You don’t need a passport to travel the world, and you don’t need to be in a country to celebrate its traditional customs. Crafts, music and food are interesting and effective tools for exposing cultural diversity to children. Give your kid a real experience—the tastes, sounds and smells of the event—and the opportunity to understand what makes the celebration so special to those who observe it.
Ana Flores, creator of the blog SpanglishBaby.com and co-author of Bilingual is Better, says cultural celebrations expose our children to the people, music, foods, art and symbols that make those cultures beat—helping our children understand that the world is much larger than what they are exposed to daily and that it is beautiful to be different. Your kid’s geography class will pale in comparison to these fun cultural celebrations.
Chinese New Year
What better way to get kids excited about a little spring cleaning than incorporating it as part of a celebration? Chinese New Year, celebrated in late January or February, begins the year with a fresh start as houses are cleaned and grudges are swept away. Help your child create paper lanterns by cutting colored construction paper. Fold a rectangular piece of paper in half, then make multiple cuts along the fold. Unfold the paper and glue the short ends together before attaching a short strip of paper to the top as a handle. If you like, go an extra step and decorate the lanterns with Chinese zodiac designs.
Celebrate Diwali—the Hindu “festival of lights” and the most important holiday of the year in India—by lighting candles, making and decorating clay or paper lamps, and cooking traditional dishes such as sweet laddu and rice pudding for the family to enjoy. Help children construct colorful, geometrical designs, known as rangoli, using sand art, beads or chalk on black paper.
Dia de los Muertos
The purpose of the Latin American celebration Dia de los Muertos, translated as “Day of the Dead,” is to remember those who have passed. Set up an “altar” or special area to remember beloved family members. Surround photos with fresh, brightly colored flowers and candles. Help children remember the special person they are honoring by displaying the favorite foods, items and small personal belongings of the deceased. Make or buy plain sugar skulls and decorate them with edible paints. Use face paint to decorate children’s faces with the traditional skull design “calaveras.” Bake pan de muertos, a sweetbread flavored with orange and anise. And string shells on elastic to make bracelets that make a noise that is traditionally thought to wake the dead.
In England, Bonfire Night—sometimes referred to as Guy Fawkes Night—is celebrated on November 5 each year to remember the uncovering of the failed Gunpowder Plot of 1605, when Fawkes and others tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament. English children celebrate with a bonfire and fireworks, and they build a “Guy” to place on the bonfire. While you may want to leave the fire out of your celebration, you can help children experience the custom by stuffing old clothes with straw or paper to shape a life-size doll. Add shoes, yarn for hair, and make a papier-mache face, or draw a face on a balloon with marker, to complete the effigy. And some of the holiday’s foods: candy apples, treacle toffee, a gingerbread called “parkin,” hot soup and baked potatoes.
Bring out your child’s creative side with a flower craft modeled on the traditional Italian celebration. Decide on a theme and help your child create sidewalk art by arranging brightly colored flowers into a picture or pattern. This activity mimics the “Mini Infiorata” of Rome, where schoolchildren collaborate with local artists each year to create a carpet of flowers.
Add international elements to your own traditional celebrations. Make Mexican cascarones, hollowed eggs filled with confetti, to add to your Easter celebrations. Make a small hole—no more than half an inch in diameter—at the top of an egg. Empty the egg out and rinse it thoroughly. Once dried, decorate or dye the eggs using bright colors. Fill the egg with paper confetti, then seal the hole by taping over it with tissue paper. Traditionally, children break the fragile eggs on others’ heads to release the confetti and bring good luck.
Celebrate as many customs as you like, or choose one each year and go all out. Attend festivals and celebrations held at local museums and cultural spaces. You’ll teach tolerance through traditions and open your child’s eyes to other experiences, creating your own unique memories as you go.