Grade level: 2-4
Author: Rebecca Collins
Latin America is located in the Western Hemisphere, south of the United States. Latin
American countries are located in North America, Central America, South America, and the
Caribbean. The countries include Mexico, Argentina, Guatemala, Venezuela, Peru, Ecuador,
Panama, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Colombia, and many others.
In Latin America, the United States, and the Caribbean people celebrate many different
types of fiestas or festivals. Fiesta is the shortened version of fiesta patronal which is Spanish for
"patron Saint festival". Almost everyday, somewhere in Mexico there is a native festival or
national holiday being observed.
These fiestas can be held in honor of religious holidays, national events, or community
leaders. Some characteristics of fiestas are costumed street dancers, parades, lively musical
performances, fireworks, and games. Every city in Latin America has its own patron saint and
celebrate fiestas for their patron saints.
As mentioned earlier there is a Fiesta somewhere practically every day of the year. Some
of these fiestas which are observed in the United States, by Spanish-speaking people, are El Dia
de los Muertos (The Day of the Dead), Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe, Christmas, La Fiesta
de los Reyes Magos (Three Kings' Day) also called Dia de los Tres Reyes (Day of Three
Kings). Three fiesta, The day of the Virgin of Guadalupe, Christmas and Dia de los Tres Reyes,
will be addressed in this unit.
Celebrations for the Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe begin the week before December 12.
This fiesta is based on the legend of Juan Diego and the Virgin Mary. The virgin Mary appeared
to Juan Diego in the year of 1531 and told him to go to the Bishop and have him build a shrine to
The Virgin Mary on the site where she had appeared to Juan Diego. The Bishop did not believe
him so the Virgin Mary had to appear to Juan Diego again. This time she had Juan gather roses
from a stony hill where only cacti grew and she wrapped them in his cloak. Juan was to take
these to the Bishop who had refused his request for the shrine. When Juan opened his cloak the
roses disappeared and a picture of the Virgin appeared on his cloak. The Bishop declared it a
miracle and had a church built to honor the Virgin. She became the patron saint of Mexico.
On the Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe children visit their local church. The boys dress as
Dieguitos in memory of Juan Diego, with serapes, sandals and painted mustaches. A huge fair is
held during the fiesta and Conchero dancers and matachin sword dancers entertain the crowd.
There are twelve dances performed some of these are "The Battle, The Cross, and El Toro"
( the bull). There are food booths and street vendor type pushcarts for refreshments at the fiesta.
The celebrations for the day of the Virgin of Guadalupe barely end before the Christmas
season begins. The Christmas celebrations begin on December 16 and continue through January
6, Three Kings Day. The Nacimiento (manger scene) is the most important part of this holiday to
the Catholic families. The people have Posada (inn or shelter) Processions to reenact Mary and
Joseph looking for a room. These are usually done by children and they continue the procession
for nine nights. The last night is on December 24 and the procession is finally admitted to
The people have prayers around the manger and then the socializing begins. There is a
pinata for the children. A pinata is made of clay or paper mache and covered in curly tissue
paper, it can be any shape or size. The youngest child is allowed to try to break open the hanging
pinata first and then the others are given a chance until it is broken. There are usually floats in the
procession on the night of December 24 and then a large firework display.
The Christmas season ends on January 6, which is the Dia de los Tres Reyes ( Day of
the Three Kings). The Three kings brought rich gifts to the baby Jesus so children in Mexico
believe they will bring them gifts also. They leave water and grass for the weary camels , and
their shoes out for the gift. In the morning the water and grass is gone and their shoes are filled
On January 6 many parties and celebrations have a special cake called the Three Kings'
Cake. It is the shape of a crown with cherry candies for jewels. A tiny doll is placed inside the
cake before it bakes. The person who finds the doll is supposed to have good luck. These three
fiestas are celebrated in Latin American Countries and in the United States in areas where large
Hispanic populations are.
Ancona, G. (1995). Fiesta U.S.A.. New York, NY: Lodestar Books.
