Subtopic: Food and celebration

Grade levels of mini-unit: 2-3

Author: Heidy Jensen


Delicious, mouth-watering foods are the very essence of a celebration. These special

foods are what many of us look forward to as the celebration approaches. Often the aroma of a

turkey fresh out of the oven is all an American needs to cause her to think of Thanksgiving.

Rice dumplings wrapped in reconstituted dry leaves are a necessary part of the Dragon Boat

Festival in China. Is it still an American child's birthday without the cake? Is it the New Year in

Japan without mochi (rice cake)? Is it Christmas in Denmark without rice pudding?


Of course, foods eaten for holidays vary from culture to culture. Within cultures, they

vary from family to family. For example, when I was a child, Christmas in my family meant a

box of cherry chocolates and a small can of mixed nuts for everyone. I always hated the nuts,

but they were a part of Christmas. The chocolates have become too sweet for me as I've gotten

older, yet I still like to buy a box as the Christmas season approaches. For me, it just doesn't

seem like Christmas without cherry chocolates. As this unit is covered with a class, it is

important to emphasize this diversity and provide opportunities for the children to share what is

unique to their culture and family.


In researching for this unit, I have learned that various different foods permeate all

celebrations. This unit will cover one of these celebrations, World Food Day, and one type of

food, bread, in relation to many celebrations.


With how important food is not only to our celebrations, but also to sustaining life, it

makes perfect sense that there would be a day set aside to celebrate food. October 16 has been

designated World Food Day. This is a recognized holiday in 150 nations, including the United

States. October 16 is the anniversary of the establishing of the United Nations Food and

Agriculture Organization (FAO) which was first conceived in 1943. This anniversary has been

an international holiday since the first World Food Day in 1981. World Food Day is a unique

celebration in that there is a different theme for it each year. For example, the 1995 theme was

"Fighting Hunger: Looking Backward, Looking Forward." There is a committee in Washington,

D.C. that can provide information for the World Food Day of the current year. Their address is

included in the resource section below.


World Food Day provides us the opportunity to examine our ideals. It has the intention

of notifying all people of the worldwide hunger problem (in this decade, 100 million children

will die from malnutrition and other diseases caused by lack of food) and moving them to do

something to help alleviate the difficulties of and results of going hungry. This holiday is no

exception to all the others in that it must be approached with sensitivity to the children in the

class studying it. The teacher must always keep in mind the fact that there may very well be

children in the class who are frequently going hungry.


The Latin motto of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization is "Fiat Panis" which is "Let

there be bread" in English. This motto and the FAO holiday, World Food Day, naturally lead to the

discussion of bread as it pertains to other holidays.


Bread has been a staple of life in many cultures for centuries. There are many different types

of breads: flat breads, loaves, bread sticks, crackers, muffins, pancakes, rolls of many varieties,

tortillas, dark breads and light breads, fried breads and baked breads, spongy breads raised with

yeast, and crumbly quick breads which are leavened with baking powder or baking soda instead of

yeast. Because bread is so important to maintaining life, it is no surprise that it frequently has a

religious belief attached to it and plays an important part in the celebrations of a culture.


Many ancient peoples considered bread to be a gift from God because he provides the earth,

sun, and rain that make it possible for the necessary grain to grow. They would sometimes show

their gratitude by giving some of it back to God in the form of sacrifice. People of some religions,

such as some Christians, believe bread to actually be a part of God. Whatever the specific belief

about bread was, it eventually came to be a symbol of all that was cherished by the people.

As could therefore be expected, breads have become important parts of several holidays (a

word which has its roots in Old English terms meaning "holy day"). Each culture and country has

its own type of holiday bread(s). For example, as a part of the Passover celebration, the Jewish eat

an unleavened bread called matzo. It represents the bread made and eaten in too much haste to

allow it time to rise at the first Passover when the Jews escaped captivity in Egypt three thousand

years ago.


Another example is the breads eaten in honor of departed ancestors for All Souls' Day

which is celebrated in Latin America and some countries in Europe on the second day in November.

These breads may be formed into the shapes of bones or people. In Mexico, the bread is called

"bread of the dead" or pan de muerto and is a loaf with a skull, bones, and tears formed on the top

of it. In Ecuador, the breads shaped like people are painted with frosting to have clothing and faces

so as to really look like people. Many years ago when this custom began, it was believed that the

spirits of the dead sometimes wandered the earth. The breads of All Souls' Day were baked and

given to the dead as gifts to keep them from causing trouble. Today this holiday represents respect

and love for deceased family members. The breads are an important part of grave side ceremonies

and as a part of celebrating All Souls' Day, are sometimes eaten at grave side picnics.


