Celebrate! Create Your Own Special Holidays for Education and Fun
Making Memories with Celebrations
Some of my most treasured memories were created by my mother who loved to celebrate! She didn't just celebrate at Christmas and Halloween and Valentine's Day, but invented new and different celebrations for us throughout the year. At the time, these unique family traditions just seemed like fun, but looking back I am amazed at how much I learned through these unusual holidays! I have carried several of them on with my own children through the years, and would like to introduce these marvelous ideas to you for your family to enjoy. Time to celebrate!
When I began my studies in French, during my freshman year in high school, part of the curriculum was the study of French culture and history. As we talked about the foods and customs of France, I was surprised to find that much of the material was familiar to me. One day the teacher asked who knew what the French version of our 4th of July was. My hand shot up - Bastille Day! "Are you from a French family?" my teacher asked, surprised that someone knew the answer. I answered that no, I wasn't... but we always celebrated Bastille Day!
For whatever reason, Bastille Day was one of the many world holidays that my mother chose for our family to celebrate every year. She would tell us the harrowing story of the people of Paris storming the prison (the Bastille) on July 14th, 1789, how this fueled the French Revolution and ended the rule of the French monarchy, ushering in democracy not long after the American Revolution had stunned the world by introducing this radical concept, an ocean away. She told how the French, in 1886, made a gift of the Statue of Liberty to the United States, in honor of the birth of freedom that had spread from our shores to theirs.
We would sing the French national anthem, and play music by French composers Saint-Saëns and Debussy as we ate a special dinner of boeuf bourguignon over rice, green beans almondine and crusty French rolls. Mom would have a little French flag on the table, and we were encouraged to use as many French words as we could think of. (Pass the rolls, s'il vous plaît!) This simple celebration was fun for us kids, and it introduced us to the culture and history of France, eventually giving me a leg up in my French class.
Bastille Day and French National Anthem
More Unusual Holidays to Celebrate
My friends were always a little confused as to why my family celebrated Chinese New Year, when Mom would put us to work making paper lanterns and blowing out eggs, filling them with confetti to throw against the wall on the special day before sitting down to Chinese take-out (a real treat in my house, as we seldom got Chinese). They laughed at Mom's made-up tradition of marking Boston Tea Party Day (Dec. 16, 1773) by singing patriotic songs and waving flags as we marched down to the nearby river bridge and tossed tea bags into the current below. But I knew how to say Happy New Year in Chinese, how the rotation of zodiac animals worked (I was born in the year of the Ox!), and my knowledge of the facts surrounding the Boston Tea Party gave me a good foundation for later study of the American Revolution.
Make Confetti Eggs for Chinese New Year!
Mom had a few made-up annual traditions for us as well. Every year in January, after the excitement of the holiday season had faded, Mom would delight us kids with Summer in January Day. She would jack the heat up to 80 and we'd all dig around in closets and cardboard boxes to find a pair of shorts and a tee shirt to put on. She would spread a beach blanket out on the living room floor and we'd have a summer barbeque, complete with hamburgers and hot dogs, potato salad and lemonade! Our musical selection for the evening was Nat King Cole's "Lazy Hazy Crazy Days of Summer", which I can still sing by heart. After our "cookout", we'd gather around the slide projector and laugh till our sides hurt at pictures of us all at the beach and out on the boat in the summer time.
We were a big baseball family when I was growing up, and followed the Boston Red Sox with enthusiasm. Since opening day game at Fenway Park was almost always during the day time, my mother would actually let us stay home from school that day so we could watch it together with our Red Sox caps on. She bought us peanuts in the shells and made Fenway Franks to enjoy during the game. I remember it as a joyous day, as it meant that spring had at last arrived after the long New England winter.
Ideas for Celebrations
A nice sampling of well-known as well as more obscure international celebrations.
Create Celebrations for your Family
When I became a mother, I wanted to provide the same fun and educational experiences for my own children. I bought a wonderful book called The Book of Holidays Around the World by Alice van Straalen, no longer in print. The book is set up like a calendar, with a different holiday described for each day of the year. I chose a few of these to add to my own family's traditional celebrations, including St. Georges Day (April 23rd). St. George is the patron saint of England, and my family is of English heritage, so I thought this would be a good one for my kids to celebrate and honor their heritage.
Your celebrations do not have to be elaborate to have an impact. On Martin Luther King day, I would make Martin Luther King Day cakes (whoopie pies with chocolate cakes and white cream in between!) and read the "I Have a Dream" speech to my kids. My youngest daughter chose Martin Luther King as the topic of a paper she had to write a few years ago about the American that you most admire. So even though she rolled her eyes in embarrassment when I offered her boyfriend a Martin Luther King day cake last year, I could tell by the half smile on her face that she was glad for the memories she has of our quirky holiday celebrations from her childhood.
Celebrating is a wonderful way to build memories for your children. It is always exciting for a child when you tell them there is a special day coming up, and they love to take part in preparations and planning for the holiday. In addition, celebrating historical and cultural days with your children offers them a wealth of information that will seep into their brains for future use without them even realizing it. Choose some holidays that are unique and different to celebrate with your child, and revisit them every year. Perhaps you'll choose a holiday related to your family's cultural heritage, a date in history that you think is interesting, or just a plain old day where you create something special, such as our Summer in January Day.
Celebrating Unusual Holidays with the Kids
Will you consider celebrating odd holidays with children or grandchildren?
More Help for Holiday Fun
This is useful for finding crafts to make in honor of your special day.
Leave a Holiday Legacy
Whatever you choose, enjoy your celebrations with your children. Before long they will be grown and gone, but you and they will have the memories of these special holidays to tie you together as a family. I still call my mother on Bastille Day to ask for her boeuf bourguignon recipe (even though I have it) and to share our memories of past years' celebrations.
Vive la France!
* Teach your child good table manners!
* Learn the difference between discipline and punishment.
* Why spanking is not a good form of discipline.
Be sure to leave a comment below!
© Katharine L. Sparrow, MSW
*Katharine Sparrow has worked as a psychotherapist with children and families for many years, focusing on parenting issues and behavior problems.