Social Studies Mini-Unit

Light in Festivals

Grade Level(s): 4-5 Written By: Aimee McNeil

Background information:

Light is an important element in many holidays and festivals throughout the world. It is the symbol of the divine and bringing light into the world. Light also has meaning related to the religious or cultural background of different countries.

Throughout the month of December, many countries use light as an important symbol. Five holidays being discussed in this unit are Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Le Re'veillon, Los Posados, and St. Lucia Day.


Hanukkah, also known as the Feast of Lights is celebrated in the month of December. It is a celebration that lasts eight days. The eight day celebration is significant in that it symbolizes the Rededication of the Temple of Jerusalem over 2,000 years ago. When it was time to light the Temple lamp, there was only enough oil for the lamp to burn one day. Miraculously, the oil burned for eight days.

The significance of the eight days is also celebrated by lighting one candle for each day of the celebration. Each candle represents a day the oil burned in the Temple lamp. The candles are held in a symbolic figure called the menorah. The menorah consists of nine candle holders, the middle being called the shammash. The shammash is the first candle to be lit and lights the other candles, one for each night of celebration. This continues until all the candles are lit.


Kwanzaa is an African-American celebration starting the last week of December (around December 26 through January 1). Light is used in this celebration as a symbol of seven principles. Each principal is symbolized with a candle. A kinara is the candle holder that holds the seven candles. Each night a candle is lit and families talk about one of the seven principles. This is done each night until all the candles are lit.

These seven candles represent mshumaa, meaning the seven principles. These principles are 1) unity, 2) self-determination, 3) collective work and responsibility, 4) cooperative economics, 5) purpose, 6) creativity, and 7) faith.

Le Re'veillon:

Le Re'veillon is a holiday celebrated in Canada and France. This holiday is similar to Christmas in that it celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ. On Christmas Eve a large candle is lit symbolizing Christ, Light of the World. This candle is left to burn throughout the night.

Many people also light candles during the re'veillon, which is the Christmas dinner. This custom is celebrated in Sweden as well as in England, Ireland, and Denmark.

Los Posados:

This holiday is celebrated in Mexico, beginning December 16. The celebration last for nine nights. Each night children and their families reenact the story of Mary and Joseph (parents of Jesus Christ) trying to find a place to lodge for the night. They travel to each house holding lighted candles and are turned away until they reach the house where the festivities of the night are being held. At this house, they are welcomed to go in and join in the celebration for the evening.

St. Lucia Day:

St. Lucia Day is celebrated on December 13. The story behind the holiday is of a young Sicilian girl who lived over 1,700 years ago. She would not deny Christianity so she was punished and her eyes were put out. She is pictured as wearing white robes and wearing a crown of light. The light represents the breaking of the winter spell and bringing light into the world. St. Lucia Day is celebrated in Sweden, Finland, Italy, and the Caribbean.


Cech, Maureen. Globalchild: Multicultural Resources for Young Children. Addison-Wesley Publishing Company: New York, 1991.

Christmas Traditions in France and Canada.[On-line]. Available:

Daugs, Dr. Donald R. Improving Science Teaching. The Home Teacher Inc.: Logan, UT, 1995.

McKinnon, Jean Warren and Elizabeth. Small World Celebrations. Warren Publishing House: Everett, WA, 1988.

New Perspective Technologies Company (1994) Kwanzaa Information Center. [On-line]. Available:

Steele, Philip. The World of Festivals. Rand McNally: New York, 1996.


Time Allotment: Approximately 4-5 class periods

Resources Needed:


A. Brainstorm: Ask students what some of the symbols are that are used during holidays in December. A symbol is something that represents something significant. Write student answers on the board.

B. Study buddies: Tell children that the particular symbol that we will be discussing is light. Pair children up and tell them to list some of the ways that light is used in December holidays.

C. Mini-lesson: Introduce the holidays that will be discussed. Ask for volunteers to find the countries on the classroom world map. For Hanukkah, explain that this holiday is celebrated around the world. Light is symbolic in different ways and in different countries and religions. Divide children into five groups. Each group will be assigned a holiday: Hanukkah, Kwanzaa,

Le Re'veillon, Los Posados, or St. Lucia Day. Each group will be given information regarding their holiday along with materials for making a poster to display the information in a creative way. These posters will be shared with the rest of the class (the children will be the teachers).

For each group a packet will include:

1) world map (location of the country)
2) picture of different features for each holiday (see appendix)
3) explanation of the holiday (background)
4) instructions for poster (see appendix)

D. Follow-up: Have each group teach their holiday to the rest of the class using their poster. The other children will have the worksheet, "Light in December" (see appendix) to fill in answers as each group presents their information. This worksheet will be handed in as an assignment. Children should be reminded that although these holidays originated in different countries, they are also celebrated in the United States by many people. Display posters around the room.

E. Hands-on activity: In relation to the light theme and the significance of it in December holidays, children will make a tin lantern to display light from a burning candle. Before electricity was invented, candles were used as the major source of light. Because of safety concerns, lanterns were made to carry the burning candles. Actual candles will not be used during the activity, but children may explore at home with adult supervision. Show an example for the children to follow before beginning.

