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Students 'travel' worldwide to celebrate holidays

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Students at Hawthorne Elementary School learned there are similarities and differences between Hanukkah and Christmas, what Santa Clause is called in Spanish, and what people in Mexico use in place of stockings.

The presentations were part of Hawthorne's third annual "Deck the Halls" holidays around the world tour.

The tour provides each class an opportunity to research holiday customs, such as Hanukkah, Kwanza, as well as various celebrations of Christmas from around the world. The class then does a display on its particular culture in the hallway outside its classroom.

"It's not just a fun way to share the different customs, but it's also a way to [teach] them diversity as well," said Dr. Brenda Stanford, the school's coordinator for the annual event. "[The teachers] incorporate the program into the way they teach the Georgia Performance Standards. It also allows us to have an opportunity to travel around the world without leaving the building."

In one classroom, students learned about Japanese holiday customs, while traditional Chilean customs were discussed one door down the hall.

One group of students learned of a unique custom in Venezuela. It involves tying a string around a person's toe and leaving part of the string hanging out a window so people can walk by and pull on it.

"It's [purpose is] to pull the bad spirits out, and let the good ones come in," said Miguel Lara, 11, whose family moved to Georgia from Venezuela when he was 2.

Lara said other Venezuelan holiday customs include serving creamed rice with cinnamon, setting off fireworks, and roller skating to church. Venezuela was not the only Spanish-speaking country whose customs were on display. Several classes had displays of Mexican customs, including the tradition of putting shoes out by the fireplace, and finding them filled with presents on Christmas morning.

One teacher, who is a native of Chile, gave presentations on holiday customs from her native country.

"We celebrate Christmas in Chile the same way you celebrate it here in America, except we have different scenery and different weather," said Maria Guzman, a second-grade teacher. "We're in winter here, but in my home country, summer is just about to start."

The holiday displays also extended to the popular observances as Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. Elaine Henderson, a second-grade teacher, compared Hanukkah and Christmas with visitors to her classroom on Thursday.

She explained both holiday celebrations are based on religious legends of miracles happening. Hanukkah is based on the Jewish legend of a one-day supply of oil burning for eight days during a time of war. Christmas is based on the immaculate birth of Jesus Christ.

Henderson explained both religions have a star which holds specific meaning to followers of each faith. Jewish people have the Star of David, while Christians have the Star of Bethlehem.

As the students walked from one classroom to the next, and looked at hall displays, they expressed an understanding about their classmates.

"I thought it was good," said Kassidy Addie, a fifth-grader. "I learned a lot about the different cultures we have here at our school."

After the tour came to an end, Stanford began to ponder which class did the best job on their decorations.

"They were all really good," she said. "It [the tour] gives us a closer look at the people in each classroom, and allows us to find out more about their cultural backgrounds."