The holiday season is upon us, and as the popular song goes, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. While Christmas is the dominant winter holiday in America, it isn’t the only holiday celebrated this time of year. Many cultures and religions also celebrate holidays right here in our communities. Girl Scouts on a mission to change their world can only benefit from learning about traditions that are different from their own.
If you’re feeling under-qualified to teach your girls about other religions or holidays, never fear! You don’t have to be an expert on world religions to explore with your troop. The most important takeaway for your girls is a general understanding that there are other religions and holidays and that they are equally deserving of respect and consideration. These are important tenets of the Girl Scout Law—which will be easy for your girls to grasp!
When I was a Girl Scout, my troop leaders shared the story of Hanukkah with our troop. Years later, I still remember it like it was yesterday because the message was simple, fascinating, and relevant. Learning about Hanukkah in the safe space of Girl Scouts created pathways to connect with friends in a more meaningful way. (And also to compare notes on the things that mattered the most to us at the time: Presents and candy!)
Where to Begin?
Start by asking the girls in your troop what holidays they celebrate and see where it takes you. If different holidays are celebrated within your troop, connect with families to see if they would be willing to share their traditions. If everyone celebrates the same holidays, have the girls do some research in your community to find out where they could learn about other holidays. Ask your religious leaders for tips—they’re usually pretty connected! You can also check with your service unit to see if there are troops in your community who celebrate different holidays. Maybe you could have a get-together to share traditions between troops!
Winter Holiday Starter List
Some holidays to learn about this month include:
- Hanukkah, a Jewish holiday commemorating the triumph of the Jews over their oppressors and the miracle of one day’s worth of oil lasting for eight days.
- Kwanzaa, a non-religious cultural celebration created in 1966 to honor and help establish a sense of unity among diverse African American communities.
- Christmas, observed around the world by Christians and non-Christians alike to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.
- Winter solstice, a holiday with astronomical, cultural, and religious roots that marks the return of the sun as the earth turns in its orbit, bringing more daylight each day.
More to Explore
Many of the world’s major religions celebrate some of their most important holidays at different times of the year:
- Muslims observe Ramadan in the spring with a month of focusing on faith and generosity through fasting during the daylight hours.
- Buddhists celebrate the birth, enlightenment, and death of the Buddha in the spring during the festival of Vesak.
- Christians celebrate Easter in the spring—the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
- In the fall, Hindus honor Diwali—an Indian festival of lights commemorating the triumph of good over evil.
- Jews laud their most holy holidays in the fall during Rosh Hashanah—the Jewish new year—and Yom Kippur—the day of atonement.
Learning about other cultures and traditions exposes Girl Scouts of all ages to new ways of understanding and appreciating their world. However you choose to celebrate, we wish you a joy-filled holiday season. We would love to hear about your winter celebrations! Share your stories with us on our website or on Facebook (@GirlScoutsRV).
Catherine Mandle – Catherine is a Volunteer Resource Specialist at Girl Scouts River Valleys. She was a Girl Scout as a child and is now the troop treasurer for her daughter’s Girl Scout Junior troop (which she started and led for their first three years). She has dual bachelor’s degrees from the University of Minnesota in anthropology and American Indian studies. Catherine has two children with special needs, including autism spectrum disorders, ADHD, and food allergies. She loves to knit, and camps and hikes with her family as often as possible.