Peter Greaves shows how teachers can let go without losing it. This week: Christmas, but not as we know it.
When one of our pupils went to Australia for Christmas last year, it prompted all sorts of questions from classmates left behind in the cold. We heard how it was the middle of the summer, shorts and T-shirts were Christmas day apparel, a barbeque on the beach was Christmas dinner, and Boxing Day was the longest day of the year. We found ourselves discussing all sorts of Christmas traditions that would be rendered useless in this context. "The Christmas lights wouldn't be on until all the kids were in bed," said one. "You would never ever have a white Christmas," said another. Most concerned of all was the kid who exclaimed: "Santa would pass out wearing that that thick, furry suit."
Our antipodean friend gave us a completely new take on Christmas. She explained how, in Australia, Santa's sleigh was pulled by six white kangaroos and how Christmas cards had as many sunny scenes as we have snowy ones. As we talked, pupils began to realise that their view of Christmas was rooted in their own experience and how that was probably true for every family celebrating Christmas around the world.
In the run up to the holidays this year, we are finding out how the season is celebrated in other parts of the globe. Websites such as www.christmas.comworldview and www.santas.netaroundtheworld allow pupils to select a location on the globe and read about Christmas traditions. Some they love, such as the site where they applaud themselves when they receive their presents in Micronesia, although they weren't too gone on the idea that they would probably have had to sit through a four-hour service, or that the present was likely to be two bars of soap. Others seemed unappetizing, such as the eating of a rice and yam paste called "fufu" in Ghana.
We have drawn up a "most" list, including the most yummy, the most yucky, the most fun, and so on, with pupils sharing some of these with their families. They have also found, of course, some places which don't recognise Christmas and this has focused discussions on what each location celebrating the event has in common - its core of being a Christian festival. This led to an interest in the annual patterns that religious traditions can bring, as well as looking at what Christmas is like in Bethlehem.
The more pupils have looked, the more they have seen that their own traditions would be as peculiar to those looking in as some seemed to us looking out. This, of course, is a lifelong learning process. I had a significant realisation of seasonal differences a few years ago when my first "married" Christmas nearly ended in a row, with me wanting to open presents first thing and my wife insisting they should be opened after lunch.
Peter Greaves teaches at Dovelands Primary School in Leicester Email: email@example.com