Holiday Traditions

Living in a very diverse metropolitan area I have had Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Jews, and Jehovah’s Witnesses in my classroom- all at the same time. As you can imagine, navigating the holidays can be tricky, I am very careful to be inclusive instead of exclusive.

snowflake ornament
Disclosure: Amazon links included below

Our focus during the month of December is fairy tales with an emphasis on The Gingerbread Man. We make gingerbread houses out of milk cartons and sparkly snowflakes as gifts for our parents. If a student celebrates Christmas they can put the snowflake in their tree, but if not it has a magnet on the back which is perfect for holding papers on the refrigerator. One year I was explaining the different uses for the snowflake when one of my more interesting students, let’s call him Sammy, spoke up and shared a story I will never forget.

Sammy: We don’t have a tree.

Me: That’s o.k., lots of people don’t have trees; you can put the snowflake on your refrigerator.

Sammy: Maybe I can put it on the Christmas Fish.

Me: (intrigued and thinking maybe this is a cultural or religious tradition I haven’t heard of) Wow! You have a Christmas Fish? Can you tell us more about it?

Sammy: Well, my mommy puts him on the wall and he sings Jingle Bells!
(I now realize he’s describing a Big Mouth Billy Bass!)

Another Student: Where does Santa leave your presents?

Sammy: He leaves presents under the fish but we have to turn him off or he will scare Santa away!

Me: Well that sounds really cool! Thanks for sharing Sammy!

big mouth billy
Photo credit: Amazon

I quickly made a modification to Sammy’s snowflake and put a large loop at the top so it could hang around Billy’s neck.

The last day of school before our Christmas vacation some of the students brought me presents. Working with students and families from around the world always makes for very interesting gifts, but this is one year I will never forget. One of the students- not Sammy, gave me a Big Mouth Billy Bass!

The moral of this story is embrace the beliefs and traditions of all the students in your classroom and never say “that’s really cool” unless you’re prepared to write a thank you note that reads “thank you for the lovely singing fish”.

What are some things you do in your classroom during the month of December to include all students?

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About Vanessa Levin

Vanessa is the creator of Pre-K Pages and author of the book A Fabulous First Year and Beyond: A Practical Guide for Pre-K and Kindergarten Teachers. She has more than two decades of teaching experience and enjoys helping kids and teachers through her professional development sessions. Follow Vanessa on Facebook, Google +, Twitter and Pinterest.


  1. Love the Sammy story, and yes, that is soo true. When my kids realized I like frogs over night my desk became full of different size frogs. Of coarse I did not mean for this to happen but my frogs are still there reminding me of the children I once had in my class.
    We compare the different Gingerbread Man stories and use cut outs to measure items around the room. Decorating a Gingerbread Man is our family project for December. I use foil to make a “pan” on our bulletin board to display the finished Gingerbread Men.
    I ask parents how they celebrate the holidays. I educate myself so we can discuss the different ways we celebrate the holidays.

  2. I can just see that child in the store with mom: “Yes, mom, I’m sure. Mrs. Levin said she really likes this fish.” 😉

  3. I almost snorted my drink when I got to where you got your fish gift!!! Too funny!!!!!

  4. @Tonya Thanks for sharing, love the foil bulletin board idea!
    @Karen LOL! The parents were from another country so they probably thought it was something all Americans would like :)
    @Bethany Glad you liked it, it’s a true story, I couldn’t make that up!

  5. That’s so funny! I was talking to my kids about how different families have different holidays and traditions to celebrate them and I asked the kids to share some of their families traditions. One student who happens to have a father who is hispanic and a mother who is Jewish raised her hand and proudly stated, “I light a menorah for Hanukkah because I’m Mexican!” I have to admit I was speachless for just a moment. :-)

  6. i have done snowman and snow flakes to tie in . Also used different baking from around the world . I personal with many different families it hard to hit and teach three years to much about each family . easier with a little share here and there

  7. Such a great story!

    We are focusing on Chanukah this week. I don’t include any specific religious details, but do tell the story of the miracle of the oil lasting 8 days. We light a menorah and we’ll make cheese latkes. Next week I’ll focus on the traditions of Mexico at Christmas. And the last week before break will be so full that I will only plan the simplest of activities.

    I love your glitter start. I’ve been trying to decide what to have the children make as a gift for their parents and this might be just the thing.

  8. Nelda Rust says:

    I love reading this website even though I am now retired. These are so funny. You gotta love um.

    I just wanted to share a present idea I had my kids make for their parents. I bought those little tiny wreaths from Michaels and let the kids glue on Christmas shaped sequins. They were messy with the glue so then we sprinkled glitter to take care of the extra glue. I glued a picture of the child to the back, stuck a magnet on it, then we decorated sacks with Christmas stamps with tempera paint. When it was all done, we had a special wrapping day. I gave the children squares of tissue and the scotch tape dispenser and let them do it how they wanted and put it in the sack. It was a nice gift and the parents loved it. :-) I miss Pre-k.

  9. Thanks for stopping by and sharing Nelda!

  10. I had a student that always had pickles in her lunch. I like pickles and would tease her by asking everyday if it was for me. She always said no. Two years later when I had her little sister for a student I got a large jar of pickles for Christmas! I thought it was awesome! One of the best gifts I ever got.

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