Holidays: Sometimes Happy, Sometimes Not

The holidays are not always a joyful occasion, especially for those facing hardship or stress. In this activity, students share their feelings about the upcoming holidays and consider how they might provide some encouragement for those who are struggling.       

 To the teacher
As the holidays approach, many people are looking forward to spending time with family and friends and sharing in the joys of the season. It is easy to take for granted that everyone is in this happy frame of mind and that all our students are excited to be getting time off from school. This is, after all, the image that the media and advertisers bombard us with from all directions—this time of year is supposed to be joyous.
Unfortunately though, the holiday season may well bring up negative feelings for students and colleagues from broken or unhappy homes. Some may have lost a family member. Many families are still struggling to keep their heads above water in this economy—they are worried about finances and keeping a roof over their heads. (This includes some recent victims of Hurricane Sandy.)  For many people, the holidays can be accompanied by grief, stress or loneliness.
It's important to take all this into consideration as we talk about the holidays in the classroom. Below is a brief classroom activity aimed at helping students recognize the less joyous side of the holiday season and providing some encouragement for those who will be facing hardship this holiday season.


(10 minutes)
Ask your students: What is a word that comes to mind for them as they look ahead to the holidays?
Explain that the holiday season is often associated with positive images, especially in the media. Yet for many people and for many reasons, the holidays are not necessarily joyous. In a go round, ask all students to share a word, image or feeling—positive or not—that comes up for them as they look ahead to the holidays.
Alternatively ask a few volunteers to share their words, images, or feelings, with the rest of the group.


(5 minutes)
Explain that in today's lesson, students will share some of their feelings about the holidays. 


(30 minutes)
Create a feelings "barometer" in your classroom by posting feelings like Stressful, Worried, Sad, Lonely, Depressed, Irritated, Aggravated, Angry, Jealous, etc. on one side of the room and feelings like Joyful, Thankful, Happy, Excited, Delighted, Fulfilled, etc. on the other side of the room.  Use a sheet of paper per feeling with plenty of space underneath for students to add marks to the sheet. Post a couple of blank sheets on each side of the room for students to add additional feelings themselves.
Next ask students to look around the room and notice the various feelings you posted.  As students think of their upcoming holiday (Thanksgiving, Diwali, Al-Hijira, Ashura, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, Yule,  or other holiday that they may or may not observe/celebrate in the coming months), ask them to take a few minutes to think about what feelings they expect to experience during the holiday.
Next ask students to get up out of their seats and either mark anonymously (with a checkmark or star) or with their name the feelings they expect to experience. They can choose as many or as few feelings as they expect to experience.
When students are done marking the feelings they expect to experience during the holidays, ask them to walk around the room and quietly to take in the results. This is known as a gallery walk.  Next reconvene the whole class to debrief this activity.
Ask students: 

  • What was it like having to think ahead to the holidays and marking the feelings you think you'll be experiencing?
  • What did you notice about which feelings people marked?
  • Which feelings have the most marks?  What does that tell us about how students in our classroom are feeling about the upcoming holidays?
  • What are some reasons some people might feel sad or lonely on a holiday?
  • What are things that the rest of us might be able to do to help people who are feeling this way?


(5 minutes)
Ask students to think of a message of encouragement they might give to someone who is feeling lonely or sad in the holiday season.