Subtopic: Food and Celebration
Grade Level: 4-5
Author: Penny K. Bassett


Food is a very important and necessary part of our lives. We use food for a variety of different purposes and the food that we choose to eat is selected because of a variety of different influences. Food also plays an important part in how we celebrate.

We eat food because we need it to live, it is what gives us the nutrients that we need for our bodies to grow. Another reason we eat food is because of psychological reasons. If we are happy, we eat; if we are sad, we eat; boredom, depression, and loneliness are other reasons that we eat. We also use food for social needs. When we have friends or family over we usually have some form of food to offer them, whether it be a light snack or a full meal.

The food that we choose to eat is also selected because of a number of different reasons. Many of us like certain foods because we have been raised eating those foods. In many cases, whatever our parents eat or like to eat is what we eventually enjoy eating also. The region where we live as well as economics determines much of our food selection. If we lived in China we would eat a lot of rice because it is what is grown there. If we lived in a dairy community, milk products would be a large part of our diet. Our background and our environment play a great role in what and how we eat.

Food is also a part of our many celebrations, and is used and selected for many of the same reasons as mentioned earlier. However, the way that food is used in celebrations varies from home to home, state to state, and country to country. The celebrations that we have and the ways that we celebrate them are affected by our culture, and there are many different cultures around the world. For us to understand why different foods are used in different celebrations we need to understand a little about culture and how it could affect the foods we use. (Fieldhouse, 3)

1. Culture is a learned experience; we learn it from our families and the people around us. It is the same with food. The food that we use for celebrations in our own homes as children are morethan likely to become a part of the foods we use to celebrate with as adults.

2. Culture involves change; the foods that we use to celebrate with may change as we change. Our tastes as well as our celebrations may not even be the same.

3. Every culture resists change; even though some of the foods we use may change, many will stay the same because of what we learned as children.

4. We are unconscious of our culture. We may use the foods that we do because it is just so much a part of our lives.

Along with our culture and the other reasons talked about before, the idea that gathering around a table, uniting as friends and family is an important aspect of food and celebrations. When we celebrate it is usually with people we love and trust, or are trying to get to know. Food is a powerful element that can bring together many different people. The smell of food also is powerful in that it is able to bring old memories and events to mind (cinnamon=Christmas, a certain meal and its smell can remind a person of home).

Food is a large part of all holidays and celebrations, not just the major ones we hear about often, but also small everyday family celebrations. Food and celebrations unite people in the same family, giving them a common bond. Celebrations of all sorts, and the food that adorns them brings people from all over the world closer together around one table.



Alki. A Medieval Feast. HarperCollins Publishers, Mexico, 1983.

Brown, L., and Mussell, Kay. Ethnic and Regional Food ways in the United States: The Performance of Group Identity. University of Tennessee Press, Knoxville, TN, 1984.

Bryant, Adam. Canada, Good Neighbor to the World. Dillon Press, Inc., Minneapolis, MN, 1987.

Continuum Internet Publishing Services. "Italian Wedding Customs". [On-Line] Http://, 1996.

Fieldhouse, Paul. Food and Nutrition: Customs and Culture. Croom Helm, Dover, New Hampshire, 1986.

Humphrey, Theodore and Lin. We Gather Together: Food and Festival in American Life. Utah State University Press, Logan, UT, 1991.

Jeanneret, Michel. A Feast of Words: Banquets and Table Talk in the Renaissance. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL, 1991.

Kalman, Bobbie. India: The Lands, Peoples, and Cultures Series. Crabtree Publishing Company, New York, NY, 1990.

Lewis, Barbara. The Kid's Guide to Social Action. Free Spirit Publishing, Inc., Minneapolis, MN, 1991.
Penner, Lucille Recht. Eating the Plates: A Pilgrim Book of Food and Manners. Macmillian Publishing Company, New York, NY, 1991.

Rhodes, Peg. "Jewish Cuisine: Rich in Symbolism and Tradition". [On-Line] Http://, 1996.

