With the holidays looking very different this year, one way to keep the festive spirit alive at home is through arts and crafts! If you’re looking for something a little different from paper plate wreaths and popsicle stick reindeers, why not take a look at crafts inspired by different holiday traditions around the world?
In the United Kingdom and Ireland, a holiday tradition enjoyed by many are Christmas crackers. They can sometimes be found here in North America, too, but they are more appreciated as noisemakers than their intended purpose, which is to contain fun notes or small gifts (like a Christmas stocking!) Christmas crackers were invented in the 1800s by a candymaker named Tom Smith, who first tried to sell crackers and sweets that contained little treats inside. Unfortunately, these did not sell very well, forcing Smith back to the drawing board. As the story goes, Smith was inspired by the crackling of a log fire to incorporate sound into his holiday treats – and thus, the Christmas cracker was born. Although traditionally purchased from a store, Christmas crackers can be DIY’d at home using cardboard tubes, wrapping paper, and ribbon.
In Jewish culture, dreidels are four-sided spinning tops used in a game commonly played during Hanukkah, also called dreidel. Legend has it that dreidels were first invented during the time of the Maccabees, when Jewish children were not allowed to study their culture. While illegally studying Torah – the text that forms all Jewish law and practice – students would keep an eye out for Greek officials on patrol and quickly hide their scrolls when they saw them coming. As an excuse to gather in small groups, the students would take out their dreidels and claim they were just playing games. Dreidels can be made at home in a variety of ways. The spinner can be made by using matchsticks, toothpicks, or even a coffee stirrer!
Okay, this one is nothing new. But perhaps your gingerbread house this year could use some inspiration from its German origins, rather than “Santa’s Village” again. Although no one knows who invented gingerbread (shoutout to whoever they were!), the tradition of gingerbread house making can be dated back to Germany in the 1800s. German bakers were inspired by the popular Brothers Grimm story, Hansel and Gretel, which tells the story of two children who are captured by a witch who lives in a house made of sweets. Gingerbread was commonly baked during Christmastime, which is why making gingerbread houses – “lebkuchenhaus” in German – are still considered holiday pastime today. Instead of picking up a gingerbread house kit at the grocery store this year, why not try baking your own gingerbread at home, following a traditional German lebkuchen (“gingerbread”) recipe? For extra points, try incorporating lebkuchen gewürz, a spice blend commonly used in making authentic German gingerbread.
In Africa, Kwanzaa (Swahili for “first fruit”) is a seven day festival that is celebrated in late December. Kinaras are a traditional candleholder that contains seven branches – one black, three red, and three green – which are used to represent each of the seven principles of Kwanzaa: umoja (“unity”), kujichagulia (“self-determination”), ujima (“responsibility”), ujamaa (“cooperation”), nia (“purpose”), kuumba (“creativity”), and imani (“faith”). These seven principles represent the values of African culture. This would be a great craft to make with children using construction paper and coloured tissue – perhaps you could teach each principle as you go!