Wednesday, December 22, 2010

December Holidays Around the World

During this holiday season, we seek respite from the cold days and short nights of winter time as we direct our minds to celebration, goodwill, and the promise of light to come. While most people are familiar with the various traditions of Christmas, there are many other holidays celebrated in December around the world. As you celebrate your own traditions, embrace the whole of humanity by learning more about how others celebrate in this season of wonder. Below is a sampling of December holiday traditions from around the world:

Chanukah is an eight-day Jewish holiday that celebrates the victory of the Maccabees, a small Jewish group, over the Greco-Syrian King more than 2,000 years ago. Jewish tradition dictates that the temple menorah should be kept constantly burning. However, when they were rededicating the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, the Maccabees only found one small jar of oil, enough to keep the menorah burning for one day. The oil burned for eight days, however, until more oil could be prepared. Today, Chanukah is celebrated by lighting a special menorah. One candle is lit for each night of Chanukah. Families exchange presents and gelt (coins) and play dreidel. Latkes (potato pancakes), sufganiyot (doughnuts), and other foods made in oil are served, to remember the miracle of the oil. The dates of Chanukah change from year to year. In 2010, Chanukah was celebrated December 1-9.

Bodhi Day is celebrated by Buddhists on December 8, to honor the day of the Buddha's enlightenment. Buddhists will spend the day meditating. Multicolored lights will decorate the home, to symbolize the many paths to enlightenment, and a candle will be lit. Some families will decorate a ficus tree with multicolored lights, beads (to symbolize the unity of all things) and three shiny bulb ornaments (to symbolize the Three Jewels of Buddhism).

St Lucia is the Swedish festival of light, celebrated on December 13. In Sweden, where the winter nights are very long, St. Lucia is a symbol of light. St. Lucia is seen as the one who brings light into the darkness. On St. Lucia Day, early in the day, the oldest girl in the family dresses in a white robe with a red ribbon around the waist. On her head she wears an evergreen wreathe crown with a circle of 5 candles. She sings a song and brings breakfast to her family – serving special St. Lucia buns, ginger snaps, and coffee or hot chocolate. Outside the home, communities celebrate St. Lucia with processions of children. Girls dress as St. Lucia and boys dress as Star Boys. The children carry candles and sing songs, to help bring in the light.

Dong Zhi, winter solstice, is the second most important festival in China and other East Asian countries. This is a time for family reunion and for stocking up food for the coming winter. The Chinese believe that as the days get longer after Dong Zhi, the Yang (positive things) will also get stronger. Families get together and make and eat Tangyuan, balls of glutinous rice, a symbol of reunion. In North China, dumplings are eaten, and in Taiwan, a special nine-layer cake is made in the shape of an animal. New clothes are worn and gifts are exchanged. People burn ceremonial paper as offerings to the ancestors.

Yalda is the Persian winter solstice celebration, on December 21. Originating in the Zoroastrian tradition, Yalda celebrated the birth of Mithra, the Persian god of light and truth. Under Islam, Yalda lost its religious significance, but it is still celebrated in Iran and other Persian countries as a social holiday. Families gather together and stay up all night, reading poetry, telling stories, playing traditional games, and socializing. Fruit and nuts, particularly watermelon and pomegranates, are set out on a special low table with a wool cover.

Pancha Ganapati is a 5-day Hindu festival, held Dec 21-25, honoring Lord Ganesha, the elephant-headed lord of beginnings and obstacles, patron of the arts, sciences, intellect, and wisdom. A shrine to Ganesh is set up in the main room of the house, and decorated with pine boughs or banana leafs, tinsel, lights, ornaments, and flowers. Each morning, children dress or decorate Ganesh in a new color: first yellow, then blue, red, green, and finally orange. The children will also prepare a tray of sweets, fruit, and incense and present it to Ganesh, while singing. Gifts are given to the children, who place them before the shrine and open them on the fifth day.

Kwanzaa is a week-long African American holiday, celebrated December 26-31, honoring African heritage and culture. Kwanzaa means “first fruits” in Swahili. Each of the seven days of Kwanzaa is dedicated to a different principle: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith. A special candle holder, called a kinara, holds seven candles, one of which is lit each night. The kinara is placed on a straw mat, along with an ear of corn for each child in the family, a basket of fruit, and a unity cup. Gifts are exchanged on the last day of Kwanzaa. The gifts are usually homemade or educational in nature.