Simoons, Frederick. Food in China: A Cultural and Historical Inquiry. CRC Press, Boston, MA, 1991.

Schwartz, Alvin. When I Grew Up Long Ago. J.B. Lippincott Company, New York, NY 1978.

Many of these references weren't used for this unit, however they each have great ideas for expanding this unit in many different ways.



Time Allotment: Approximately 10 class periods of 30-60 minutes plus homework. This time allotment takes into consideration library time for students' reports. The end activity will need a two hour block for a class celebration.

Resources Needed:

Procedures and Activities:

A. Brainstorming/Webbing. Have students think of celebrations and holidays that have food associated with them. Write the celebrations as well as the food on the board in the form of a list or a web. Have them also name holidays from other cultures if they know of any, if not give them examples.

B. Mini-Lecture. Review the brainstorming activity. Talk about the many different celebrations that incorporate food (nearly all of them). Explain to students that there are many different reasons why food is important in celebrations.

1. Symbolism (Sweet cuisine for Rosh Hashanah)
2. Tradition (Italian weddings)
3. Environment and/or economics (China uses rice in many celebrations)
4. Social (Medieval feasts)
5. Psychological (foods that bring back memories of past celebrations)

Explain that many of these reasons, if not all, are a part of every food decision a person makes for celebrating an event, and that these reasons are prevalent in every culture. Move directly into think-pair-share.

C. Think-Pair-Share. Have students think about what foods they use for celebrations in their own homes and why those foods are used (tradition, psychological, etc.). Have students share them with a partner. Have students (teacher too) also share with the rest of the class. Discuss some of the differences and some of the similarities.

D. Research. Have students research a different culture's celebration that involves food in some way. Have them present the report to the class. (Have resources available for students as well as
some ideas--Passover, Hanukkah, Rosh Hashanah, Chinese New Year, Hana Matsuri, Powwows, Cambodian New Year, TET, Birthdays, Cinco de Mayo, Christmas, Thanksgiving, Day of the Dead, Halloween, Easter, Valentines, Korean Children's Day, Kwanzaa, Ramadan, Mardi Gras, etc.)

E. Hands-On. Explain to students that tradition and symbolism are a major part of foods used during Jewish holidays. During Rosh Hashanah, a 10-day period of prayer and feasting, hope for happiness and a sweet life are the theme. While recipes for traditional Jewish dishes vary by country and region, sweetness is the key symbol. Many of the dishes contain honey, sugar, dates, or dried fruits and vegetables (Peg Rhodes, Internet). Have students make one of the following (incorporate math by adjusting recipes as needed). MUST HAVE ACCESS TO KITCHEN!

Carrot Tzimees (Francine Prince)
1lb. carrots, peeled and sliced pinch of salt1/4 c. honey
Juice of lemon
1/4 c. vegetable oil
1/4 c. flour

Place carrots in a heavy sauce pan, add cold water to cover. Bring to a simmer. Add honey, salt, and lemon. Simmer 20 minutes. In another sauce pan, heat oil and flour, blend while cooking. Add carrots and cooking liquid; simmer, stirring constantly. Brown lightly under broiler before serving. 6 servings

Honey-Apple Cake ("Cooking Kosher: The Natural Way")
1c. honey
1/2 c. vegetable oil
2 eggs
2 c. whole wheat pastry flour
1/2tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. grated nutmeg
1c. thawed orange juice concentrate
2 c. diced unpeeled apple
1 tsp. vanilla extract

In a large bowl blend honey and oil. Beat in eggs. In smaller bowl, combine to liquid mixture alternately with juice concentrate. Stir in apple chunks and pour into lightly greased 13x9x2 baking pan. Bake 30-40 minutes. Cover and let stand overnight. Serves 10.

Have students convert (i.e. from serves 10 to serves 30) a traditional recipe from home, that relates to a family celebration, and bring to share with the class. Create a celebrational cookbook.

