Friday Five Favorites: Christmas Traditions

childrens-choir-hiI don’t think very many people are likely to be reading their blog rolls or checking their Twitter feeds as per usual today, but I did want to write a post every day in December, so here I am, holding myself to that.

Here are five of my favorite Christmas (or around Christmas) traditions:

    • Stair carols. I come from a big family. When I hit my teenage years I still had very, very young siblings who were very, very excited about Santa coming. But a teen has a very different circadian rhythm, and my teen siblings and I may have been up very late the night before playing elves. So to compromise between morning excitement and morning need-to-sleep in, stair singing developed. Basically, kids weren’t allowed to come all the way downstairs until everybody was up and awake – that way no one got any kind of head start on stockings. A time was set as to when it was “okay” to deliberately rouse teenagers, which was significantly later than the little kids would and could get up. So the little kids, not allowed to directly interact with the teens, would sit on the stairs (because why stay in your room?) and sing all the Christmas songs they could think of at the top of their lungs. It could take a full thirty minutes to make it through a rendition of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” with all the false starts, stops, and wrongly remembered lyrics.
    • Christmas morning elf. This is not the elf on the shelf who is spying on your kids. “Christmas morning elf” is something that my in-laws have always done. Every Christmas someone is designated to be the elf, and has the task of passing out presents. They have to read tags and deliver the gifts to others (possibly in a particular order). They have to make sure people get to take turns — no giving one person gifts twice in a row. The first Christmas morning I spent with my in-laws felt extremely organized and methodical compared to the “storm the tree and take what’s yours” atmosphere of my childhood. It was peaceful and relaxing. Plus, being the elf is a job kids take very seriously, while adults can lean back with mugs of coffee.
    • Tree trimming. My family always had a party to trim the tree — we would make appetizers, serve punch, and make an event of it. (Sometimes it would make an event of itself — the tree sometimes got heavy on one side and fell down.) My in-laws don’t go to quite that extent, but welcome help in putting up the ornaments. As someone who does not get too much into holiday decorations (we do not have a tree in our apartment, for instance), I appreciate using division of labor to make a task that might get tedious go faster. I also appreciate approaching it like a party and not like a chore. I also appreciate that when bad things happen to the tree, like falling down, we all feel invested because we all worked together on it, so we all will work together to fix it.
    • Food. My in-laws always have julgrot served with fruit on Christmas Eve. This is rooted in my mother-in-law’s mother coming from a very Swedish family. My mother-in-law (and this year, my sister-in-law) likes making julgrot because it is an extremely easy but very delicious meal. And because Christmas Eve can be very, very busy with other plans, it can be a relief to make something so simple for the evening meal.
    • Being open to other traditions. This year we attended a Mass at a local Catholic college, which makes sense because we’re out-of-towners, so we don’t belong to a parish around here. The college is run by an order of nuns, and many members of their order come from Bangladesh, Nepal, and India. The second reading was read in Bangla (although it was printed in English in the program too). And during the offertory, several students and acolytes performed a ritual rooted in South Asian traditions called aarti (though it was spelled aroti in the program). I really enjoy this incorporation of other languages, cultures, and traditions. Firstly, I have firsthand experience of living in a different country, so I relate to the feeling of needing to recreate some of your cultural traditions in a new setting, to feel connected back to where you came from. I really like that it felt very easy to make room for that at this church we went to. Also, I sometimes struggle with tradition — it can have a lot of positive elements, but I have also had negative experiences with some traditions too. I think being open and flexible with and to traditions helps temper that for me.

      Being open to new traditions has helped my family grow, develop, and evolve traditions as our lives have changed. Like I said, there are a lot of us, so buying Christmas gifts for everyone would be expensive and impractical. We also have moved to different parts of the country (and world, in some cases!). So we do a Secret Santa style gift exchange managed through We make arrangements to send gifts or meet in person to open them. If we can’t be with each other, then we take “unboxing” style videos of opening our gifts and share them on social media. So technology has helped us stay connected to each other!

Well, I am totally aware that this post has a definite unfinished quality to it, but I am going to leave it as it is. I have fulfilled my obligation to myself for the day, and being a holiday, it is important that I also step away and give of myself to my loved ones. Whether or not you celebrate Christmas, I hope you have a lovely day!


