Fall and Winter Religious Celebrations

A Social Studies Mini Unit for grades 1-3

By Jamie Hunter & Heidi Dahl

 Background Information-

There are many different religions throughout the world. Each one is unique in its beliefs and worship. The five major religions of the world, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hindu and Buddhism, celebrate different religious holidays. During the winter, each religion has a celebration to celebrate something significant in their beliefs.

The religion of Judaism is based on the belief of the worship of one god. They believe in a Messiah that has not yet come to the earth. This religion began more than 4,000 years ago. During the winter months, the Jews celebrate Hanukkah. This is an eight-day holiday celebrating the victory of the Jews over a wicked king to reclaim Jerusalem. During this time they light a menorah (a nine branch candlestick) for each day of the celebration and is burned for eight days.

In Christianity, Christians believe in Jesus Christ and his teachings. They believe that he is the Messiah and died for them. In the Christian religion, Christmas is celebrated. This holiday celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ and his life. Presents are often given to signify the gifts that the wise men brought to Christ at his birth.

The religion of Islam is based on the worship of Allah and revelations given to Muhammad. Muslims worship from the Koran, a book that prophesizes the words of Allah. Muslims celebrate Ramadan. This is a month of fasting to celebrate the commemoration of Allah's first revelations to Muhammad.

The Buddhist religion believes in the teachings of Buddha. Buddha was a teacher and philosopher in 486 BC. Buddhists celebrate the festival of the New Year. This festival signifies the opportunity to wash away bad experiences.

A Japanese symbol of good luck is the daruma doll. It is named after Bodhidharma (Dharma), an Indian Buddhist said to have founded Zen Buddhism in the sixth century. This branch of Buddhism is a way of life that stresses the practice of meditation. According to legend, Dharma meditated for nine years. When he tried to stand up, his arms and legs were so stiff that he could not move. Instead he was forced to roll from village to village to spread his teachings. The round-bottomed daruma doll represents Dharma. Like him, it shows resistance to physical limitations: when knocked over, it rights itself at once.

Darumas sold at the daruma market in Tokyo are made of many materials. Traditional ones are made of papier mache decorated with pine, bamboo, and plum blossom designs. In northern Japan, darumas have glass eyes and human hair. Others, made in the form of masks, are used as scarecrows in fields. The "wishing" daruma or hatiman has no eyes. When a wish is made, one eye is painted on the doll. When the wish is fulfilled, the other eye is added.

In the Hindu religion, Hindus believe in many gods and goddesses. This religion is dominant in the countries of India and Nepal. The Hindus celebrate Divali in the fall of the year. It is also called the celebration of lights. The Hindus light lamps to scare away demons and welcome to Rama, a god that they worship. During this time, they make Rangoli, an artistic expression made with colored rice.

These religions are distinctive and unique to many parts of the world. It is important to be aware of the many different religious celebrations that exist in the world. Listed below are activities that will help to teach about a variety of fall and winter religious celebrations.



Ganeri, A. (1997) Religions Explained: A beginners guide to world faiths. Markham, Ontario: EDC.

Brown, A. & Langley A. (1999). What I believe. Brookfield, Connecticut: Millbrook.

Osborne, M. P. (1996). One world many religions. New York: Alfred Knopf.

Meredith, S. (1995). The Usborne Book of World Religions. London, England: Usborne.

Cech, M. (no date). Globalchild: Multicultural Resources for Young Children, Boston MA: Addison-Wesley.



1) Religious groups have special days on which they celebrate important people, ideas, or events.

2) Different religions celebrate in different ways.


 Lesson Activities:



Time: 30 minutes x 2 days

Goal: #1, #2



* Students will be able to demonstrate their knowledge of one aspect of the celebration of Hanukkah by making latkes, a food used in the celebration.

* Students will discuss the terms and beliefs associated with Hanukkah by participating in a class read aloud.


* Adler, D.A., (1997) Chanukah in Chelm, New York: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books

* recipe for potato pancakes and ingredients (found in Globalchild: Multicultural Resources for Young Children book).


Read the book Chanukah in Chelm and have a class discussion on the terms and beliefs discussed in the book. For a follow-up activity the class will make potatoe pancakes (latkes), a dish that is served during the festival of Hannakuh.

Other resources:

Watkins, L. M. (1975). Hanukkah: The festival of lights. Glendale, California: Bowmar.

Cech, M. (no date). Globalchild: Multicultural Resources for Young Children, Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, Inc.: U. S. A.





Time: 20 minutes

Goal: #2




* Students will discuss the celebration of Ramadan by participating in a class read aloud.


* Hamid G. (1996). Suhaib, Ramadan, New York: Holiday House.


Read the book Ramadan. Discuss how Ramadan is different from previous religious celebrations that have been studied. Discuss how during Ramadam fasting takes place. No food is eaten from dawn to dusk on this holiday. In place of the money that would be spent on food, money is given to the poor.




Time: 45 minutes

Goal: #1



Students will demonstrate their knowledge of one aspect of the celebration of Divali by making Rangoli.


Pandya, M. Here Comes Diwali: the festival of lights, Wellesley, MA: MeeRa Publications. http://www.koolindians.com/partyideas/rangoli.php3


Discuss Divali by sharing the Pandya book. Then make Rangol. Use activity instructions found in the back of Here Comes Diwali: the festival of lights book (p. 23) or see the web site above. Share how other holidays have artistic expressions that are asssociated with that specific celebration.





Time: 20 minutes

Goal: #1



Students will be able to explain why Christmas is celebrated by listening to the class read aloud and having a class discussion.


Carlson, M.(1998). King of the Stable, NY: Scholastic


Read aloud King of the Stable. Discuss why Christmas is celebrated and how it is celebrated in different ways throughout the world. Compare and contrast the other holidays previously studied with Christmas.





Time: 1 hour

Goal: #1, #2

New Year (Buddhism):


Students will be able to demonstrate an understanding of the importance of goal setting during the celebration of New Year, by making a Daruma Doll.


*1 ball of clay per child

*1 lead weight (sinker) per child

*1 disposable cone-shaped drinking cup per child


Cech, M. (no date). Globalchild: Multicultural Resources for Young Children. Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, Inc.: U. S. A.


Discuss the background information of Dharma and why Daruma dolls are used today (see introduction to unit).

Make Japanese Daruma dolls, (Globalchild, p. 167).

Make a daruma following the instructions below, then draw on a face, a new year's wish, or the first eye of the hatiman. Tell the story of Dharma, using the daruma as a visual prop. Use several darumas as counters for math games, or as figures for the dramatic play area. Sequence different sizes of darumas. This doll can be part of the learning materials throughout the year.

Instructions for making Daruma:

1. Form the clay into an egg shape. Press a lead weight into the bottom of the shape,

making sure the weight is in the center and that the shape balances well.

2. Push the drinking cup over the top of the shape and into the clay.

3. Draw a face, an eye, or a design on the cup.

4. Leave the doll to harden overnight.

Have each student choose a goal he/she would like to achieve. Once the students have decided on a goal have them color in one of the eyes. When they meet their goal have them color in the other eye.