As part of my class’ year-long create a civilization project, students created holidays that paralleled existing celebrations, but also showed off the unique characteristics of their own people.
Now, it would be easy for students to create silly holidays with no substance: Bacon Day, Catsmas, or Candyween. Instead, we should challenge students to consider how a holiday reveals the values of those who celebrate it.
A Holiday’s Values
Begin by asking students what values a holiday celebrates. I like the New Oxford American Dictionary’s definition:
values: (n) one’s judgement of what is important in life
I’d give an example and non-example to clarify this abstract concept. If we were discussing the values of Thanksgiving:
- Example The values Thanksgiving celebrates include the importance of family as well respect for United States’ history.
- Non-Example Thanksgiving celebrates turkey, pies, and football
How Do We Know?
Next, ask students to justify their answer: “How do we know?”
We know that Thanksgiving celebrates the importance of families because it is the busiest travel day of the year in the United States. Millions of people go to great trouble to fly home, eat a meal, and visit their family.
Depending on their abilities, you might practice with multiple holidays to help students understand the concept. Some possible choices:
- Mother’s Day: Our moms are important to us, so we take them out to brunch, buy them flowers, and spend time with them.
- Independence Day: Our predecessors struggled against great odds to achieve independence. We wear our country’s colors, decorate with flags, and launch impressive fireworks in memory of the American Revolution.
Get articles like this in your inbox.
I'll send you one or two emails a month with links to new articles, greatest hits, and information about what I'm up to! Join the mailing list!
Creating a Holiday
Now students will think about their own fictional civilization’s values. What’s important to these people?
- virtuous behavior
Then, ask students to develop traditions which celebrate one of those values.
My civilization values physical strength, so we celebrate a holiday called Lifting Day. On Lifting Day, villagers gather and the strongest men and women compete to lift the heaviest logs. Grandparents cook protein-packed meat for the evening celebration and children serve the food to their parents. Decorations include large boulders and cutouts of muscular people.
Students can explain their holiday using a multitude of products:
- A written portion to explain in detail
- Two or three dimensional visuals to show off the decorations
- An oral presentation to show off what they’ve created
Of course, you don’t have to stop there. Capitalize on your kids’ talents and passions.
Your class could also investigate the holidays of other cultures and countries. They could search for parallel holidays as well as something completely new. It’s always fascinating to learn how other people celebrate around the world.