Friday Five Favorites: Songs

12456933691942977095jeronimo_audio-cassette.svg.medSo here are five of my favorite songs right now. They are not my five favorite songs, they are five of my favorite songs. “Favorite songs” is a category simply too much in flux — I swear it changes day to day. Plus, some of them are not appropriate for listening to when kids are around. The following five songs pass the classroom test.

Starting with…

What Makes the Breakfast? by Mike Phirman

This is my favorite song to share out right now. It’s fun, it’s bouncy, it’s frequently hilarious. It’s like coffee for your ears (appropriate for a song about breakfast).

We Are Giants featuring Dia Frampton by Lindsey Sterling

I imagine transforming into a magical Sailor Moon-style super-teacher whenever this song plays.

Wonderful Everyday: Arthur by Chance the Rapper featuring The Social Experiment

You can download it free on Soundcloud here.
Chance the Rapper helped my heart this past weekend when he performed “Sunday Candy” with The Social Project on Saturday Night Live last weekend. It’s a wonderful song, but it’s got some themes that you might not want to bring up with some age groups (unless “tweaking” is one of your spelling words that week). But it did bring their cover of the Arthur  theme song back into my mind. The original rap chorus they bring in towards the end is my favorite part.

Drag Me Down by One Direction

Would you like to launch One Direction to the moon? With proper training and equipment, of course.

“The Schuyler Sisters” from the musical Hamilton

This is the song to hear if you’re looking for a mind at work. Broadway smash Hamilton is will likely be moving into social studies classrooms soon. Though, many of the songs mention war and swears and maybe some other themes we tend to sanitize out of our schoolbooks. (Doesn’t mean they didn’t exist in history, though!) I chose this song because it’s like Destiny’s Child learned how to time travel. “‘We hold these truths to be self-evident/That all men are created equal/And when I meet Thomas Jefferson/I’m ‘a compel him to include women in the sequel!'”

Friday Five Favorites: iPad Apps

I have only had an iPad for the past month or so. It’s not mine, it belongs to the school district. I earned the right to use it by winning during a lunchtime rap battle on a professional development day. (I won’t deny it was cheesy, but I really wanted the prize, and I am proud of rhyming “social media” with “Wikipedia.”)

As such, I am still quite the newb when it comes to apps and things, but these are my five favorite apps I have been using. I am absolutely and completely open to hearing more recommendations, though!

ChatterPix Kids: A very easy to use app that lets you lend your voice to an inanimate object. I used it to make a can of sliced mushrooms tell about the school canned food drive for our morning announcements. I can’t wait to use it for other things. (There is also a non-“kids” version of the app, and the only difference I can find is the inclusion of a martini glass sticker.)

Pic Collage for Kids: Another easy to use app that allows you to make collages. You can take photos and include them; you can use the stickers that come bundled in the app; you can also use images obtained from simple web searches. Be careful the the web searches, though – even using the kids version, I have managed to find web images that had some bad language. And at least once I couldn’t find anything related to my search term anyway. (I was searching for “snow leopard” and got pictures of snow and Snow White.) I made collages of our November students of the month and turned them into a slideshow for our morning announcements and school website.

Zoombinis: My family’s collective favorite computer game from the nineties is back as an iPad and Android app! And it holds up, too. Solve logic puzzles to help weird little blue folks safely reach a new homeland. It’s the kind of game you dive into and figure out as you go along, without reading a manual – so it may work pretty well with even pre-readers. I of course still love it, but I allowed some third graders to try it out and see if it still holds up. They’re intrigued. It’s worth the $4.99 price tag, in my opinion.

Khan Academy: Okay, so it helps that I was already using Khan Academy in my classroom with students. So I’m not judging the app as a standalone; I am already positively influenced by other experiences using Khan Academy. The login on the computer is easier than with the app, but I can see some positives about the app too. The interface is slightly different – in fact, many of the check-answer entry methods remind me of using a Nintendo DS. (I play a lot of Professor Layton games in my spare time.) So while I think I overall prefer using the website on the computer, I think the app is pretty great too – it makes Khan Academy more portable, and could perhaps reach kids just a little differently.

Book Creator: Okay, so this isn’t one I’ve used yet, but it is one I am looking forward to using with my after school group. We’re hoping to publish at least one ebook this quarter. One of my colleagues in my district has helped students publish 63 books online , and Book Creator is one of his favorite engines for that. So while I haven’t used it quite yet, I have been a witness to its great success!


I am realizing that I have two photo manipulation apps, one game app, one strictly educational app, and one book publishing app on my short list. I would love to hear more recommendations!