by Meredith Flory


Last year, we moved to Texas right around Halloween.  I have two little ones who love to dress up and eat candy any chance they are given, and a husband who loves purple and orange decorations and activities meant to scare, so of course my family is excited about a holiday dedicated to these things.  While we got in a trip to Steed’s Dairy one last time before we left the CSRA, knowing we would miss it, we quickly noticed that we had moved to a city that was filled with decorations and family friendly activities for the season.  The focus wasn’t entirely on Halloween, however, but also Dia de los Muertos, a multi-day Mexican holiday serving as a time to remember and pray for loved ones who have passed away.  Dia de los Muertos happens the same week as Halloween, and is widely celebrated in our new community, making October a month filled with family friendly celebrations.

While most of us celebrate several holidays in the period from Labor Day in September through New Year’s Day, the actual range and number of holidays in this time period – both religious or cultural – is higher than many of us realize with over 60 holidays celebrated worldwide. Embracing “Happy Holidays” by learning about holidays not celebrated by our own families, or other approaches to those holidays, can be a wonderful way to learn history, geography, and simply to increase our empathy and knowledge of our neighbors and friends with different cultural backgrounds.  While we want to keep in mind cultural sensitivity and a need to not interfere with holiday celebrations, particularly those that require introspection or reverence, holidays are often a joyous time where there are opportunities for the general public to learn about and celebrate with communities.  We were able to attend a local Dia de los Muertos community festival, allowing us to jump into learning about the culture, language, and food of many people in our new city, and followed this up with reading and movies on the topic.  As you move through your family’s own traditions in the coming holiday season, here are four ways that you can learn more about various world holidays with your children, encouraging a deeper understanding of the world around us and spending time more deeply thinking about the traditions your own family participates in. 

Read, read, read
As you raise your readers, fall and winter holidays can be a great time to open up a child or teen’s curiosity and find book selections, both fiction and non-fiction, that explore the history behind holidays your family celebrates, and others that they may have heard about.  While books are on various shelves and places around our home, we have a canvas basket in our living room dedicated to books specifically about holidays that we pull out during each season. While most are books related to our own traditions, included are others, such as one of my favorites, The Latke Who Couldn’t Stop Screaming.  Labeled as a Christmas story, it actually introduces traditions of Hanukkah through the eyes of a Latke made in a neighborhood where his house is one of the few not celebrating Christmas.  In author Lemony Snicket’s (Daniel Handler) usual dry, witty style it encourages understanding for neighbors celebrating this holiday season differently and embracing your family’s traditions.  Local bookstores and libraries are resources as well, and librarians and store clerks may have great suggestions for books on topics you and your child would like to learn more about.  A few years ago, we were able to locate Sesame Street videos through the Columbia County library that focused on holiday celebrations in cultures other than our own.

Consider holidays from a different perspective
One thing to consider is learning more about the holidays you do celebrate through a range of perspectives and world celebrations.  For instance, Christmas is widely celebrated in the US and worldwide as both a religious and secular holiday, with a lot of variety in how families approach both worship and gift giving, such as varying legends of Santa Claus or gift giving on Three Kings Day.  Reading and researching traditions other than your family’s can open discussion on the history of the holiday and deeper thinking about why your family celebrates the way it does.  In the season that sees the celebration of Columbus Day and Thanksgiving, many communities are conversely encouraging the recognition of native people and tribes, and using this time to learn about Indigenous Peoples and our country’s sometimes difficult and complicated past, at an age appropriate level, can widen and enrich learning for your family.  There are many websites that can aid in this endeavor, such as blog websites Colours of Us, A Mighty Girl and The Barefoot Mommy with lists dedicated to diverse holiday book selections, as well as information on educational toys, discussing topics of inclusivity with children, and more:

Attend festivals and events open to the public
Many houses of worship, neighborhoods, communities, businesses, and restaurants put on celebrations open to the public celebrating holidays specific to their traditions.  These events can be a way for your family to learn more about other traditions, support local artists and business owners, and celebrate the diversity of our communities.  Hear music, see the wares and art of vendors, try new foods, and open up the joy of the season in more inclusive ways while teaching respect for others to your children as you do the work of gathering information on the event and expected behavior ahead of time.

Learn about the events that inspired American secular holidays
Starting with Labor Day this September, federal holidays in the fall allow a day off of work and school, but the history behind our celebration of these days can be a chance for a family activity that inspires learning.  Work together to learn more about the events that created these holidays, and if appropriate find a way to solemnly celebrate the holiday before settling into your relaxation.  For example, with Ft. Gordon in it’s boundaries, the CSRA has a number of Veteran’s Day events, and it’s important to understand the difference between Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day to be able to appropriately remember or thank our soldiers on the corresponding holidays. 

This article appears in the September 2018 issue of Augusta Family Magazine.
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