Christmas in a far away land
16 November 2009Add to My Folder
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Share festive stories from around the world and use them to inspire enchanting cross-curricular activities
Image © lolon/www.istockphoto.com
- Babushka – A Christmas story from Russia
- The Miracle of the Mexican Poinsettia
- The Yuletide Lads (Jólasveinarnir) of Iceland
- Tannenbaum – the first Christmas tree (Germany)
1. Babushka – A Christmas story from Russia
Babushka was tired after cleaning her little cottage; too tired to notice the beautiful star shining outside. All she wanted was to rest. Suddenly, there was a knock on the door. Outside were three kings and behind them were three camels.
‘Babushka,’ said the kings, ‘look at the star! It is leading us to a special baby, born in a stable. Will you come with us to find him?’
Babushka shivered on the door step. It was a cold and snowy night. She told the kings that she wanted to stay by her warm fire. So, the kings left and went on their journey without her.
Later that night, Babushka couldn’t sleep. She kept thinking about the special baby. She jumped up and packed her basket with a warm shawl, and some little toys that she had kept since she was a child. Out she went, braving the icy winds. But, she had forgotten to ask the way, and the kings were now nowhere to be seen.
Babushka travelled on and on. Some people say that she is still travelling, looking for the special baby. At every house, she asks ‘Is the baby here?’ and though she is disappointed, she is kind enough to leave a toy for every sleeping child.
This Christmas legend about Babushka is a favourite in Russia and many Eastern European countries, and when children wake up on Christmas morning to find a present, they are told that Babushka has visited them during the night. Share the story of ‘Babushka’ with your class and then use it to create a short piece of drama. Help the children to make or collect props, such as crowns for the kings, small toys, a shawl and a basket. Then, invite them to act the parts of Babushka, the kings, three camels, sleeping children, their parents, and perhaps Mary, Joseph and the baby. Initially, read the story as the class role play their parts. Once familiar, encourage the children to invent their own dialogue.
2. The Miracle of the Mexican Poinsettia
It was Christmas Eve in Mexico and the children of a village were taking presents to church for baby Jesus. Maria and her brother Pablo, however, were so poor that they had no money to buy gifts. They were sad, for they were good children. They decided to take a country path to church hoping to find flowers so that the other children, who didn’t understand what it was to be poor, wouldn’t tease them for not bringing a gift.
Unfortunately, there were no flowers along the way, so instead, Maria and Pablo pulled up green weeds and carried them into church to place under the manger of the baby Jesus. Suddenly, to everyone’s amazement, bright red beautiful flowers burst from the weeds, making them the most wonderful gift of all to the baby Jesus.
The poinsettia was first introduced to Mexico from California over 100 years ago, and has grown in popularity ever since. Share the story of ‘The Miracle of the Mexican Poinsettia’ with the children, before showing them a red poinsettia. Ask them whether their families have poinsettias as part of the Christmas decorations at home. Have they seen them in other colours, such as white, cream or pink?
Make a collection of other traditional Christmas plants such as holly, mistletoe, ivy and Christmas flowering cactus. Look at the differences in colour, texture and leaf shapes. Encourage the children to compare and discuss the differences between the potted house plants and the cut plants. The poinsettia will live indoors for about six months, but evergreens, symbols of eternal life when growing naturally, will, once cut, shrivel and dry by New Year. Can the children explain why this is?
3. The Yuletide Lads (Jólasveinarnir) of Iceland
(Literacy/art and design)
Window Peeper peered through the bedroom window, then whispered, ‘Okay lads, they’re asleep’. Doorway Sniffer snooped a little longer on the doorstep, before he agreed. ‘Yeah, not a sound lads. In we go!’
Sausage Snatcher and Bowl Licker rushed in, straight to the kitchen, where Sausage Snatcher snatched a sausage from the fridge, and Bowl Licker polished off a bowl of cream. ‘Hmm, delicious,’ they said. Then rubbing their stomachs, they followed the other Yuletide Lads into the children’s bedroom.
Window Peeper took a long list from his rucksack and running a skinny finger down it, he finally said, ‘Yes, these children have been good. Leave them a present.’ Soon the children’s shoes on the window ledge were filled with presents. But, the Yuletide Lads couldn’t resist playing a little trick, so in one shoe, they removed the present and left a potato instead, hiding the present under the bed. ‘Now the children will know for sure that it was us who came to visit them,’ they said, giggling as they went to the kitchen to find more food.
A traditional custom in Iceland is the coming of the Jolasveinarnir. These ‘Yuletide Lads’ are magical elves that come from the mountains in Iceland from 12 December until Yule Eve (Christmas Eve). They are believed to love eating and playing tricks. There are many more elves than those mentioned in the story above, with names such as Door Slammer, and Candle Beggar.
Share the story of ‘The Yuletide Lads’ aloud with your class and afterwards point out that the names of the elves in the story typify their actions. Can the children invent new names relating to people and actions around Christmas time? Examples might include: Mince-pie maker, Cracker Puller, Stocking Stuffer or Pudding Eater. Write them down in list form, encouraging the children to add new names each day. Ask the children to interpret and visualise their ideas by painting or drawing different Yuletide Lads to put on display.
4. Tannenbaum – the first Christmas tree (Germany)
The tradition of the Tannenbaum (a fir tree) began in Germany in the 16th century. By the 19th century, the idea had begun to spread around the world. It is believed that Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, who was German, introduced the idea of a Christmas tree to Britain. Other German Christmas traditions include the belief by some children that the Christkindl (Christ Child) and not Father Christmas brings them presents on Christmas Eve. Advent is important in German Christmas traditions and advent calendars are used widely as part of the lead up to Christmas. Traditionally, during advent, a young girl dressed in white and gold is chosen to lead Christmas parades.
Involve the children in cutting out and numbering 25 large Christmas tree shapes. Using ideas from the shape poem on “online activity sheet” ‘Christmas tree’, such as star, bell, sleigh and Santa, as well as other suggestions from the children, draw smaller pictures to fit underneath each numbered tree. Place the pictures on display and pin the trees in numerical order on top. Invite a different child each day to remove one tree to count down the days to Christmas.