Winter Traditions: Smart Start teaches children about celebrations of different cultures

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 8, 2015

By Susan Shinn

Smart Start Rowan

Ever wondered how other cultures celebrate the holiday season? More than 100 children and their caregivers got to explore just that Dec. 2 at Rowan Public Library in a Winter Traditions event sponsored by Smart Start Rowan.

James Bigsby told the children about Christmas and Father Christmas, Lea Silverburg talked about Hanukkah, and Rosa Isabel Dorantes discussed Los Posadas.

Christmas commemorates the birth of Christ, while Hanukkah is the festival of lights. When only enough oil remained to burn a menorah for one night, the oil miraculously lasted for eight nights. Originating in Spain and now celebrated in Mexico and Guatemala, Los Posadas tells the story of Mary and Joseph’s journey to try to find a place to stay after they are turned away.

Smart Start Rowan staff and library staff coordinated the event.

“We have been collaborative partners for years,” said Jane Welch, the library’s outreach supervisor and a Smart Start Rowan board member. “We’ve worked hand in hand. We’re just delighted to partner with them any time.”

In planning the event, Mary Burridge, Smart Start’s program manager, wanted children to understand that people are different, and that it’s important to celebrate those differences.

“The purpose of the Winter Traditions event was to foster acceptance and understanding in our children,” she said. “Cultural diversity is an important concept to grasp during childhood. When children learn about other cultures it helps them to understand, respect and feel engaged in the world. Understanding that people are not all the same enables our children to embrace and value the things that make each person or group of people different.”

Children visited three different stations to learn about each holiday, and to enjoy snacks representative of each special occasion. The children ate cookies and drank juice with Santa, nibbled potato pancakes with applesauce and doughnut holes with Silverburg, and slurped Tosole, a traditional Mexican soup with chicken and hominy with Dorantes.

“They loved that!” Burridge said of the children.

The children also made ornaments for each culture: a poinsettia, which originates in Mexico; a dreidel, a toy that Jewish children love to spin; and a Santa Claus figurine.

“The kids were very engaged,” Burridge noted. “We just love our partnership with the library.”

“It was fun,” said Brayden Lambeth, 4, who attends the N.C. Pre-K program at Morgan Elementary School. “I liked the duck story (read by Mr. Robert) where the duck wore a Santa hat. I got to make crafts and learned about lighting candles on the harmonica.”

Of course, Brayden was trying to say “menorah.”

“There were just enough activities so that the children were engaged but not overwhelmed,” says Starr Lambeth, Brayden’s mom.

“I learned about different traditions and now I understand all about the dreidel,” said Denise Cauble, who attended with grandson Carson. “Until now I thought that Christmas was celebrated the same all around the world.”

“What warmed my heart was there was so much diversity in our attendance,” Welch said. “Cultural barriers do not exist in the eyes of a young child. We are all different, but there’s a plaque in my office that says, ‘If only we could see the world through the eyes of a young child,’ and that’s what I saw at this event.”

Smart Start Rowan is a Rowan County United Way grantee agency.


Freelance writer Susan Shinn lives in Salisbury.