Jonkkunu is celebrated in the Caribbean between Christmas and New Years. Traditionally, this was the only time of year that slaves were allowed time to celebrate, so they used the opportunity to celebrate the masquerade traditions brought with them from Africa. Through the years, the celebration took on local characteristics and showed some European influences. Jonkkunu is celebrated with costumed dancers, music, and parades. The biggest celebration is held in the Bahamas, where large Jonkkunu (spelled Junkanoo there) parades, similar to Brazilian Carnivale, are held on Boxing Day (the day after Christmas) and New Years.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Congo Nkisi Nail Figures

As part of our unit on the Artist as Peacemaker, children looked at the role that nkisi nail figures play in keeping the peace in the Congo. Nkisi nail figures are made by the Bakongo people of the Congo. The nail figures are made by carvers and shamans. They are used for a variety of purposes. One purpose is to come to and seal agreements between people who are in a disagreement. The people will come to the shaman to settle an argument. The shaman consults the nkisi figure to come to a decision. The people agree and seal their agreement by pounding nails into the nkisi figure, as a promise to follow its wishes. The nkisi figure is thought to be connected to the spirit world and will bring bad luck to those who break the agreement.

After learning about the Congo Nkisi Figures, students made their own figural sculptures, and used them to seal agreements within the class. We also learned a little about Congo.

Try at Home Activities


Food is a wonderful part of a culture. Each class we will give you a culture-specific recipe that you and your children can make at home. It’s fun trying food from all over the world.

Muamba Nsusu (Congo Chicken Soup)
One chicken, cut up large onion, chopped small can of tomato paste

½ cup natural peanut butter cayenne pepper, to taste palm oil rice

Boil chicken in a large pot of water. Remove the chicken from the pot and take the meat off of the bones. Save the broth. Saute onion in palm oil. Combine one cup of chicken broth, peanut butter, and tomato paste. Stir until smooth. Add the chicken meat to the broth mixture. Stir and simmer until thickened. Season to taste. Serve with cooked rice.


Fly Whisk from Congo. Fly whisks are used all over Africa, to help people keep cool and to swat irritating flies. They have grown to become symbols of authority and prestige. Chiefs often own whisks with highly decorated handles that denote their status. Fly whisks are made of various materials. The whisk itself can be made from horse hair, cow hair, feathers, or other natural materials. Handles are often carved from wood, made from leather or wire, beaded, or decorated in some other way.

Lingala Vocabulary
mbote goodbye kende peace kimia

Online activities and resources

Congo Trek: National Geographic Online Adventure

Congo flag and map coloring pages Art


The Magic Tree: A Tale From the Congo, by Gerald McDermott

Song Of The Mermaid: and Other Folk Tales from the Congo by Angele Kadima-Nzuji Kabwasa

The Magic Flyswatter: A Superhero Tale of Africa, Retold from the Mwindo Epic by Aaron Shepard

Mother Leopard and Her Cubs: A Folk Story from the Democratic Republic of Congo, by Jill Rutter and Fiona Macintosh


Bombenga and Vox Africa, Naluki yo Trop Elodie

Around Town

The Field Museum of Natural History has a nkisi in their Africa exhibit, along with an informative video about the use of the nkisi figure.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Harvest Fest Trivia

As we enter the harvest season, we recognize the universal need to celebrate, give thanks, and acknowledge our dependence on the fruits of the earth. People all over the world commemorate harvest time with festivals. How much do you know about harvest festivals from around the world? Test your knowledge with these harvest festival questions pulled together by art teacher and Global Explorers Kids board member Amy Vecchioni.

1. Homowo is a harvest festival rooted in the Ga peoples' travel westward. After harvesting their crops they celebrate Homowo - literally, "hooting at hunger" - because the years of famine are over. This festival is celebrated in:
A. Jordan
B. Lao
C. Ghana

2. Holi is a harvest festival that celebrates the love story of Krishna and Radha. Often during processionals, figures of Krishna and Radha are sitting on a swing of flowers. People celebrate Holi by throwing red and blue powder at each other. Sometimes they even throw water. This festival is celebrated in:
A. Cambodia
B. Nepal
C. India

3. The Green Corn Festival is a festival of thanksgiving and forgiveness. The first few days are known as Busk - a period of fasting. After the Busk, people celebrate by eating corn, corn tortillas, corn soup, and corn bread. This festival is celebrated by the:
A. Maya
B. Creek
C. Inuit

4. Argungu is a fishing harvest festival. A one-mile stretch of the Argungu River is protected all year long so that everyone can fish for 45 minutes and have an amazing harvest. Canoe races and diving competitions culminate the event. This festival is celebrated in:
A. Nigeria
B. Vietnam
C. Peru

5. The Harvest Moon Festival's origins are a mystery. The tale that accompanies this festival is that Chang Er swallowed a pill to turn into a fairy to escape the pursuit of her husband. It is said that we can see Chang Er in the full moon. The mmon is the symbol of abundance, harmony, and luck. Families celebrate with picnics and moon cakes. The Harvest Moon Festival is celebrated in:
A. Korea
B. China
C. The Philippines

