Article first appeared in the Portugal Resident.
It is that festive time of the year again and, once more, it appears that restrictions will impose how and – indeed for many – where we will celebrate the holidays. Never has it been so important in schools to celebrate the festivities, and to take the worry and stress away from what may come in the future.
Celebrating Christmas and the holiday season in school should be a joyous and uplifting experience and offer an entertaining distraction from the concerns that have been brought on by the ongoing worldwide pandemic.
Much comment has been made in the worldwide media, especially in the United Kingdom and America, as to how schools should celebrate what is traditionally regarded as a Christian festival. Most definitely, this is an area where an international school has much to teach.
Embrace the world and all it has to offer at this time of year. Children and students should be encouraged to share their own ways of celebration, explain traditions and investigate how the holidays are celebrated all over the world.
Indeed, looking back at the origin of Christmas is always fascinating for students of all ages. Embracing the diversity of children within a school means that everyone feels included and important, encouraging a united community, where morale is raised and all feel a sense of belonging.
It can be said that, now more than ever, children of all ages have the most empathy for children across the world, as they are united through a common pandemic experience. This is how it is every day in an international school. Each child has so much to share and to offer, whilst also wanting to know more about their peers.
As a truly diverse international school, we wholeheartedly embrace all celebrations throughout the year. We ensure that our traditional winter celebrations have always acknowledged the diversity of each child.
Our students really enjoy investigating and learning from their peers first-hand as to how their Christmas is celebrated – all around the world. This is something that can be researched, celebrated and new Christmas recipes experimented with at home.
Just last week at our school, we had the opportunity to learn from one of our students how to make traditional Sufganiyot. Deep-filled doughnuts which symbolise the miracle of burning oil lamps in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and eaten during Hanukkah.
Christmas is a worldwide annual holiday that commemorates the birth of Jesus Christ. Whilst many countries follow different religions, it is an interesting fact that for many non-Christian countries, such as India and Japan, it is still a national holiday and Santa Claus and festive lights are displayed everywhere.
Every country has its own version of how to celebrate, on which day and the foods that are eaten. It is fascinating to learn about these traditions, both as a child and an adult.
Japan – It is common for families to visit KFC and eat turkey there on Christmas day!
Poland – Carp is the main food, and its scales are kept for good luck.
Ukraine – A 12-course dinner is eaten – one course for each apostle!
Ethiopia – People celebrate Christmas on January 7, in accordance with the Ethiopian Orthodox Calendar.
Philippines – The Christmas season is taken seriously with big Nochebuena parties on Christmas Eve.
Austria and Bavaria – St. Nicholas gives gifts to good children, whilst Krampus, the half-man half-goat, drags the bad ones away!
Iceland – Celebrates the festivities 13 days before Christmas. Children receive presents from 13 different Santa Clauses, called Yule Lads.
Mexico – Families celebrate on Christmas Eve. It includes a huge feast, singing and dancing and often a piñata for the kids.
Here in Portugal, traditionally Christmas Eve is when Consoada takes place. Portugal’s national cod dish, bacalhau, is probably the most traditional option for Christmas dinner, although octopus is also common, both in the north of Portugal and the Algarve. Bolo-Rei and Bolo-Rainha, two bread-style fruit cakes made of dried fruits and nuts, are also traditionally eaten.
It is so fascinating to look up and experience different countries’ traditions in the run up to the big day.
And, of course, the presents! Hanukkah lasts for nine days and traditionally a present is given on each day. In Holland, presents are given on December 5 when Sinterklaas delivers the presents, which are to be opened on the following day, December 6.
Many comment that, in this modern world, Christmas is now too commercialised, and children may not appreciate the true meaning of the season. However, I believe that Christmas, now more than ever, is when families try to come together to embrace the festivities.
Whilst children may have their lists and Christmas wishes prepared, it is how we celebrate with family and friends together, and embrace the magic, that is the true gift of the most wonderful time of the year.
‘Mankind is great, an immense family. This is proved by what we feel in our hearts at Christmas’
– Pope John XXIII