The final example of bread's importance in celebrations that is included here is St. Lucia

Bread. St. Lucia Day is December 13; it is a holiday that marks the beginning of Christmas

observance in Sweden. Lucia was a Christian martyr; killed for her beliefs by the Romans 1500

years ago. She was made a saint after her death and her saint's day comes at the same time of year

as the longest day of darkness (December 22 on our calendar, but Dec. 13 on the calendar used when

this holiday originated). This day is celebrated as a beginning of light and better things in the future

(spring, crops, and plenty of food) because the people know that the days will begin to get longer

(more sunlight) starting the day after St. Lucia Day. Lucia's name comes from "lux" which means

light in Latin.


Some of the folk tales passed down through the generations about Lucia and why she became

so important relate that she saved starving people in times of famine by suddenly appearing and

giving them food. Perhaps this is why a staple of life such as bread has become so central to the

celebration of her day. On St. Lucia Day, young Swedish girls dress as St. Lucia and carry trays of

St. Lucia breads to their mothers for breakfast in bed. One of the girls in a classroom in Sweden

would be considered the "Lucia" of the class and would give the teacher St. Lucia breads from the



In a family, it is typically the oldest daughter who dresses as Lucia. She wears a long white

dress. The dress is tied with a red sash and a crown of evergreens and lighted candles is placed on

her head. The other daughters dress in white dresses with tinsel in their hair; the sons wear pointed

hats with silver stars and dress in white. The girls are called Lucia maidens and carry candles; the

boys are called star boys and carry trays of the Lucia bread that serve as a supplement for what their

older sister carries. The recipe for this bread is included in the appendix of this unit.



Barkin, C. & James E. (1994). The Holiday Handbook. New York: Clarion Books.

Hamilton, D. & Flemming B. (1990). Resources for Creative Teaching in Early Childhood

Education. Orlando, FL: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

Hensperger, B. (1995). Bread For All Seasons: Delicious and Distinctive Recipes For Year - Round

Baking. San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books.

Jones, J. & Jones, E. (1982). The Book of Bread. New York: Harper & Row.

Meyer, C. (1971). The Bread Book: All About Bread and How to Make It. New York: Harcourt

Brace Jovanovich.

Ojankangas, B. (1994). Great Holiday Baking Book. New York: Clarkson Potter.



Time Allotment:

Approximately 6-7 class periods and one assignment at home


Resources Needed:

Washington, D.C. 20437

(This organization has information for this holiday including some materials that are suited

for schools.)



A. Discussion/Mini-lecture

Tell the students to think of the holidays/celebrations they are familiar with. Ask them if there are

any celebrations they can think of that require us to help others when we celebrate them. Write

these on the board. Examples may be any time a gift is given, etc. Explain that there is a holiday

that has the purpose of helping people by helping them to get food. This holiday is October 16.

It is called World Food Day. Briefly outline for the students the history of this holiday and its

purpose of providing food for those who do not have it. Have the students think of a time when

they have been hungry. (Be sensitive during this part of the discussion to students who may not

have enough to eat.)


Allow a few students to share what it was like to be hungry and how long it had been since

they had eaten. Have them imagine what they think it would be like to feel hungry as they

did then and not know if they would get another meal or when it would be. Ask why a

holiday like World Food Day that helps people get food would be important? Discuss the

world hunger problem. Ask the students why they think there are people in the world who

go hungry. If available, share hunger statistics from your local area to help the children

understand that there are people living where they live who go hungry, not just people in an

under-developed country. (These statistics may be available at the local food bank.) Check

for understanding throughout the discussion with questions.


B. Food bank field trip Remind the students of what they have learned about World Food Day

and going hungry. Have them brainstorm ideas for helping people get food. Tell them that

they are not the only people who have tried to think of a solution to this hunger problem.

Some of the other people who have thought about this problem came up with the idea of a

food bank. Tell them what a food bank is and that they will go on a field trip to the food

bank in their community. Help them brainstorm a list of possible questions to ask the tour

guide at the food bank after they arrive. Have a few students (scribes) write these questions

on pieces of paper to be taken with them on the field trip so they will remember to ask the

questions. After the field trip, discuss the answers to the class's questions and anything else

new that was discovered at the food bank. During discussion, be sure to include information

on how to receive assistance from the food bank for the benefit of any students in your class

who may be hungry or know someone who is. Also have the class describe for you how to

donate items to the food bank. (A possible extension of this activity is to hold a food drive.)


