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!)

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