or not at all, and that even the New Year does not come on the same date to the whole planet.

I’m dreaming of a ……..
Recently I was asked an astonishing question: why do they sing about “the white Christmas”? I explained that people sing about snow, not about race. And I also told the same little story that I have been telling my students and adult listeners for many years. Whenever I receive a message from a friend or acquaintance who mentions that they wish to go to Iceland or the Arctic or Alaska to have the white Christmas, I suggest that they come to Siberia. Snowfalls began on October 8 this year, and they will continue until at least mid-April or even May. Some days I have difficulty getting outside because there is so much snow all around. The temperatures swing from -2 to -30 and back inside one day or night. I take lots of pictures and share them with my colleagues around the globe. I suppose those images are as exotic as can be. For us, the most exotic photos and videos come from Africa, Australia or Latin America. A decorated Christmas tree surrounded by tall palm-trees is a fairy-tale sight for us.

To end
Thus we can have a discussion lesson about the season’s customs and traditions. It is easy to find illustrations, stories, videos. Younger children will enjoy staging a short show or just singing and dancing, and reciting little poems. Teenagers may prepare their own presentations about the many cultural traditions that exist in today’s world.

Depending on my audience, I always finish the term or a teacher refresher course with the same greetings. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! Have a nice holiday season!

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