Friday, December 30, 2011

Los 12 días de la Navidad

Growing up, I figured "The Twelve Days of Christmas" from the song were the 12 days leading up to Christmas Day.  I didn't really think about it much more than "must have been some funny old-fashioned tradition".  I should have known better.  After all, I was fascinated when someone told me in elementary school that the 3 Wise Men didn't actually get to where Jesus was until Jan. 6, "Epiphany".  From then on, I cracked up my parents by insisting that we set up the Wise Men waaaay at the corner of our Nativity scene and gradually move them closer after Christmas.  (A tradition I continue today, to the amusement of my husband.)

My Nativity: The Wise Men have moved a little closer after Christmas, but still aren't there yet!
I also knew from my Serbian grandmother that "Serbian Christmas" is on January 6 as well, and all decorations at their house were always left up until then.  However, it wasn't until I became a Spanish teacher that I realized... THIS is the REAL "12 Days of Christmas"!  I had even tried in the past to count between Christmas and Jan.6 but that came out to 13, 14 if you counted from Christmas Eve... but then I finally figured it out.  The Reyes Magos come OVERNIGHT on the night of Jan.5; they got there at night on Jan. 5, and that IS twelve!

This is what I LOVE about the Christmas season in the Spanish-speaking world: Christmas isn't the end, it's the beginning.  To me, one of the worst things about American Christmas is that it's over so fast -- all that excitement leading up to it, and BAM, it's over in one morning.  Back to normal just like that.  But in the Spanish-speaking world, it's still going full throttle until the 3 Reyes Magos come overnight on Jan.5!  That feels more like the true meaning of Christmas -- just the beginning of something wondrous and exciting.  It shouldn't be "oh good, He came", but "Wow, He's here, let's keep celebrating!"

Plus, the fact that the Christmas season isn't over at Christmas is such a lovely "your way of doing things isn't the only way" teaching moment.  I absolutely love chances to turn my students' paradigms upside down, and this is such a fun one!  This year on the day before break, I created an interactive lesson on Moodle for my 7th graders with a selection of YouTube clips, pictures, and links to websites for each part of the Christmas season in Spain.  Anyone who thinks you can't "really teach" on the day before break should've come into my classroom that day, because they were fascinated.  They worked in pairs to research a certain part of the season (Christmas Lottery, Christmas Eve, Christmas, Día de los Inocentes, New Year's Eve, and 3 Kings' Day). Then we jigsawed and they shared their information so everyone got to hear about the whole season.  During both parts, they were picture-perfect engaged kids -- reacting, laughing, connecting, wondering.  They had such fun learning that they forgot it was only an hour until winter break!

Of course, my other favorite part of any holiday is making culture real for the kids.  For the past several years, I've brought Rosca de Reyes in to school on Jan.6 for my kids to eat, which they thoroughly enjoy, and not just because it's yummy. "So they're really eating this right now in Mexico?!" one of my past 6th graders exclaimed, eyes wide with astonishment.  I get the giant ones that have several plastic baby Jesus' inside, so usually at least one student in every class finds one in their piece -- more proof that what we've learned about is "real"!  This year we have another twist too: my first 7th grade class was so fascinated with the fact that Spanish kids get their presents on Jan.6 from the Reyes Magos that they begged me to let them have a "Secret Kings" gift exchange.  I would never ask a class to do this, but I couldn't resist their excited faces!  We made it optional and the students organized it, and they're super excited. At least now they'll always remember that kids in Spanish-speaking countries don't get most of their presents from Santa OR on Christmas Day!  

So while you're wading through your Christmas aftermath of wrapping paper and boxes, remember that Christmas has just begun in so many other parts of the world!  Spanish-speaking children will be releasing balloons with their letters to Melchoir, Gaspar, and Baltazar, and anxiously awaiting the arrival of Los Reyes on the eve of Jan.5!  (watch in the video below, sorry it's not subtitled in English!)

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

"Like a picture print by Currier & Ives"

Last night, the large but cozy group of people circled around the Christmas tree broke into a hubbub of plates, dipping, grabbing, complimenting.  Chatter and laughter filled the house from all corners as small groups scattered at tables enjoyed everything from chips and queso to crab cakes to brownies with peanut butter fudge on top!  Then, from all the corners, togetherness again: this time around the piano.  Voices sweetly lifted in songs all hearts knew:  "Silent Night", "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing!", "We Three Kings", "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear", and more.  Eyes met around the room, exchanging kindness and love and strengthening connections through the joyful music in the air.
a small part of the group singing carols: united in peace, joy, and love
This must be how people celebrated Christmas long ago, I thought.  The warmth of hundreds of years of relationships spread through me.  People gathered with friends and neighbors to re-connect and celebrate with food, stories, and carols.  I felt like this group and this house could be one of the happy lighted buildings in the old-fashioned village under Harry and Barbara's tree.  We look just like a Norman Rockwell scene!  Warmth and light and joy and love.

Was the party one of these little lit buildings brought to life?
My husband and I were the youngest people at the party by at least 20 years, but we never feel out of place with our alumni band friends.  Especially last night.  We felt happy and fortunate to be welcomed into an old-fashioned Christmas celebration full of tradition.  Sure, the food was made with electric ovens and microwaves, and the song lyrics were printed off the internet for those who didn't know all the words, but the atmosphere was timeless.  Maybe someday we will carry on the tradition of a Christmas carol party with future generations of band alumni!  A scene like this must live on, in more than just prints and figurines.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Goodness and light

our tree, full of light and  hope
Christmas lights are my favorite metaphor for the Christmas season: tiny lights shimmering through the darkness.  Their brightness beckons through the cold black night: "Here is warmth and light and happiness!"  You are drawn toward them, drawn to the hope and magical possibilities they bring.  That's what this season feels like to me: something wonderful is shining bright ahead in the darkness.

