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Susan O'Rourke | December 8, 2022

As many enter into December and prepare for festivals, holidays, and seasonal celebrations lasting through January and February, educators play an important role in helping students learn about these events’ cultural significance. A global lens can help students appreciate the winter and summer cultural traditions taking place in both hemispheres, like the Uttarayan and accompanying International Kite Festival in India; Traditional Day, or Fête du Vaudou in Benin; and the celebration of the beauty of snow and ice at the Sapporo Snow Festival in Japan. Educators have the opportunity to deepen students’ understanding of cultural nuances, regional variations on, and the impact of globalization on festivals and celebrations, as well. When studying the Lunar New Year, for example, students can study celebrations not only in China but also in Vietnam, South Korea, and the Ryukyu Islands of Japan. Students may further take a comparative “glocal” perspective and study how Lunar New Year celebrations are celebrated in various cities and regions across China across the United States. They might also study the histories of calendars used across the globe, from those based on solar or lunar movement to those based on historical and political events (like the French Republican calendar that grew out of the French Revolution).

UNC World View offers the following guiding principles and tips for instructors to thoughtfully examine holidays and respect students’ unique identities and experiences.


Make the holidays a part of your year-round curriculum. Studying holidays presents an excellent opportunity for students to study religious traditions and cultural practices more deeply throughout the year. Research national, religious, and secular holidays around the globe to help students understand unique traditions as well as commonalities across the globe, including festivals of light, days celebrating the arrival of spring, and national independence days worldwide. Taking that approach when discussing holidays in the classroom will help students of diverse backgrounds feel seen and fairly represented.

Timing is key. When teaching holidays, be sure to give equal time to diverse holidays. Dedicating equal amounts of time to each holiday will help avoid creating or reinforcing hierarchies of power.


Reflect on your students’ diverse identities. One of the joys of studying holidays is understanding the variety and nuances of cultural practices. That nuanced approach can also ensure that students’ diverse experiences are respected while discussing religious and cultural holidays. Even if students come from a country with a predominant religion, it does not mean that they identify with or practice that faith. Likewise, some students may identify with a particular culture or religion but not be familiar with the practices of those groups. Be respectful of the nuances of students’ experiences and desires to discuss them. Rather than ask individual students to represent an entire faith or region, aim for a collaborative investigation. Engage the whole class in reading and analyzing primary sources, for example. Then, if a student would like to volunteer information about their personal experience, they may do so as a supplement to the communal learning going on in the class.

Appreciation through Education. Dig deep! Encourage students to research holiday origins and analyze the evolution and adaptation of customs. Use primary sources and rich secondary sources to help deepen students’ understanding of the connections between the holiday and a group’s history, rather than focusing solely on “the ‘Five F’s’ (Food, Festivals, Facts, Famous People, Fashion).”

Educate rather than participate. Remember that holiday studies can be an enriching part of the curriculum when presented as a topic of exciting investigation rather than celebration. In trying to recreate the traditions of another group, people may inadvertently misrepresent cultural traditions, present a diluted version, or fail to convey the sacred nature of these practices. Some students may not be able to participate because of their religious beliefs, as well. Instead of recreating these holidays, seek out firsthand accounts from those who celebrate. Share interviews, recordings of performances, and primary sources that will help your students develop a richer understanding of and appreciation for these unique cultural practices.

Check out the following resources on incorporating holidays into your curriculum: