December is full of opportunities to teach about a variety of cultural traditions. For today’s En la Clase, I’m sharing lesson plans and resources that focus on celebrations specific to Mexico, and that are observed across parts of Latin America and the United States. I’ve separated out three of the celebrations below, but Rebecca Collins created a thematic unit that incorporates many of the Mexican celebrations that take place during December and January. She provides great background information and lots of ideas for classroom activities.
The Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe:
Next Thursday December 12 is the feast day for the Virgin of Guadalupe. This makes for the perfect opportunity to share Pat Mora’s The Beautiful Lady: Our Lady of Guadalupe with your students. Daniel Kraus of Booklist writes the following in his review of Mora’s Book: “Regardless of your beliefs, the tale of Our Lady of Guadalupe is a fascinating one, and Mora gives it a warm treatment befitting the beloved material. A framing device aims the story at young readers: two little girls look at a small statue of the Virgin Mary and ask Grandma Lupita, “Who’s that pretty lady?” So begins the tale: Juan Diego, the humble Aztec villager who, in December 1531, encountered a beautiful, floating woman who asked him to get the local bishop to build her a church. After the bishop demanded proof, the woman revealed to Diego a field of roses blooming despite the snow. When Diego unfolded his cloak to show the bishop the flowers, the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe was miraculously imprinted upon the cactus-fiber cloth. Mora approaches the story without tricks, using simple, delicate language, while Johnson and Fancher employ aged-looking earth-toned paintings and surround them with patterned borders when depicting the past. A two-page author’s note fleshes out the tale and describes Our Lady’s continuing influence.” After reading the book, let students make their own paper flowers just like the girls in the story. Here is a lesson plan on the Virgin of Guadalupe.
This would also be a great opportunity for older students to examine cultural images, discussing why they are powerful or important, and also how these images are changed or adapted over time. Controversy has erupted over images of the Virgin of Guadalupe a number of times. One of the more well-known and contested re-imaginings of the Virgin of Guadalupe pictured her in a bikini (See the image and article here). Once familiar with the issues surrounding the controversy, students could debate the two sides.
Las Posadas celebrates the journey Mary and Joseph took to find the inn in order to give birth to Jesus. A traditional Mexican (and New Mexican) holiday–a conglomerate of an ancient Aztec holiday and Roman Catholic beliefs–Las Posadas involve the whole community. Last year Ailesha wrote two excellent posts on resources for teaching about the celebration. I’ve linked to them below.
You may also want to check out the book Rio Grande Stories by Carolyn Meyer. The book tells the story of a seventh-grade class at Rio Grande Middle School in Albuquerque. When they are asked to raise money for the school, the kids decide to write and sell a book. They will all contribute something about their heritage that is personal and important. The ninth chapter in the book tells the story of “The Virgin of the Bosque Road Neighborhood Association” and includes directions for how to make both luminarias and bizcochitos. It would work great as a stand alone read loud or independent reading.
The Legend of the Poinsettia:
While not a celebration in and of itself, the Mexican folktale about the origin of poinsettias provides another great opportunity to bring cultural content into the classroom for the month of December. Many of you are probably already familiar with Tomie dePaola’s The Legend of the Poinsettia which tells the story of the flor de la Nochebuenao or flower of the Holy Night. Mexconnect has a great article on the history of the poinsettia. There are numerous lesson plans connected to this topic and lots of different versions of art lessons for making your own poinsettia. I’ve linked to two of them below.
To wrap up your unit on these traditions, use this pre-made Venn Diagram that has students compare Christmas traditions in Mexico with those in the U.S.
I hope you find these resources helpful. If you use any of them in your classroom, we’d love to hear what your students thought!