Are you looking for a fun Christmas unit study for multiple ages? For my family, I have designed one that incorporates Christmas traditions around the world — geography, history, culture, music and missions! It’s easy – all you need is a bit of ingenuity and a little determination.
The key ingredients for a Christmas Around the World unit study are the following topics:
- Story of Christ’s Birth
Those things are easily found with a quick internet search but the next part is what makes it something your children will always remember.
You have the key to finding out personal details about a country and making it memorable: missionaries! If your family does not know any missionaries personally, this is
a wonderful time of year to start. Talk to your pastor to get some suggestions. The holidays are often a lonely time of year for many missionaries and they would love to receive some personal correspondence. Take the time to write them an encouraging e-mail. Tell them about your family. They would love to hear how you have become interested in learning about missions. Most missionaries that I know have a desire to give the next generation – aka your kids! – an interest in missions and a heart for reaching out to the lost.
Be sensitive to the missionaries’ busy schedule – narrow it down to just a few questions about how Christmas is celebrated in the area they serve. You will be amazed how
nearly every culture has some form of Christmas tradition.
If you don’t have a giant wall map, find one online to print and hang on your wall. When you decide what missionary you are going to correspond with, mark the country on
your big map and if possible, pin a picture of the missionary family beside it. Perhaps your family will want to help the missionary family with a financial
gift – it’s a good habit for all of us to develop.
Between family members and friends that we support financially and missionaries that we know through our own missions work we have an abundance to choose from. In past
Christmas seasons, we have studied Mexico, Poland, China, and Germany with this unit study.
Here are just a few interesting Christmas-around-the-world ideas that our missionary friends shared with us recently:
Switzerland: The freshly cut Christmas tree is decorated just a few days prior to Christmas. The apples and oranges that are hung are heavy so the pine branches hang
low to the ground. Flickering flames of candlelight give a beautiful glow to the Christmas tree, but a pail of water is kept close by just in case the tree
catches on fire!
On Christmas morning the choir walks in the cobblestone streets of the old cities and sings carols in front of apartment buildings and homes where church members reside. Shortly after daybreak the choir returns to the church for hot coffee, chocolate and snacks just before the Christmas Day Service.
Little Swiss children think that St. Nicholas is the person who brings gifts and he comes to their houses on December 6th and puts small gifts in their socks or shoes. The gifts inside the stockingsare usually edible gifts like fruit or nuts.
Central African Republic (CAR): This African country is bordered by the Congo, Cameroon, Chad and South Sudan. For Christmas, each church is divided up by neighborhoods. You can tell who is from the same neighborhood because they all buy the same cloth and make matching clothing in time for the Christmas celebration! Each neighborhood group writes a new song – and an accompanying dance – telling about the Christmas story and they perform it in front of the church wearing their new
Extended families get together, just like in the United States, but the meal is much more simple. A roast pig or goat is a special treat for the Christmas dinner.
Did you know that there are 71 living (still-spoken) languages just in the CAR? Bible translators are working throughout the country. Can you find how many of those
languages have Scripture? Here’s a link — http://www.ethnologue.org/home.asp — where you can find information about different languages.
Germany: Martin Luther, the famous German theologian, first introduced the Christmas tree to German homes about 400 years ago. Some German families decorate their homes with spruce and pine bows and hang apples, oranges and homemade cookies from the bows. For the special holiday dinner, goose or duck is served, or sometimes rabbit, along with red cabbage and dumplings. Sweet treats – from stollen to homemade candies – are made to enjoy after the Christmas Eve service.
Sadly, despite the great Christian history within the country of Germany, the humanistic influence has had a great effect and many German children are taught these
Christmas traditions without ever knowing the real meaning behind them.
Peru: “Two Christmas Miracles” is a story about how two missionary ladies in the Amazonian jungle gave the Gospel to the Cashibo people. Read itto your whole family — http://seedsowersthebook.com/excerpt-from-seed-sowers/.
Ivory Coast, West Africa: The local church is growing as the Word of God is translated and taught throughout the country, as well as in neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso. The Christians here celebrate all night long on Christmas Eve. Everyone goes to the church and the evening is filled with worship, singing, and Scripture reading. Christmas Day is very quiet with perhaps just a few little gifts given to children. On Bonne Annee, the first of January, the biggest holiday gift exchange takes place.
These western African countries have been blessed with extensive missionary work for the past several decades. It’s easy to think that more civilized countries, like France
or Germany, would have a stronger Christian influence than Third World countries. But that is not necessarily true.
Japan: This small island nationhas very little evangelical influence, so many Japanese people do not celebrate Christmas. Those who do decorate a tree light real candles and use homemade decorations. Sometimes the local priest will collect gifts and deliver them to the children.
Fifteen different languages, as well as their dialects, are spoken in Japan. While some those have the Bible or at least portions of Scripture, the country is greatly in need of a spiritual revival and is in need of willing missionaries.
Mexico: Las posadas is the well-known Mexican Christmas procession where actors playing Mary and Joseph go from home to home searching for a place for the Christ child to be born. Bunuelos (boon-WAY-los) are sweet tortilla strips that are enjoyed especially for the holidays. Another traditional Mexican food for Christmas Eve is a dish known as bacalao a la vizcaina. This colorful dish includes salted codfish that has been dried, potatoes, tomatoes, onions, olives, capers and bright red bell peppers. Mexican families love to open their homes to others for Christmas Eve so plenty of food is made available.
Some Mexican Christians are struggling under tighter restrictions, so this would be the ideal opportunity to pray for these fellow believers.
Mission organizations like Voice of the Martyrs (www.persecution.com) has kid-friendly resources for many individual countries that will give your kids an interest in
missions needs around the world. Choose one country to focus on for this holiday season – you will find out many amazing facts, not just Christmas traditions!
Christmas is the time that we focus on the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ. His very last commandment before He went back to heaven is found in Mark 16:15. Missions is
not an option for Christians, it’s required! Let this Christmas Around the World unit study spur your children on to pray and consider how the Lord wants them to be involved in missions.
One of the greatest gifts you can give your children is to teach them to have a heart for the lost. More than 300 million people around the world have no access to Scripture in their language. As you learn about Christmas traditions around the world, your children will learn more about the people in those countries as well. Perhaps the seed you plant in their hearts will be what the Lord uses to give them a heart for spreading the Gospel.
That’s the kind of Christmas gift that lasts an eternity!
Gwen Toliver is the homeschooling mother of eight and the author of Seed Sowers: Gospel-Planting Adventures. The Toliver family serves full-time with Wycliffe Associates. Her family/ministry blog is Tolivers To Texas. More information about Seed Sowers, a compilation of twenty-one modern-day missionary adventure stories, is available at the Seed Sowers book website.