Christmas School–Day Three

Froehliche Weihnachten!

Every year during Christmas school, I choose a few different countries, and we learn about some of their Christmas traditions. We also learn how to say “Merry Christmas” in that language, read a story from that country (if we can find one), and do a craft, (or make a recipe), related to that country. And every year, we have “Christmas in Germany” day. It’s one of my favorite Christmas traditions to delve into Germany for a day (or sometimes two!).

We started with a book that I have yet to make it through without choking up–Christmas in the Trenches. This is a fictionalized account of the 1914 Christmas Truce along the front lines of WWI. It’s a beautiful story, and knowing that it’s true makes it even more meaningful. The book came with a CD, so we also got to listen to “Silent Night” in both English and German.

As long as we were talking about wartime Christmases, we stepped back from Germany for a moment to learn about the story of “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” I found the background for this carol in Christ in the Carols, which is a devotional book. I’ve never actually used it for that purpose, but I enjoy reading the history behind some of our beloved Christmas carols. Learing about how Longfellow came to write the words to “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” provided a good opportunity for us to talk about how sometimes things look very bleak (as was the case during Christmastime in the Civil War and WWI), but if you have faith, you can find hope in the midst of any situation.

We also talked about the legends surrounding the Christmas tree, including the one where Martin Luther is believed to be the inventor of the modern Tannenbaum. This led nicely into our craft–beaded Christmas tree ornaments. I found a kit at Michaels, and while it wasn’t on sale, it was reasonably priced, and the beads in the kit were so pretty, I had to pick it up. We had fun stringing the beads (even though there were some missing from the kit that we kind of needed), and they look very pretty reflecting the lights on the Christmas tree.

The Kingfisher Book of Classic Christmas Stories is a beautiful, hardcover treasury of stories, some legends from around the world, and others feel-good favorites. Today we read “The Elves and the Shoemaker”–a German Christmas legend. Turkey and Bunny have enjoyed every story we’ve read out of this book over the years, and I always look forward to picking it up–we’ll be reading from it several more times this year.

Our last activity in school today was watching a DVD about German Christmas markets. It’s kind of an odd choice–it’s from the TV show The Seasoned Traveler, which is geared toward senior citizens who enjoy traveling. Still, it gives a great overview of Christmas markets, both in Germany, and around Europe (and even my beloved Chicago Christkindlmarket!), and even though we’re not the show’s intended audience, it’s still enjoyable (and educational!) to watch.

Fröhliche Weihnachten!

We concluded our trip around the world, as well as our two-week Christmas unit, today by learning about Christmas celebrations in Germany.  We listened to a German Christmas carol (“Now Sing We, Now Rejoice”), and talked a little bit about the difference between hymns (more formal), and carols (much more laid back, and very well suited to singing while strolling down the street).

We also turned once again to the Lion Storyteller for one more Christmas story–a legend from Germany, but one that, ironically, takes place in England:  “The First Christmas Tree.”  I had some mixed feelings about this story, because part of it was darker than the other stories we have read, but I felt that the ending was worth it, really driving home the fact that Jesus is the only sacrifice required by God.  And, while Turkey and Bunny did seem a little troubled by part of the story, they didn’t seem scared, so I think we struck a good balance.

Following learning about the custom of decorating Christmas trees, we made a really neat Christmas tree that has an almost stained glass effect when you hang it in a window.  Turkey and Bunny practiced making the small snips with their scissors that the project requires, but in the end, when working on their actual trees, I made the snips for them.  Bunny just doesn’t have the fine motor skills yet to make cuts that small, and while I’m certain Turkey *could* have done it, once he saw me making specific shapes in Bunny’s tree, he wanted me to do his, too.  They did have a great time with color selection and gluing, and some trimming (mostly on Turkey’s part–he’s way better with scissors than his sister is!).

They also had a tree decorating coloring sheet in their Christmas Around the World coloring books, and a picture of Kris Kringle in their Holiday Traditions coloring books.  We may not “do” Santa here, but I do think it is interesting for them to learn about the way other cultures view the legend of St. Nicholas.

The highlight of the day (other than the tree project), was learning about “Christkindlmarkts.”  That is my favorite thing about Christmas in Germany, and I really hope to attend the Nuremberg market someday.  I have been to the Chicago Christkindlmarket, and from what I can tell, it’s a pretty good replica.  It was also my very favorite Christmas tradition when I lived up in the Chicago area (schnitzel sandwich and hot spiced cider, anyone?), and I can’t wait to take the children there in a few years when they’re older.  I’ll confess to actually having had dreams about it, I enjoyed it so well, and miss it so much.

After I explained to them what a Christmas market is, we watched an episode of “The Seasoned Traveler” from PBS.  I saw this show a few years ago, and really enjoyed it, so I was excited to find this year that’s it’s available on DVD.  I don’t know how I never caught before that the show is geared toward seniors who like to travel (I know, the title should have tipped me off, but I really thought “seasoned” just referred to people who were experienced travelers!), but I don’t think that really matters, and Turkey and Bunny loved seeing the different markets in Germany, as well as other places in Europe.  They were quite surprised that those were actual places, especially the Nuremberg market, with a children’s area, complete with carousel and ferris wheel, and I think they really want to go to a Christmas market now!

I wish I could find the Christkindlmarkt video that we watched every year in my German class in high school.  I have no idea what it was called, but it was really cool, and told a story about a little German girl, while she went exploring through the market (I think maybe in Cologne?).  I know Turkey and Bunny would enjoy that, since it focuses on a child, but try as I might, I can’t even find out what it’s called, much less if I can get a copy anywhere.  I think that’s the only thing that would have made our Germany exploration better, though–we had a great time with Christmas around the world, and Christmas school!

Fröhliche Weihnachten and Merry Christmas!