Silverthorne, E. (1992). Fiesta! Mexico's Great Celebrations. Brookfield, CT: The
Zapater, B. (1992). Fiesta! . Cleveland, OH: Simon and Schuster.
Students will be able to see the similarities between the holiday celebrations in the United
States and fiestas.
Students will be able to demonstrate an understanding of what a fiesta is.
Students will be able to identify five Latin American Countries on the map.
Students will be able to identify three symbols that are used during a holiday celebration or
Students will be able to demonstrate an understanding of how holiday celebrations or
fiestas are based on legends.
Time Allotment: three to four class periods
large round balloon
flour and water paste
The Legend of the Poinsettia by Tomie dePaola
Nine Days to Christmas a Story of Mexico by Marie Hall Ets and Aurora Labastida
A. Brainstorm. Have students share some of the holidays they celebrate in their homes. Ask
students if there are holidays that we celebrate in the United States that other countries
also celebrate . List what students say on the board.
B. Mini-lesson. Explain to students that a fiesta is a festival or holiday. Fiestas can be held in
honor of religious holidays, national events, or community leaders. Three fiestas that are
celebrated in Mexico during the months of December and January are the day of the
Virgin of Guadalupe, Christmas, and Dia de los Tres Reyes (Day of Three Kings). Give
the students an explanation of these three fiestas and how they are celebrated. Have
students compare these three fiestas to holiday celebrations that are popular in the United
C. Geography. Pull down the flat world map and get the globe. If possible have maps for
students to use. Discuss with the students what Latin American countries are and where
they are located. Point out North America, South America, Central America
and the Caribbean Islands. Then discuss the countries found on those
continents. Give students time to identify Latin American countries on the map with a
D. Writing. Read Nine Days to Christmas ask students to look for differences in how U.S.
citizens celebrate Christmas and how those in Mexico celebrate Christmas. Have students
write some of the similarities and difference in the way we celebrate holidays in the United
States and how people in other countries celebrate the same holidays in different ways.
E. Concept Development . Discuss with the class the legend of Juan Diego and the Virgin of
Guadalupe. Then read The Legend of the Poinsettia by Tomie dePaola. These are two
examples of what a legend is. Discuss with students the orgin of celebrations. Talk
about how the Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe is based on a legend.
F. Group Disscussion. Ask students if they have special foods that they only get when they
celebrate certain holidays. For example candy canes at Christmas and pumpkin pie for
Thanksgiving. Then divide students into groups of four or five by numbering off.
Have students list five foods that people in the United States eat during a certain holiday
season. After the students have listed their responses give each group a turn to share
their list with the class. Then discuss with students why certain foods are associated
with certain holidays (candy cane represents the shepherds staff). Discuss with students
some of the foods that are found at fiestas. Some examples are Chicken Enchiladas, Tacos,
Patacones (Fried Plantains), and Bolitas de Coco (Coconut Candies).
F. Mini-lesson. Ask students what they feel an artifact is. Discuss some of the artifacts of
celebrations we have in the U.S. For example the jack-o-lantern at halloween and
Christmas trees at Christmas. Tell students about the tradition of pinatas at the Christmas
Fiesta. Have students compare and contrast similarities between the artifacts they think of
and the pinata. Have a space in the back of the room where a pinata can be made. Allow students
who have free time to go to the back of the room and work on the class pinata.
G. Hands-on. Fill a pinata with treats and surprises. Hang it over a tree limb outside. Have
students go in order from youngest to oldest to swing at the Pinata. This gives students
the opportunity to experience the excitement present at a fiesta.
H. Writing. Have the students fold their paper into six squares and list in each square something
that they learned about fiestas and how they are celebrated. Also have them choose
between a journal entry or writing a post card. They are to write their journal entry or
their post card about their attendance at one of the three fiestas we discussed.
The comparisons of how different countries celebrate the same holidays will be assessed.
Naming and locating five Latin American countries on the map will be assessed individually and
orally throughout the unit.
The six things students list about fiestas will be assessed.
Journal entries or post cards will be assessed.
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