The month of December, the last month of the year can be considered “the world of holidays.” Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Boxing Day, and Omisoka are holiday traditions celebrated during the month of December. Christmas is celebrated in North America, Australia, England, Iceland, and more. In North America, Christmas is a religious holiday in the Christian faith as the historical celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ; or Christmas is a cultural holiday celebrated with Christmas trees, visits from Santa Clause, and dreams of snow. In Australia, Christmas falls during the summer months, where popular traditions involve going to the beach or camping. In England, Christmas traditions are similar to those in the United States, rather they leave mince pies and brandy for Father Christmas instead of milk and cookies for Santa Clause. In Iceland, their capital city turns into a winter wonderland and Yule Lads (like thirteen Santas) leave small gifts in shoes every night for thirteen nights before Christmas.
Click here for pictures of how Christmas is celebrated around the world.
Hanukkah, or Chanukah, is an eight-day Jewish celebration that commemorates the re-dedication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem following the Maccabean Revolt. Those who took part in the re-dedication witnessed that even though there was only enough untainted oil to keep the menorah’s candles burning for a single day, the flames continued to burn for eight nights. Also known as the Festival of Lights, Hanukkah celebrations revolve around lighting the menorah. On each of the holiday’s eight nights, another candle is added to the menorah after sundown. The ninth candle, called the shamash (“helper”), is used to light the others. Typically, blessings are recited and traditional Hanukkah foods such as potato pancakes (latkes) and jam-filled donuts (sufganiyot) are fried in oil. Other Hanukkah customs include playing with dreidels and exchanging gifts.
Learn more about Hanukkah by clicking here.
The name Kwanzaa comes from the phrase “matunda ya kwanza” which means “first fruits” in Swahili. Each family celebrates Kwanzaa in its own way, but celebrations often include songs and dances, African drums, storytelling, poetry reading, and a large traditional meal. On each of the seven nights, families gather, and a child lights one of the candles on the Kinara; then one of the seven principles, values of African culture, is discussed. An African feast, called a Karamu, is held on December 31.
Click here to learn more about Kwanzaa.
Boxing Day takes place on December 26, is a tradition that still happens in some places; it was the day when the alms box, collection boxes for the poor often kept in churches, were opened and their content distributed. It was also the day off servants were given to celebrate Christmas with their families. Boxing Day has now become a public holiday in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, and other countries. In England, soccer matches and horse races often take place on Boxing Day. The Irish refer to the holiday as St. Stephen’s Day, and they have their own tradition called hunting the wren, in which boys fasten a fake wren to a pole and parade it through town. The Bahamas celebrate Boxing Day with a street parade and festival called Junkanoo.
To learn more about Boxing Day click here.
Ōmisoka, New Year’s Eve, is considered the second-most important day in Japanese culture, as it is the final day of the old year and the eve of New Year’s Day, the most important day of the year. Families gather on Ōmisoka for one last time in the old year to have a bowl of toshikoshi-soba or toshikoshi-udon, a tradition based on eating the long noodles to cross over from one year to the next. At midnight, many visit shrines or temples for Hatsumōde. Shinto shrines prepare amazake to pass out to crowds and most Buddhist temples have large cast bells that are struck once for each of the 108 earthly desires believed to cause human suffering.
Learn more about Ōmisoka here.
"Look on the bright side" is a phrase coined to tell people to be cheerful and optimistic despite difficulties they may be facing throughout the day. Being optimistic all the time is difficult, especially when we are coping with tragedies, yet this phrase aims to push us forward and look at positive events that have happened to us. To look on the bright side comes with time, when life is difficult, remaining optimistic is hard, but by remembering to “look on the bright side” you are reminding yourself that this isn't forever and it will pass. Making sure to maintain a positive attitude is known to benefit in the following ways - increased life span, lower rates of depression, lower levels of distress, greater resistance to the common cold, better psychological and physical well being, reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease, and better-coping skills during hardships and times of stress.
Below are resources for increasing your ability to think more positively:
In 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The adoption of this document is now observed every December 10, commonly known as Human Rights Day.
Typically, those who experience discrimination belong to the targeted group of one or more of the following groups -- age, disability, sexual orientation, status as a parent, religion, national origin, pregnancy, sexual harassment, and race, color, and sex.
There are eight ways that a individual may use to fight and prevent discrimination.
Here are some resources to help fight for human rights and against discrimination!
8 Everyday Ways to Fight Racism
Recognizing Discrimination Lesson for Grades 3-8
6 Ways to Stand Behind Your LGBT Students
Fighting Prejudice and Discrimination of Differently Abled People Lesson for Grades 6-12
National Letter Writing Day, recognized December 7, is a great opportunity to reconnect with significant people in our lives. Writing provides us with an opportunity to reflect on what we want to say to another before we communicate. Expression through writing is a way to commit thoughts to paper, making the thought process visible, while the writer is your own audience. Expressive writing is known to have professional and social benefits -- an obvious reason for integrating writing in Social-Emotional Learning is the fact that writing is the foundation of academic communication and professionalism.
Writing letters promotes mindfulness by requiring thought which encourages you to slow down and focus on what you are trying to communicate. Writing generates self-reflection which allows your mind to focus on the content of the letter-- provides time to think about your job, relationships, hobbies, or whatever the topic is of your writing. Some experience writing to be cathartic; expressive writing is considered therapeutic because the core of writing is self-expression. Reasons to practice expressive writing may be clarity of feelings towards a situation, release of negative feelings and thoughts, to share gratitude and positive feelings towards a person or situation, opportunity to say exactly what you need to say, and letting someone know how much they mean to you. The best part about expressive writing is that you decide if you want to share your writing with others, these letters are only for you unless decided otherwise.
Writing in the Classroom
Social emotional writing is impactful, freeing, and creates opportunities for defining moments in a student's life. There are multiple tips that should be considered when creating a lesson plan or curriculum that practices social emotional writing. First, a great way to set a foundation for social emotional writing is asking students to analyze and write about the emotions of characters rather than their own emotions. Second, build positive relationships with the students to create a safe space that encourages students to express emotions with those they trust. Use prompts that allow you to focus on skills and behaviors that are specific to the needs of the students allowing students to guide the social emotional writing prompts and topics. It is highly recommended to use expressive writing as a warm-up, rather than graded assignment which allows students to practice low-stakes writing. Always respect student privacy. Cultivate a culture of respect by establishing a zero tolerance for bullying and disrespect; school should be a place where every student feels valued and heard.
Below are some resources for using SEL in writing: