New Yorker’s love to celebrate, and with residents from around the world, there is always a holiday just around the corner. From early spring through autumn (roughly St. Patrick’s Day to Columbus Day), nearly every weekend seems to be marked with a parade heralding some ethnic community on their special holiday. You’ll find parades for the Greeks, Puerto Ricans, Germans, Dominicans, and Persians. Even my Scots sport their kilts and bagpipes for the annual Tartan parade in April.
Just yesterday we observed “Canada Day.” (For the uninitiated, July 1, 1867, the enactment of the British North American Act united three British colonies into a single country—Canada.) New York is filled with scores of Canadians, with functions all about town. Canada Day is bookended by the Midsummer celebrations of the Scandinavians and Bastille Day on July 14—and of course our own Independence Day.
As I walked to work the other day, I thought about the wonderful ways that families—in New York and beyond—could use days like Canada Day as “teachable moments” for the young people in their lives. I can envision countless fun approaches that parents can take in capitalizing on red-letter dates to teach kids history and culture: Why not use a national holiday as an occasion to cook a creative meal featuring the cuisine of the country or region being honored, with a little history thrown in for good measure….a Mexican meal on Cinco de Mayo or gumbo and a king cake for Mardi Gras. If a child’s birthday falls near a holiday, perhaps a “themed” birthday celebration could offer a distinctive flare to the get-together. A February birthday party might double as a Lunar New Year Celebration. Costumes and “knick knacks” of all sorts are available on EBay or through party stores or websites such as the Oriental Trading Company.
Other resources at home or in town can open a dialogue about world events. Seasonal changes and solstice celebrations might take a family to their local museum of natural history or zoo. And nearly any red letter date can be an invitation to visit the local library or peruse films on Netflix. To note Australia Day, how about a double feature of Crocodile Dundee and Australia. Appropriate for an older child, Rabbit Proof Fence could stimulate a discussion the treatment of Aboriginal/Native people in Australia and America, too.
The possibilities of marrying holidays and education are limitless. Have fun!