F. Experience/Writing. Review the concept that smells are a very powerful agent that can bring back memories of an event or place. Bring in different spices for the students to smell (cinnamon, pine=Christmas; turkey=Thanksgiving; blown out candle=birthdays, chili powder=family camp out; etc.). Ask them if any of the smells bring back a memory of a family celebration or other type of celebration, or event. Have students write a poem about the memory that was evoked. (If nothing was prompted by the spices, have students try to come up with a smell that does remind them of something. For instance, would the smell of turkey or any other food trigger a memory.)

G. Story Extension/Interview. Read Pgs 41-45, and 122-135 from When I Grew Up Long Ago by Alvin Shwartz. After the story, have each student conduct an interview with parents, grandparents or close family members. Have the interview questions deal with foods that the students' parents used in celebrations when they were children, and why those foods were used. Have them conduct at least two different interviews for variety. Be sure to discuss interviewing techniques and have the question already prewritten in a set form for everybody to use. Have students form small groups of 3-5 and in each group and have them summarize the results in a comparison contrast chart (Were there any items that were alike, were all of them totally different?) and have them share their findings with the entire class.

H. Hands-On. Read A Medieval Feast by Alki. Explain that food was an important social aspect of that time period and culture. Have students plan a celebration of differences. Have each child bring a main dish, dessert, or drink that they use in their own family celebrations. Try to have a variety of items. Write a letter, at least a week in advance, to the students' parents to gain permission and volunteer help (attached). Have each student write a brief paragraph on the dish they bring explaining why it is used in their family celebrations.

*NOTE: Some schools may not allow food to be brought in that is not commercially prepared. If this is the case, a feast is still possible. Just buy foods that are commercially prepared and have a feast. To keep to the theme of the unit, still have students bring in their recipes and have them share why they chose the recipe along with memories that accompany some family celebrations.

I. Open Discussion. Review all that the students have learned and accomplished over the mini unit. Ask them to share the feelings and thoughts that they have had about the activities, and ask them what they have learned.




Tips: (Lewis, 38)

1. Make sure that students do not to people that they do not know.
2. Make sure the students know that if they do interview outside of the home that they have their parent's permission and that they do not go alone.
3. Make a list a head of time of questions (below).
4. Take additional paper and pencils.
5. Be a good listener.
6. Be polite, always! If you need the speaker to slow down, politely ask him to slow down and repeat what he said.
7. Thank the person for his time, and write a thank you note.


1. When you were a kid, what kind of celebrations did your family have?
2. What kind of food did you have at these celebrations.
3. Why did you have those foods (if any) for those particular celebrations?
4. Do you still use any of those foods in the celebrations that you have today? Why?

Parent Letter:

Dear Parents,

We have been discussing how food plays a role in many different celebrations, especially the ones in the students' own homes. To end this mini-unit, on December 6 at 2:00 p.m. we will be having a celebration in our very own classroom. I have asked the students to each bring a food, dish, or dessert or drink that they use for celebrations in their own homes. Along with the dish, they are to write when this food is used for a celebration and why.

Let me give you an example. In my home, for Thanksgiving, I prepare a frozen slush drink. I do this because it is what was done in my childhood Thanksgivings. I have just carried this tradition with me to my own family. The dish could be this simple or very elaborate, whatever you and you child decide is best. We will not need for all of the students to bring items, we will end up with too much if everyone were to bring things. If you would like for your child to bring an item, would you please return this letter, along with what your child will be bringing and your phone number.

Also, if you would like to attend, or would like to volunteer to help, please mark the appropriate spaces below. We welcome any visitors or help, but we also understand the demands of work and home so please do not feel obligated to attend, this is just a fun way to end our unit on food and celebrations.
For more information or answers to questions, please call me here at school at 797-4343 between the hours of 3:00 and 4:00 p.m. Any and all help, and ideas will be welcome.

Mrs. Penny K. Bassett