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Class celebrates Christmas, Mexican style

By Shelley Smithssmith@salisburypost.com
Although Mexico is more than 1,500 miles southwest of Salisbury, Melanie Ferguson’s first- grade students at Millbridge Elementary learned and celebrated Mexico’s Christmas traditions from the comfort of their classroom.
“The objective was to teach the children about how diverse cultures celebrate holidays,” said Ferguson. Seven children in Ferguson’s class are Hispanic, and the class as a whole thought it’d be a good experience to compare and contrast the Christmas traditions in Mexico and the United States.
Las Posadas, which means, “the inns,” is a nine-day celebration in Mexico, celebrating the birth of Jesus. According to tradition, neighbors and family hold parades around a neighborhood and a re-enactment of St. Joseph and Virgin Mary in search of a place to stay in Bethlehem.
Ferguson’s students held their own Posadas parade.
Students walked around the school in costumes singing the Posadas song and knocking on various doors asking if there was room at the inn. Students were able to choose which role they wanted to play in the Posadas parade, ranging from Joseph and Mary, to the angel Gabriel and the three wisemen.
When the students finally found a room, (their own classroom), a fiesta was held. Students broke open a paper mache pi ata that they made in class days before. They also feasted on Mexican sweet bread, (which was brought from a Hispanic market by one of the parents), chips, salsa, peanuts and popcorn ó a good mix of Hispanic and American party foods.
Another Mexican tradition the students learned was the story behind the poinsettia. Students read “The Legend of the Poinsettia,” by Tomie dePaola, a folktale which tells the tale of a poor Mexican girl who went to visit Jesus. According to the legend, the girl couldn’t afford a gift, so she grabbed a handful of weeds, which turned into the bright red poinsettia.
Students made poinsettia placemats with their handprints, and also paper poinsettias.
Six-year-old Yasmine Ferguson, who played Mary in the Posadas parade, said the parade was her favorite activity, but that she also enjoyed learning the meaning behind the poinsettia, a flower she sees everywhere around Christmas.
“It was neat because it represents both countries,” Yasmine said. “I like how the weeds turned into a beautiful flower for Jesus.”
The class also mimicked the traditional Mexican tin ornaments, making their own using foil cupcake holders and tissue paper. They shared the craft with their third-grade reading buddies, also.
Castanets and maracas were also made by the students for the fiesta, which they used as they sang the Posadas song and a Mexican pi ata song.
Using technology to further the students’ understanding of Christmas in Mexico as compared to Christmas in the United States, each student completed a Venn diagram on the computer.
One Hispanic parent visited the classroom and talked to the students about Christmas in Mexico, sharing tales from Las Posadas. One of Ferguson’s students who recently moved from Mexico to Salisbury remembers celebrating the Mexican Posadas with his family.
“We had a big party,” said 7-year-old Oman Amezkuei, who added his favorite part was breaking the pi ata.
“It was intriguing how Christmas is celebrated in Mexico,” said Ferguson. “The hands-on projects were really engaging for the students, and learning of Las Posadas was a very meaningful lesson for them.”
Ferguson and her first- graders immersed themselves in Las Posadas activities for two weeks as part of their social studies work,while also integrate literature, writing and technology. Ferguson said her favorite parts of the lesson were the Posada parade and fiesta.
“The children had the opportunity to actually experience what they learned and were able to incorporate what they made,” Ferguson said.
Ethan Bancroft, 7, said his favorite part was “just about everything.”
“The pi ata was the coolest, and the Posadas parade was fun, too,” Ethan said.
Garrett Morris, 7, really enjoyed the pi ata.
“In Mexico, they put confetti in the pi ata, so when they hit it, it sparkles,” Garrett said, who liked the glitter and confetti in the class’s pi ata.
Six-year-old Alexis Suarez’s favorite part was knocking on the classroom doors asking if there was room.
Millbridge Elementary Principal David Miller was grateful Ferguson used alternative ways of learning different cultures.
“What she’s doing is amazing,” Miller said. “It’s a great experience for kids who normally wouldn’t get to see other cultures.
“It’s nice sometimes to step outside of our comfort zone, and helps us learn and realize that everyone is different, and that’s OK.”

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