6. Nubaigai is a festival that celebrates a good harvest with a processional. A harvest wreath is carried on a plate with a white linen cloth. The procession sings an old song about how they rescued the crop from a huge bison that tried to devour it. This festival is celebrated in:
A. Lithuania
B. Canada
C. Pakistan

7. Crop Over is a harvest festival featuring an effigy known as Mr. Harding. He is made from trash and wears a top hat, coat, and mask. He symbolizes the cruel gang drivers and the hard times until next crop. Crop Over is celebrated in:
A. Dominican Republic
B. Jamaica
C. Barbados

8. The symbols of Kwanzaa, rooted in Pan-African harvest festivals, are a straw mat, fruits and vegetables, a kinara (seven-branched candle holder), an ear of corn, gifts, the unity cup, and seven candles. What color are the candles?
A. red, black, and yellow
B. red, green, and black
C. red, black, and green

9. This Harvest Festival is celebrated to honor the Tree of Life, the root of all things. The story that accompanies the celebration is that the spirit of the trees could be captured by making use of its branches. Amate, bark paper, is used to paint harvest scenes. Adam and Eve are often painted on amate paper. This harvest festival is celebrated in:
A. Guatemala
B. Mexico
C. Colombia

10. Trung Tru is a harvest festival that focuses on children. In folklore, parents believed that the children had to play by themselves during the growing season. This mid-autumn festival is an opportunity for parents to show their love and appreciation for their children. It is celebrated in:
A. Vietnam
B. China
C. Japan

11.The first American Thanksgiving was a harvest festival celebrated by the Native Americans and the Pilgrims. In addition to foods from the recent harvest, the Native Americans gave the Pilgrims:
A. clothes for winter
B. wood for their fires
C. seeds for spring

12. Yagan Orimi is a harvest festival where people offer prayers not only for a good harvest but for the safe delivery of infants. Yagan Orimi is celebrated in:
A. Japan
B. Malaysia
C. Macedonia

13. The Lavender Festival is a harvest festival that celebrates the lavender crops of the region. This is an educational festival that is filled with perfume demonstrations, distillation workshops, and harvesting showcases. It is celebrated in:
A. Australia
B. France
C. Scotland

14. The Feast of St. Martin of Tours was first held in honor of the Hungarian Saint that, as legend goes, hid in a barn when he heard that he had been appointed bishop. He didn't think he deserved such an honor. The legend says that his hiding place was given away by a honking goose, so each year this harvest festival is celebrated by cooking a roasted goose. The feast is held in:
A. Poland
B. The Netherlands
C. Belgium

15. The festival of Sukkot lasts for seven days. It has three special tree branches - a palm, a willow, and a myrtle - that symbolize uprightness, humility, and faithfulness. Sukkot is celebrated in:
A. Wales
B. Ukraine
C. Israel

16. Lammas is the celebration of bread. It is a festival that thanks nature for its wheat harvest and asks for a safe winter. Lammas is celebrated in:
A. Ireland
B. France
C. Finland

17. In Germany there is a famous harvest festival that celebrates the cowherds returning from the mountains. The animals are adorned with flowers and the first straws of hay are hung over the doors of barns with the saying "This is food for the dead." Another famous German harvest festival is:
A. KristKindl
B. Oktoberfest
C. Fasching

answers: 1. C, 2. C, 3. B, 4. A, 5. B, 6. A, 7. C, 8. B, 9. B, 10. A, 11. C, 12. A, 13. A, 14. B, 15. C, 16. A, 17. B

For more information on harvest festivals around the world, visit and Family Culture.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Tibetan Prayer Flags

Internal peace is a central theme in Tibetan art, where a main focus of the Tibetan Buddhist religion is to strive for peace with the universe (nirvana), free of anger and other afflictive states. Prayer flags are one form of Tibetan art that focus issues of peace. Prayer flags -- special flags that are block printed by Buddhist Masters with matras, prayers, and good luck symbols and words -- have been made in Tibet for thousands of years. They are planted to bring happiness and peace to those around. The flags are hung outside where they can blow in the wind. It is said that the wind carries the prayers out over the countryside and brings goodwill to everyone around. Prayer flags always come in groups of five, in colors symbolizing the five elements: yellow = earth; green = water; red = fire; white = air; and blue = space.

Global Explorers Kids has adapted the idea of Tibetan prayer flags, helping children to create "Flags of Peace." The children design images of peace for the world, then block print them on cloth flags. The children at Waters Elementary School printed their flags, then hung them in the school garden during a simple ceremony where they shared their thoughts on peace, then sampled some Asian snacks. The photo above shows some of their flags hanging in the garden.

