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How to skip Christmas in Spanish and not be a Grinch

December 14, 2017

The time between Thanksgiving Break and Winter Break was always one of my favorite times of the year in class--it's also one of the hardest because no one has their head in the game!

I LOVED teaching about Christmas traditions from Spanish speaking countries. I LOVED using the commercials for the Spanish Christmas lottery (general lottery, 2015 commercial, 2016 commercial), I loved singing Christmas Carols in Spanish, I loved beating the pooping log, I loved it all!

There is so much rich culture tied up in this holiday that is compelling to students and easy to talk about in simple Spanish. It's every Spanish teacher's dream!

What's NOT to love?

Here's the problema. You are going to have students in your class that don't celebrate Christmas. I always did, and I always created alternate activities for them. They always understood--I think--that we were doing Christmas because it is just as deeply rooted in Hispanic cultures as it is here in the US.

But then something changed: I stopped celebrating Christmas. Now, I am the outsider. I am the one having to explain our family's choice. I am the one looking into my dear children's eyes, wondering how I can make it seem like our traditions and celebrations are just as special as Christmas.

Experiencing Christmas as an outsider

It is isolating to exist in the US in December and not celebrate Christmas. I never realized just how deep the Christmas tree roots run in our culture at this time of the year. Sometimes, it takes stepping outside of 'normal' to realize just how 'normal' normal is....and how abnormal it is to not be normal ;-) EVERYWHERE WE GO, we get asked "Do you have your tree?" "Are you all set for Christmas?" "What did you ask Santa for?" "Where are you going for Christmas?" CHRISTMAS CHRISTMAS CHRISTMAS! And now that our oldest child is in school, I understand better than I ever did before the far reaches of Christmas and how isolating it can be for a kid to not celebrate it (and he even has a Jewish teacher who also doesn't celebrate Christmas!) .

I'm not proud of the fact that I didn't appreciate the position that I was putting my no-Christmas kids in until I became one myself. I wish that I had been more reflective, more present then to sit down and really think through my decision to teach Christmas and its impact on my students. But I wasn't, and so I am hoping that you, my dear reader, will take this opportunity to walk that mile that I should have walked many years ago.

Should I teach Christmas?

I don't know, should you?

Christmas IS a big part of Spanish speaking cultures, just as it is here in the US. So...sure! Maybe you think it over and decide that it makes sense for you to talk about Christmas traditions. Cool!

I am also grateful for teachers...and humans...that go the extra mile to normalize not celebrating Christmas--whether that be by talking about other Winter celebrations or by just keeping the class rolling as usual.

Need to think about this a little more? Read a newsletter that I wrote about my kids' experience at school in 2019.

What should I teach instead of Christmas?

For all of you lovely humans that want to skip Christmas and not be a Grinch, it's super easy. Just keep doing what you have been doing all year long! Just for you, I threw together a Hanukkah gift--a really simple lesson plan today that has absolutely nothing to do with any holiday.

  1. Download the Princess and the Pea lesson plan packet ($1 until January 1!)
  2. Read it a bunch of times so that you are comfortable telling it in really simple Spanish. (If you are using it in Level 2+, you will want to increase the linguistic complexity of the version included in the packet).
  3. Tell the story to students. If you'd like, illustrate it on the board or a document camera as you go. Alternatively, you could have students act it out while you tell it.
  4. Give students the story to read on their own (photocopy the story in the packet).
  5. Pair up students and give them each a highlighter or marker (different colors for each person in the pair). Have them put one of their present tense stories in front of them (one copy per two students).
  6. Read the paraphrased past tense version sentence by sentence. When you read each sentence, students in each pair should race to highlight the corresponding present tense sentence on their paper. The partner with the most highlighted sentences at the end of the activity wins (fame and glory).
  7. Have students find a new partner and put a pencil or other writing utensil between them. Play Pencil Grab with the 20 true/false sentences about the story.
  8. Show students the Fixed Fairytale version of Princess and the Pea: 
  9. You could MovieTalk it...but let's get real. You're between two big breaks and you're tired. Plus, the dialogue is witty. Just watch the video in English for a few minutes (start at 1:00 to skip the intro)
  10. Go back and MovieTalk the video or take screen shots and PictureTalk them (PictureTalk is MovieTalk with still frames: describe everything that is visible in the picture, and you can extend it with discussion about what might be going on and by connecting the content to students' lives).
  11. Do two 1-3-5 minute Free Writes. For the first one, have students write the traditional ending of the story as best as they can in Spanish. For the second one, have students write the Fixed FairyTale ending of the story as best as they can in Spanish.
  12. Have students share their original ending free writes. Come up with a class version of the traditional ending by typing it out together on a projector or writing it out on chart paper or the board.
  13. Have students share their Fixed Fairy Tale ending. Come up with a class version of the traditional ending by typing it out together on a projector or writing it out on chart paper or the board.
  14. As an exit 'ticket', have students say to you in Spanish which version they prefer and one reason why.

Happy not holidays!

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