Prior to the activity, fill one tin can per child with water and freeze overnight to make it easier to puncture holes in the tin. Make lanterns outdoors or indoors on a plastic sheet. Keep sponges and a bucket handy.


15 minutes


1 ice-filled tin can per child
hammers and short nails
1 bucket and sponge
1 8-in. plastic-coated wire per child


1. Use a hammer and nail to punch a hole on either
side of the can's open end.
2. Punch more holes all over the sides of the can.
3. When there are enough holes, empty the ice into
the bucket and turn the can upside down to dry.
4. To make a handle, push the wire through the first
2 holes made on the can. Twist the wire together
at each hole to keep it in place.
5. Demonstrate how the light shines from the lantern
using a flashlight.
(adapted from Globalchild, Maureen Cech)

Display the lanterns throughout the room.

F. Science: Because the candle is the most widely used symbol of light in holidays, the children are going to study it. Tell children that they are going to observe a lighted candle. What are some of the things you would observe? Tell children to think of their senses when pondering the following questions: 1) What does it look like before burning? 2) What does it look like while burning? 3) What does it looks like after burning? Write answers on the board. Discuss safety issues with the children in regards to observing candles. Do you put your fingers in the flame? Do you touch the hot wax? Do you need to be careful not to bump the lit candle? Before electricity, candles were used as decoration on trees and around the home. For reasons related to safety, people used lanterns to protect against potential fires or burns.

Hand out observation worksheet and take children outside and show them a candle to observe before burning. Light the candle for students to observe while it is burning (make sure children are a safe distance away from the candle). Blow the candle out so students can observe what happens after it burns. Go back to class and discuss the results. Ask children how they feel when they see light. Does it make them feel calm and peaceful? Does it make them feel happy or sad? Give many children the opportunity to respond.

They will turn in their observations as an assignment.

G. Closure: After all activities have been completed, ask children to complete a knowledge chart of what they know about the five different holidays in December that were discussed in class.





Dear Parents, November 20, 1996

Starting December 1, we are going to be studying about light and how it is used in different holidays celebrated in December. The celebrations we will be studying are Hanukkah (Jewish), Kwanzaa (African-American), Le Re'veillon (French and Canadian), Los Posados (Mexican), and St. Lucia Day (Swedish). If you have a moment to discuss with your child any of these holidays you are familiar with, it would be greatly appreciated.

We will also include science and art in our discussion of light. We will observe the physical properties of a candle by using our senses. We will observe the candle before, during, and after burning. This activity will be performed outside with adult supervision. We will also make tin lanterns in relation to our light theme.

During our discussion of light, if there is anything your child would like to bring into the classroom related to one of these holidays, they are most welcome.

Thank you for your assistance. If you have any concerns or suggestions, please contact me.



Aimee McNeil


Light in December holidays

Name _________________________


1. Where did the holiday originate? _______________________

2. When is the holiday? ________________________________

3. How many days is it celebrated? ______________________

4. What is the candleholder called? ______________________

5. What is the middle candle called? ______________________


1. Who celebrates this holiday? __________________________

2. When is the holiday? _________________________________

3. How many days is it celebrated? ________________________

4. What is the candleholder called? ________________________

5. What are the seven principles called? ____________________

Le Re'veillon:

1. Where is this holiday celebrated? ________________________

2. Who celebrates this holiday? ____________________________

3. How long does the candle on Christmas Eve burn? ___________


4. What does the candle represent? _________________________

Los Posados:

1. When is this holiday celebrated? __________________________

2. Where is this holiday celebrated? __________________________

3. How long does it last? ___________________________________

4. What story does this holiday represent? ______________________


5. How is light used in this holiday? ___________________________


St. Lucia Day:

1. When is this holiday celebrated? ____________________________

2. Where is this holiday celebrated? ____________________________

3. What does the Sicilian girl wear? _____________________________


4. What does light represent in this holiday? ______________________


Poster Instructions

1. Read material given to you.

2. Find where the holiday is celebrated.

3. Find when the holiday is celebrated.

4. What is light used for in this holiday?

5. What are some of the symbols used in this holiday?

6. Record on the map where the holiday is celebrated.

7. You may either color and paste the picture if you were given one or you can draw one yourself (a picture and/or drawing is required).

8. Design your poster.

9. Use the above information to put on your poster.

10. Be creative!

11. Color your poster.

12. Make sure all names are on the back of the poster.

HINT: Have each person in your group do a different question so not everyone is doing the same thing. This will help you get done more easily.

Candle Observation

Name _______________________

Before burning:

1) What does the candle look like? ____________________________


2) What does the candle feel like? _____________________________


3) What does the candle smell like? ___________________________


While burning:

1) What does the candle look like? ____________________________


2) Are there any changes? If Yes, what are they? __________________


3) What does the candle smell like? ___________________________


4) What colors are in the flame? ______________________________


After burning:

1) What does the candle look like? ____________________________


2) What does the candle feel like? _____________________________


3) What does the candle smell like? ___________________________


4) Does the candle look different than before it was burned? ___________________________


Candle Sketch: Following is a sketch of a candle while burning. Label the parts of the candle and color in the flame with the correct colors from your observation.



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