Sand mandalas are another form of Tibetan art that focuses on internal peace. Mandala means circle, polygon, community, or connection in Sanskrit, the ancient language of India. Mandalas are special symmetric circles with geometric designs that represent the universe. They are used by Tibetan Buddhists as an aid to meditation. Mandalas made from sand are unique to Tibetan Buddhism. They are said to have positive healing energies, which extend to the whole world. After a sand mandala is completed, it is swept up and dispersed into flowing water – to symbolize the impermanence of life and further spread its healing energies. Students can explorer the idea of the mandala by creating geometric patterns within a circle, or try their hand at creating patterns with sand.

Tibetan Resources

Tibetan Vocabulary
Hello tashi delek goodbye kaley shu peace zhi bde

Online activities and resources
Video slideshow of Tibetan Prayer Flags
Online interactive Mandala
Video – Global Grover in Tibet
Greatest Places: Tibet
Video slide show of Tibet
Video of creation of a sand mandala
Video of Tibetan monks chanting over sand mandala
Tibetan folktales

The Mountains of Tibet, by Mordicai Gerstein
Favorite Children's Stories from China & Tibet, by Lotta Carswell Hume and Koon-Chiu Lo
Where is Tibet? by Gina Halpern
All The Way to Lhasa: A Tale from Tibet, by Barbara Helen Berger
Tibetan Tales for Little Buddhas, by Naomi C. Rose
The Boy Who Had a Dream: A Nomadic Folk Tale from Tibet, by Ringu Tulku Rinpoche and Pankaj Thapa
The Three Silver Coins: A Story from Tibet, by Veronica Leo, Tashi Daknewa
Tibet: The Land; Tibet: The People; Tibet: The Culture, three books by Bobbie Kalman

Eternal Journey: Authentic Music from Tibet, Various Artists
Tibet Tibet, Yungchen Lhamo
Voice of Tibet, Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche
Tibetan Sacred Temple Music, Eight Lamas from Drepung

Around Town
Tibet Center Chicago, 6073 N. Paulina, Chicago, IL 60660, sometimes hosts special events.

Welcome to our new (old) blog!

Welcome to our new (old) blog! In order to make our blog the most useful, without being redundant, Global Explorers Kids will use the blog to share information on bringing cultural education through the arts to children. For information about Global Explorers Kids events visit our website and/or facebook page.

In the upcoming weeks, we'll share examples about how artists around the world act as peacemakers through their art, offering resources and activities. Please let us know what types of information you'd like us to include in the future, or share your ideas with us.

Happy explorations!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

A Culinary Expedition: a fundraiser to benefit Global Explorers Kids

Please join us as we take you on a mouthwatering culinary expedition through various countries! Chef Hugh Amano, chef and author of Food on the Dole ( and his assistant Ariel Diamond of Green Zebra, will be preparing hors d'oeuvres and dishes native to Thailand, Hungary, Mexico and Japan. Christopher Becerra will construct cocktails and pair wines to accompany this family style dinner.

This is not only a chance to eat well and learn about culture through food and spirits, but also to share an intimate food experience with friends and neighbors. Come, see, and taste for yourself the bounty that other cultures have to offer.

Surprise musical guest!

Date: Thursday, June 4, 2009
Time: 6:30 pm- 9:30.
Location: 4442 N Maplewood Ave. Chicago, IL, 60625
Price: $40 per person includes family style meal with wine pairings.
Please RSVP by May 20, 2009 to
Seating is limited; please reserve as soon as possible!

Sponsors: Metropolis Coffee, Harvest Time Foods, Whole Foods, Uncommon Ground and Andy’s Fruit Ranch.

Andy’s Fruit Ranch
Harvest Time Foods
Metropolis Coffee
Uncommon Ground

Friday, April 24, 2009

Upcoming Events

Bring your kids to Kids in the Square on 4/25!!!

Global Explorers Kids invites you to join us in Giddings Plaza (Lincoln Ave. and Giddings St. in Lincoln Square, just south of Lawrence Ave.) on Saturday, April 25 from 11am to 1pm. We'll have great art activities for your kids to enjoy! And on the same day...

Waters School Market Day!!!
Global Explorers Kids invites you to join us at Waters School on Saturday, April 25 from 10am to 4pm. The fun will be at 4540 N. Campbell just south of Wilson Ave. We'll be showcasing our upcoming Uthando Project.

Global Explorers: A Culinary Expedition!!!
This very special event will be a fundraiser to benefit Global Explorers Kids on Thursday, June 4 from 6:30 to 9:30. $40 includes hors d'oeuvres, dinner, dessert, plus wine and cocktail pairings. More information is forthcoming.