Celebrate Holidays (and History!)

By Crystal Ladwig, Ph. D.
People celebrating St. Patrick's Day

Without counting – answer this question: How many holidays are there in February and March? Groundhog Day, Lincoln’s Birthday, Valentine’s Day, President’s Day and St. Patrick’s Day. The list grows even longer if we add religious holidays like Good Friday and Easter. Holiday celebrations are certainly fun! They’re filled with family and community traditions, special events and memorable times with others. For homeschooling families, holidays are also an opportunity for learning.

Learning Through the Holidays

A quick Google search about a particular holiday can help you find a lot about its history. Did you know, for example, that Groundhog Day has its roots in Germany? There’s a long-standing German tradition that badgers could help predict the weather. German immigrants settling in Pennsylvania in the 1800s brought this tradition with them, replacing the badger with a groundhog since there were not many badgers in Pennsylvania. In this example, Groundhog Day is a great time to teach about animals, history, geography, immigration and more.

Apply this same approach to other holidays, and you’ll be surprised how much your child learns as they study a holiday.

Beyond the History

Let’s be honest: we have some odd traditions that accompany holidays. Some holidays have changed their names and dates and are celebrated only in some states. Others involve reverence where you wouldn’t expect it. Some U.S. holidays inherently instill pride in another country. Take St. Patrick’s Day, for example. In some parts of the country, it evokes a litany of pranks and everything green. In others, the holiday brings out Irish pride through parades and celebrations. If you and your children wonder about some of these traditions, learn about them!

Seriously, who wants to get pinched on St. Patrick’s Day? We all remember our childhood St. Patrick’s Day “celebrations” as we sought out people to pinch, something we’d never do on any other day of the year. So why is it okay to do it on St. Patrick’s Day? It’s all about the lore. Ireland is known as the “Emerald Isle” and a favorite home for leprechauns. Tradition has it that leprechauns like to pinch people, but wearing green makes you invisible to them.

Taking Advantage of the Opportunity

Holidays present us with a unique opportunity to help our children learn and have fun. Ask them what they already know about a holiday. Write it all down. Then ask what they want to know. Feel free to add your own wonders and questions, too. Make this a family affair. Then seek out those answers online, in books, at the library or even through virtual tours. As you learn about the different holidays, keep track of “where” you visit on a map. Create projects, toys, crafts, tools or other materials that are used to celebrate those holidays in other countries. Who knows, you may even develop some new family traditions of your own!

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