With a “Christmas Around the World” theme, you can add some international elements to your Christmas celebration and teach a number of different lessons.
by Kate Daneluk
The excitement and beauty of Christmas offers great opportunities for enrichment, exploring the arts, and helping children appreciate the mystery of the Nativity. It can also be a challenging time to keep students focused on their core subjects.
With a “Christmas Around the World” theme, you’ll find it easy to have fun, educational projects that cross your curriculum. It can be a school-wide effort or a classroom unit. This is an excellent way for students to better understand their Catholic identity as a worldwide experience in the universal Church.
Here are our best ideas for integrating a “Christmas Around the World” international theme into your classroom.
Pre-K through Grade 2
Take a break from your traditional learning centers and turn each into a different country. Alternately, keep your existing centers and use one to represent a different country each week.
Each of these also works as a project for a “busy table” where children who have finished independent work can find things to do.
Each center can include that country’s version of “Merry Christmas,” a globe or map with a pin on the country, coloring pages or other printables, some music to listen to, and any pictures or visuals you can find or put together.
A sand table can be part of sunny Australia where students can learn that Christmas comes in the summer and includes outdoor fun for many families.
Dress up as Santa Lucia in Sweden and make a crown to take home.
Make a Christmas ornament in Germany to decorate a class Christmas tree.
Count out the correct number of feathers, sort by size, and create the Balinese feather tree using a Styrofoam cone and feathers of various sizes, with the largest feathers near the bottom of the tree and smaller ones on top. It can help to examine how natural evergreen trees grow this way, too.
In Russia, cut out and decorate “gingerbread” cookies from modeling clay and play with Russian nesting dolls.
Make your own clay Nativity figures with bright, Andean colors in Peru.
Different countries focus more on different feast days throughout the Advent and Christmas seasons. Have a small class celebration to mark each day.
St. Nicholas Eve, December 5:
- Many countries have special treats and events for St. Nicholas Day, but in Holland most of the fun is celebrated the day before. Children can leave shoes outside the classroom to see if Sinterklaas will bring some sweets. Be sure to leave a carrot for his horse!
- Hunting for hidden gifts is a tradition that could become a fun class game. After learning about Holland and the life and history of St. Nicholas, enjoy some speculaas cookies. Children can learn the song, “Sinterklaas, Goed Heilig Man”!
St. Lucia Day, December 13:
- Spend some time today learning about St. Lucy and the traditions of Sweden. Learn to sing “Sankta Lucia.” One girl can dress up as St. Lucia. All the children can pretend to be asleep so Lucia can wake them up to enjoy a treat of St. Lucia Buns (lussebullar) and some non-alcoholic glogg made with grape juice.
El Día de los Reyes, January 6:
- From Mexico, here is a wonderful way to celebrate Epiphany. Learn about the magi with stories and Scripture, along with the geography and traditions of Mexico.
- Decorate with papel picado (perforated paper).
- Enjoy a feast of tamales, hot chocolate, and king cake, followed by a piñata! This is also a wonderful way to keep Christmas through the entire Christmas season.
Grades 3 through 5
Assign each child or small group a country to report on.
Make sure that all children benefit from each child’s hard work by including an oral presentation. Students can create visuals with a poster or a computer-based presentation. Everyone would enjoy bringing a special traditional snack to share with the class. Keep a world map on a bulletin board and have each presenter attach an ornament-shaped label with each country’s version of “Merry Christmas” to kick off the presentation.
Alternately, have each student host a booth for an International Christmas Fair. Parents and students from other classes can be invited to roam the booths, where each student or team teaches about a different country. Students will want to create lots of visual aids, play music, and even wear an appropriate costume or provide a taste of holiday food! Give each child a “break” from their booth so they can see their classmates’ work.
Assign each child a traditional Christmas cookie from a different country.
Have each student bring at least three small cookies per student.
Each student should create a recipe page, including a map and four Christmas facts about the country. Sources should be cited. If your students are working on multiplying fractions, ask for the recipe for two different quantities. Some students may have to make conversions from metric measurements. Make copies for everyone on three-hole-punched paper.
At the cookie swap, each student needs a plastic container, a large paper plate, and a folder with brads.
Students go from desk to desk filling their containers with two of each kind of cookie—one to take home and one to taste—while building the recipe book.
Currency converter, a real-life word problem
What do you want for Christmas? Have students bring in their Christmas list with the cost of each item, then provide the class with a currency conversion chart and let them tell how many pesos, euros, dinars, and so on would be needed to buy these items.
Grades 6 and up
Older students could certainly write research papers, but instead, consider a short work of fiction set at Christmastime in another country. Direct students to center their conflict and resolution around the main character’s growth as a person—for example, understanding the true meaning of Christmas. Students will need to research the country, think out the characters, and carefully plan their plot.
Class Christmas map
Highlight the unity of our faith with a class research project. Put a large world map on the bulletin board and assign each student a Christmas tradition—e.g., Christmas cards, carols, Christmas trees, midnight Mass, Nativity scenes, electric lights, Santa Claus, and so on. Each student creates labeled pins and marks all the countries that celebrate this tradition on the class map. It will take a lot of pins, but it’s a fun way to deeply review world geography.
Start with a large mural of a world map outlined in black. Each student will get a piece of tagboard cut to the shape of a country. After researching their country, students will turn their paper into a colorful artistic representation of Christmas in that country, using the teacher’s medium of choice. This could be done with multiple classes for a very complete school art project.
Kate Daneluk is a former Catholic School Teacher, early childhood music teacher, creator of the Making Music Praying Twice music curriculum, and a homeschooling mother of six.