I realize it’s still November, but based on our search statistics, many of you are already looking for books, lesson plans and resources for teaching about Las Posadas. I’m impressed! You all are far more organized than I was when I was in the classroom. In previous posts on Día de los Muertos we’ve discussed our philosophy for how to approach teaching about cultural celebrations and traditions in a way that’s authentic and meaningful. Many of those same ideas are relevant here as well.
This time of year was always one of my favorites times to be in the classroom because the possibilities for engaging and interesting lessons were endless. When I taught third grade, at the beginning of each December I began a unit on three winter celebrations: Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and Las Posadas. As a child, I remember talking about Hanukkah in school, but the extent of what we learned seemed to be limited to eating latkes and learning a song and game about dreidels. I wanted to go beyond that. I wanted my students to have a deeper understanding of cultural traditions that may be different from the ones they or their families personally observe.
I checked out children’s fiction and non-fiction literature on each celebration. From these books and other resources we learned the history of each celebration: when, where and why it began; the traditional language of that celebration; and the traditions that continued to be celebrated each year. This unit became a gold-mine for addressing multiple standards. I was able to meet a number of social studies, geography, literacy and cultural competency standards in just a few weeks. A timeline and world map were major components of the unit.
I never had any issues or complaints during this unit because I think it was clear we were approaching this as a means to gain cultural knowledge and become culturally competent learners. While these celebrations are much more than cultural knowledge to those who observe them, my purpose was to share some of the diversity of the world with my students, so that they would be able to acknowledge and respect difference when they experienced it in the world outside our classroom.
Over the next month, Lorraine and I will be sharing posts that highlight resources you can implement in your classroom as you finish out 2014 with your students. In today’s En la Clase, I’m highlighting books for teaching about Las Posadas. If you used any of our GLAD resources for teaching about Día de los Muertos, this could be a great follow-up by using the chants on traditions, adding Las Posadas to the class Process Grid on celebrations, or creating a Big Book on Winter Celebrations (the link will take you to our example on Día de los Muertos). Connecting this tradition to others that you’ve studied is one more way to ensure that students see it as important and relevant knowledge.
Here’s a simple approach to a lesson plan for teaching about Las Posadas.
- Read one of the books listed below each day for a week. As you read each book, have the class chart the information you’re learning about Las Posadas–things like when, where and why the tradition originated, how is it observed, where it is observed today, and interesting facts about the tradition. If you’re going to use a Process Grid make sure the information you focus on here is the same that you’ll ask students to fill in on the chart
- Choose a writing activity to assess student’s understanding of the celebration. There are lots of options here. You could write a class Big Book on Las Posadas. I’m always a proponent of using poetry in the classroom. Acrostic poetry or 5 Senses Poetry would be great activities (again, I’ve linked to our Día de los Muertos lesson plans, but these are easily adaptable to Las Posadas). Students could also write an essay, comparing how their families observe Christmas, Hanukkah or another winter celebration with the Las Posadas celebration.
- Choose an art activity to close the unit. You may want to explain this activity to students once they’ve gotten started on the writing activity. That way if students are waiting to meet with you to discuss the draft of their writing, they can begin the art activity. In my next post, I’ll share some art activities and other online resources that can be used. There’s just too much information to put it all in one post!
A great starting place is MommyMaestra’s post on teaching about Las Posadas. Her post is full of great information and links to help you teach about Las Posadas. I absolutely loved her reflection on her own experience and why she wants to share this with her children:
“Growing up I attended countless posadas. Some were hosted by my family, and the rest by friends. Even now, some 20 (30?!?!) years later, I can still remember the excitement and the anticipation that each one created within me. I always chose to be a part of the outside group, one of the “peregrinos” asking for shelter. Standing outside in the cold with my boots pinching my feet, I would shiver and watch my breath floating away on their frigid air. Sometimes I would stand with a candle clutched in my hand or maybe holding the peregrinos that my grandmother fiercely guarded all year long, stored carefully in a box, only to be taken out and lovingly prepared for their important role in our yearly celebrations.
It grieves me that I cannot share this tradition with my own children now. Distance and circumstance can be bitter bedfellows. But I can still share my own childhood experiences with them through stories and in other ways that I piece together. . .”
Tomie DePaola’s book The Night of Las Posadas is one of the more well known children’s books about the tradition. It’s a beautiful book:
“Sister Angie has organized the celebration of Las Posadas for many years, in which the people of Santa Fe re-enact Mary and Joseph’s search for shelter on the night Jesus was born. This year’s performance promises to be very special. Sister Angie’s niece Lupe and Lupe’s husband, Roberto, are to play the parts of Mary and Joseph. But on the night of the celebration, a snowstorm hits and Lupe and Roberto’s car breaks down on their way into town. And to make matters worse, Sister Angie is home sick with the flu. It seems that only a miracle will be able to save Las Posadas.”
A great early elementary lesson plan based on the book (and linked to common core standards) is available here.
There are also lots of other great books to bring into your classroom. We’ve mentioned some of these in posts from past years, but I wanted to compile them all into one list for you.
Pedro: The Angel of Olvera Street by Leo Polti is an much older book, a Caldecott Honor book originally published in 1948. The words and illustrations tell the story of the Las Posadas Christmas tradition of Los Angeles that continues today.
Carlos, Light the Farolito by Jean Ciavonne and Donna Clair tells La Posada from the view of the innkeeper (i.e. the house where on the 9th day, Mary and Joseph can finally take shelter). Carlos’ grandpa always plays the role of the innkeeper…but when his grandfather isn’t home as the procession comes to his door, Carlos must take on the role of the innkeeper. Richly illustrated with quick and engaging text, this book is sure to delight your K-2nd graders.
Las Posadas: A Christmas Story by James Fraser and Nick de Grazia is also an older book, originally published in 1963. With its simple text and illustrations its perfect for our youngest students or as an independent reading for slightly older students.
Uno, Dos, Tres, Posada! by Virginia Kroll and Loretta Lopez is a very fun and lively bilingual counting book centered around La Posada. Preschoolers will love to interact with the teacher on this book as they say, “One!” when you say “Uno!”
Nine Days to Christmas by Marie Hall Ets and Aurora Labastida is a Caldecott Medal winner from 1960. While a picture book, it has a significant amount of text, so it will likely take more than a day to use for a read aloud. With beautiful illustrations, the book tells the story of Ceci’s first Christmas posada party and piñata, bringing her Mexican culture to life.
Las Posadas: An Hispanic Christmas Celebration by Diane Hoyt-Goldsmith and Lawrence Migdale is a great non-fiction photo-essay on how the celebration is observed in a small New Mexico town.
While not entirely about Las Posadas, Rio Grande Stories by Carolyn Meyer is a compilation of stories about New Mexican culture and popular practices. Though all the stories are written by Meyer, the premise is that they were written by a classroom of kids, thus each story has a different “author.” Chapter 9 is all about the holidays in New Mexico: from Las Posadas, to Luminarias, to Bizcochitos. This book is easy to read for 5th graders and up, or great for a read aloud with younger students.
I know this was a longer post than usual, but I hope all the information was helpful. I’ll follow-up with another post focusing on art and online resources that you can use in the classroom.
Image: Diego Rivera Mural “Niños Pidiendo Posadas” (1953)