Christmas around the world

Sunday, December 20, 2009
Dawson Duckworth and Clair Comfort displaying their colorful handmade masks. (Submitted photo)

By Noreen Hyslop

Daily Statesman

Second graders in LeeAnn Nelson's Southwest Elementary classroom are learning about the true spirit of Christmas and are doing so as the travel around the world.

"We travel to a different country each week throughout the year," said Nelson, a 15-year veteran teacher in the local school system. "And at Christmas time, we learn about all the customs surrounding the holidays in foreign countries."

The students have learned how families in Mexico, Germany, England, Brazil, Sweden and Italy observe the holiday season so far, with yet a few more countries to visit before the holiday break.

It seems the 7 and 8 year-olds overwhelmingly favor the customs of Sweden, where they've learned residents decorate their indoor Christmas trees with real lighted candles and Swedish flags.

"And the oldest daughter in the house has to serve her family breakfast on Christmas morning," said Evie.

Maddie added, "They also put a straw goat behind their Christmas trees to protect them."

Nick explained, "They believe that because Jesus was born on hay or straw, that a goat made out of that will protect the tree."

Perhaps most importantly, Nelson points out, the children have learned the importance of giving during the holiday season. To illustrate their understanding that it means more to give than to receive, the students have elected (with a little help from their teacher) to refrain from participating in a gift exchange this year. Rather, each student will bring to class the money that they would have spent on an exchange gift. The money will be placed toward purchasing ingredients to make special holiday treats. Those treats will be distributed to students and teachers in neighboring second grade classrooms as Nelson's students travel the halls of Southwest next week caroling to their fellow second graders.

Others were impressed with the wearing of a crown adorned by lighted candles, a custom derived from St. Lucia, for whom a special feast day is observed each Dec. 13. After studying about the annual observance, the students constructed their own form of St. Lucia Day crowns. Construction paper and crayons replaced live vines and lighted candles.

The students put the classroom globe to frequent use during their trip around the world, often figuring the distance between Dexter and the country upon which they are focused.

Foods play an important role also in their journeys. The pupils have brought in edibles appropriate to the various countries they have studied--salsa during Mexico week, pizza during Italian week.

During their tour of Brazil, students were treated to an avacodo dish made with lime juuice and sweetened with condensed milk.

It wasn't one of their favorites," says Nelson, "but I believe it's good for them to experience the native dishes."

When they realized that Italy was known for setting fashion trends, they held their own fashion show, each donning a favorite article of clothing and parading in "fashion show" style in the classroom.

While learning of foreign customs and beliefs, the children adopt a name for themselves that is appropriate for the country they are "visiting."

During their time studying Mexico, names like Maddie and Clair changed to Catalina and Isabella. While in Brazil, Alexandre, Adoa and Amelia came on the scene. In Italy, Rosa, Maria and Paola appeared.

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