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Ho-Ho-Holiday Traditions in the US

The United States is a diverse nation that embraces different languages and cultures. Cultures from around the world have their own traditions and celebrations throughout the year. Some are similar in nature, but at times they are completely different. To increase cultural acceptance and tolerance, it’s important for students to share their own traditions and practice, but also to learn about others’.


In the month of December, many people in the United States celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah, depending on their family, cultural, and religious traditions. There are certain customs or traditions that are recognized and practiced by children and adults each holiday season around these two holidays.


For Christmas, people traditionally:

  • Place presents under the tree and exchange gifts on Christmas Day, December 25.
  • Put up a pine or fir tree and decorate it with lights and ornaments.
  • Set up a manger or nativity scene display
  • Write letters to Santa Claus telling him what presents they would like to receive. This is most often done by children.
  • Hang decorative stockings where small gifts and candies are placed.
  • Bake holiday cookies.
  • Build a gingerbread house.
  • Put up Christmas lights and decorations like wreaths on houses and buildings.
  • Sing Christmas songs/carols.
  • Wear “ugly” holiday sweaters. This relatively new tradition began as a joke and is now quite popular.
  • Watch Christmas movies.
  • Get together with friends and family to eat and drink holiday treats like cookies, eggnog, pies, and festive meals.
  • Send holiday cards to friends and family.


For Hanukkah (also spelled Chanukah), people traditionally:

  • Light a menorah. This special lamp holds nine candles or lights. The middle is lit on the first day of Hanukkah and another is lit each day for eight days.
  • Play the dreidel game. This is a top-like toy that has Hebrew symbols on each side. Each one represents an amount of candy or treats to get or take away during the game.
  • Eat latkes (fried potato pancakes) and sufganiyot (jelly donuts).
  • Exchange gifts and gelt (money) each day of Hanukkah. Today gelt is usually represented by chocolate wrapped in gold foil.

Students can learn about these traditions in various ways. For instance, students can research the origin of Christmas or Hanukkah. Then they can use Venn diagrams or other graphic organizers to compare holiday celebrations from their own countries to those in the United States. Another idea is to have students design and build gingerbread houses in groups, using math and engineering skills. In addition, a fun activity would be to have students learn to play the dreidel game with small wrapped candies or stickers. Holding a classroom celebration that allows students to bring in a traditional holiday food or drink from their culture and includes foods like latkes, sufganiyot, holiday cookies, candy canes, and other traditional treats would introduce students to different tastes. Students can also design their own “ugly” holiday sweater.


The holiday season is a time to enjoy friends and family, and it’s also a time to learn about other traditions and cultures. Learning about others’ traditions makes the holiday season not only educational, but also more festive and inclusive.

If you are looking for curriculum and resources to support your multilingual learners, you can learn more here.


By: Angela Padron

Also read:

Preventing the Achievement Gap Among English/Multilingual Learners and Striving Readers

Secret Teaching: Closing the Literacy Achievement Gap in Discreet Ways

Teaching Newcomers and Beginning Proficiency English Learners: Where to Start


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