I've always loved Advent just as much as I love Christmas itself.  Not Advent like going to church and lighting those candles on the wreath, but Advent in its purest sense: the anticipation and hopefulness that permeate this season.  At this time of year, I feel a sense of hope and possibility that just isn't there the rest of the year.  With Christmas coming, anything is possible.  True peace and love and happiness for everyone: it's coming, it could happen!  Something is coming to change the world!  Is this how the shepherds and wise men felt?  I like to think so; I like to think the atmosphere was just like the song "Do You Hear What I Hear?" where everyone spreads the word that "He will bring us goodness and light".

If only everyone could feel this hope and promise all year long, it might really come true.  I don't mean that everyone has to believe in Christmas or be a Christian, but if everyone could believe in the possibility of peace; if everyone of all cultures could come together and see each other with love instead of fear.  After all, the "3 Wise Kings" were men from a different culture who traveled far with the hope of a future filled with peace.

One of my favorite Christmas songs captures the feeling much better than I can describe, so please enjoy:

I love the part where they join together to sing: "Every child must be made aware / every child must be made to care / care enough for his fellow man / to give all the love that he can..."  The imagery of David Bowie and Bing Crosby, who were so different, coming together to sing those words makes it even more powerful.  This is one of my goals (or at least, idealistic hopes and wishes!) as a teacher and one of the reasons I feel that teaching culture is essential in the language classroom.  I strive to help my students become aware of other ways of life in a way that leads them to respect others enough to treat them with kindness and love.

"Peace on earth, can it be?"

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Time and Change

This year, a 38-year-old chapter in the history of the Ohio State University Marching Band is ending: Dr. Jon Woods is retiring after 28 years as its director. (Plus 10 years as assistant director before that!)  Most current and former band members, myself included, literally cannot imagine the band without Dr. Woods.  (He became director the year I was born!)  What will it be like to not have his grandfatherly, good-natured yet demanding presence around?  What would gameday morning be like without seeing him goad you into stretching exercises on the field at 6:30am by yelling "ENTHUSIASM!!!" and bursting into jumping jacks and push-ups himself?  (Now as you're picturing that, remember he's a gray-haired 70-something who usually walks with a shuffle!)  Countless college and high school marching bands have been influenced by his innovations, and he has certainly played a huge part in contributing to TBDBITL's tradition of excellence.

While he will continue teaching in the School of Music through June, marching band season is basically over after the bowl game and he has already directed his final home game.  At that game, he received the biggest honor the band can give someone: dotting the "i" in Script Ohio.  (At the beginning of the video, you can see him talking with OSU President Gordon Gee, and then you can see the i-dot from field view.  He is lead out by the drum major and the senior sousaphone player who gave up the spot.)  I was able to be at the game and his i-dot brought tears to my eyes.

Tonight, we (current band members + alumni) are going to Dr. Woods' house to surprise him with a serenade in honor of the end of his final marching band season.  This is something the band traditionally does to honor important people who are leaving the university: coaches, presidents, athletic directors, etc.  We surprise the person by showing up at their house and putting on a little private concert for them of all our traditional school songs.  When I was in band, we played at Athletic Director Andy Geiger's house when he retired.  The most famous instance of a serenade was in 1987 when the band played for Earle Bruce the night that he got fired on M*ch*g*n week.  Rachel Maddow actually talked about this moment in her show on MSNBC earlier this year:

Hopefully that gives you an idea of what it's all about!  It's a surprise to Dr. Woods and I'm not sure how he'll react but I'm sure he will be happy and honored.  We are so excited to be a part of this traditional "thank-you" to him.   It's one of those wonderful moments where I can feel all the honor and tradition of the band's history flowing through me, reminding that it's so much bigger than my own experience.  In the words of our Alma Mater: "Time and change will surely show / how firm thy friendship, O-HI-O."

Friday, December 2, 2011


The first week of new classes is always a roller coaster: getting settled at a new school, trying to get to know kids' names and personalities, establishing procedures and expectations, working toward a community atmosphere...etc.  However, there's always also a hopeful feeling of a fresh start: "anything is possible".  Most of all, the kids spread around a buzz of contagious excitement.

the superstars board (empty)
So, here are some highlights from the first full week at School #2:

  • A sweet little blonde-haired 6th grader looks up at me in the middle of hangman yesterday and exclaims, "This is my new favorite class!"
  • A super-enthusiastic (and, I can already tell, overachieving) 7th grader stops on her way out today and remarks, "This class is really fun!"
  • I've been a lot better about "catching kids being outstanding" and putting their names up on the superstar board.  They've all been suuuuper excited to get their certificate, and they also love choosing the fun cut-out shapes for their names!  (They get a little paper shape with their name on it on a bulletin board in my room, and they get a certificate to take home that explains what they did that was outstanding.)  This was a new idea this year and I did ok with it last trimester but my goal was to try to recognize kids sooner and more often this time.  So far I'm doing pretty well!
  • Several teachers have made a point to mention that the students have been excited about Spanish, enjoying it, and using phrases, singing songs, during the rest of the day.
  • Two 6th graders spontaneously used the "word-of-the-day" (posted on the front board from suggestions from the kids) in conversations today!
  • Best part: Several girls in a couple different classes keep greeting each other with the hug and two air kisses when we practice greetings.  And when they walk into class!  I even spotted a couple of 6th graders at lunch teaching their other friends (who aren't taking Spanish) how to do it and why!  (More proof that integrating culture is essential and beneficial!)