C. Brainstorm/Discussion Remind the students of the World Food Day connection with food.

Ask if there are any other holidays that food is an important part of. Have the students

brainstorm a list. Write their responses on the board. Share the history of food and

celebration as outlined in the background of this unit. Remind them of the UN Food and

Agriculture Organization's motto, "Let there be bread." Talk about the important role bread

plays in the diet of many people in the world. Ask if there are any holiday foods they can

think of that are breads. Make another list of these answers on the board.


D. Interview/Recipe Collection Assign the students to interview their parents or grandparents

and record their responses. They should ask them about holiday breads that have been

important in their lives, why they eat that type of bread for that particular holiday, etc.

Request that a copy of the recipe and the history of the bread in their culture/family (this

could be what the child has written while interviewing) be sent to school. (See appendix for

a sample parent letter to accompany children home as they do this assignment.)


E. Make a book Arrange for a parent volunteer to type the bread histories and recipes. Print

a copy of each. Have the children illustrate the page(s) of their breads with pictures of the

breads or holiday activities connected with them as the children perceive them to be. Bind

the book and add it to the classroom library.


F. Bakery Visit a local bakery. Have the baker share with the children important steps in

making bread and basic information about a few different types of bread. Find out if more

types of certain breads are sold around the time of particular holidays than at other times.


G. Lucia bread celebration Share with the students the background information on St. Lucia

Day that is contained in this unit. Emphasize the role the bread plays. Remind the students

of what they learned about bread when they interviewed their parents. Bake this bread and

eat it for snack. While making the bread, ask the students questions to assess what they

learned at the bakery. As the bread is eaten, discuss St. Lucia Day and what types of

activities the class would be participating in if they were celebrating that holiday. Be sure

to emphasize the honoring of dead ancestors. Ask the students how they honor their

ancestors in their families.


H. Discussion/Paper Review all that has been learned about food as it relates to holidays,

specifically, World Food Day and bread. Have the students write a paper or draw a picture

whichever is appropriate for their current developmental level. Their writings/pictures

should illustrate at least three new things they have learned about food and celebrations.








Parent Letter

Dear Parents,

We are studying foods as they relate to celebrations, specifically various types of breads.

Please allow your child to talk with you and ask you questions about traditional holiday breads in

your family/culture. Help your child as necessary to write a history of the bread(s). We are also

planning to make a book of the holiday breads of our class and would be happy if you would make

a contribution to this effort by sending a copy of the recipe(s) to school with them.

Thank you for your time. Your help is indispensable.



(Teacher's name)



Swedish St. Lucia Bread

(taken from Great Holiday Baking Book)


2 packages (5 1/2 teaspoons) active dry yeast

4 to 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

3/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup milk

1/8 teaspoon powdered saffron or

1/2 teaspoon saffron threads

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, cut up

2 large eggs, slightly beaten


Glaze and Decoration:

1 large egg beaten with 2 tablespoons milk

Up to 1/4 cup golden raisins (optional)

1/2 cup pearl sugar or coarsely crushed sugar cubes (optional)



In a large mixing bowl, combine the yeast, 2 cups of the flour, the sugar and salt. In a small

saucepan, heat the milk to simmering over medium heat, then remove from the heat. Add the

saffron and butter; stir until the butter is melted and the mixture has cooled to very warm (130

degrees F). Stir the liquids into the flour mixture and add the eggs. Beat with a wooden spoon until

the batter is smooth and satiny. Beat in the remaining flour a cup at a time until the dough is stiff

but not dry. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to 24 hours.


To Make Lucia Cats

Cover 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or lightly grease them. Divide the dough into 6 equal

portions, then divide each portion into 8 equal pieces. Roll each piece between the palms of your

hands to make 6-inch ropes. Place 2 ropes side by side, pinching them together in the middle. Curl

all 4 ends toward the center and place on a baking sheet. Repeat with the rest of the ropes. Cover

with a towel and let rise until puffy, about 45 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Press a raisin into the center of each curl and brush with the egg

glaze. Sprinkle with sugar, then bake for 8 to 10 minutes, until just golden. Cool on a wire rack.


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