My paternal Grandparents with their children-and my Father during the annual Chadwick homecoming, circa: 1960.
Holidays. Let’s think about the holidays in a new way: parents’ having a new and different kind of fun with your kids year-round. Rethinking holidays in new ways allows you and your family to revisit memories, learn about America’s past and present, and encounter cultures, commemorations, and ideas both familiar and new.
Just because a date represents a specific holiday does not mean that everyone in the United States understands or knows why the holiday exists. The last portion of this blog lists holidays between the months of June through September—a kind of snapshot of holidays. Of course, not all of them are listed—Grandparents Day, Say Thank You Day, Feed the Birds, for example. Some holidays are national, statewide, or representative of different groups. The holidays selected for this blog represent a list of national holidays celebrated during the summer months.
We live with them, look forward to them, celebrate them. Typically, the holidays we commemorate are those which reflect personal memories and recollections. We usually associate day(s) off, gatherings, food, fun with the holidays observed. For more somber commemorations, we visit sites, lay wreaths, or just quietly remember. And, in doing so, we pass on to our children a cultural and social observance—which they in turn will pass along—and so the observances have continued. But what else can we do with our children, regarding holidays? Can we actually discover more about who we are, where we came from, what we share even through our differences?
So, . . . what more can parents do with holidays—those familiar and unfamiliar—to explore, learn, and connect with children in interactive and fun ways that are new and important? And, at the same time, allow kids to explore and inquire about heritage, culture, identity.
This blog explores how parents can use holidays as pathways to learning together with their kids in a fun and natural way. Why now? How can this approach be beneficial to your kids in and out of school? This generation of children, as many of you already know, is quite different from generations before. Regardless of ethnicity, gender, religion, geographical region, class, etc., this generation is keenly curious, inquisitive, and vocal—even at the elementary level.
What I continue to find fascinating and sometimes even daunting is their penchant for quietly taking in and processing information—even though to the casual observer, they do not appear to be listening, much less processing. Nevertheless, they are scaffolding, arranging, rearranging classifying bits and pieces of text (verbal, written, visual), images, verbal/nonverbal conversations, and social media, for example, while in tandem, evaluating how that information relates or does not relate to their “here and now,” their realities as they are living them.
Family, identity, environment, culture, cultural heritage, belonging, uniqueness, similarity and difference—when we look, really look at and think about the holidays—these dates hold a treasure trove of discovery where parents and kids can share, enjoy, and learn about themselves and others and their country.
As a child growing up in Houston, Memorial Day began a series of summer holidays that I can remember my family and entire community celebrated with stories, pictures, visits to historical sites, family homesteads, and wonderful food—Texas barbecue in the backyards—all redolent with smells I can conjure in memory right now. Juneteenth , for example, was a very important holiday to my family and to all African-American Texans. The link above is more in-depth with images and documents, but succinctly: Juneteenth represents 19 June 1865 Union Gen. Gordon Granger’s coming to Galveston, TX to issue General Order No. 3:
“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor.” (National Archives: General Order 3)
General Order No. 3 affected well-over 250,000 slaves in Texas—my maternal and paternal great-grandparents among them. Juneteenth became a state holiday in 1979. Today, many states acknowledge Juneteenth.
African-American parents and grandparents made sure their children understood and respected this date. As a child, I took for granted everyone understood the import of this date. However, as an adult teaching in Irving, Texas and years later at Harvard, I found I was mistaken on so many fronts. My first encounter occurred with a man—a neighbor—in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area. He was originally from Louisiana. And when he heard me and others speak about Juneteenth and how we planned to celebrate, he laughed and said “how backwards and stupid Black Texans” were to be so slow in acknowledging the end of the Civil War. I was incensed. He had absolutely no knowledge of this history or its significance in Texas to both Blacks and Whites. I proceeded to explain the history of the date to him, and I also expressed concern that as a fellow African American his derision of a date that affected deeply so many slaves was truly tone-deaf. Rather than being derisive, I told him he should have opened his mind to learning about a region of the country where slave owners sought to keep as the last bastion of enslavement.
My second encounter with Juneteenth was during a faculty meeting at Harvard. As we discussed dates for a meeting, 19 June was explored. I spoke up about the date’s being a holiday, explaining the history and its meaning to and for me. Unlike my first experience years ago with my neighbor, a lively conversation ensued with faculty members, asking me questions about the holiday and its regional specificity. We all became learners and sharers that afternoon. This conversation paved the way for others to share their thoughts about other holidays—both national and culturally personal to them.
Not any of us lives in isolation. But often, we also do not go out of our way to explore and think about people, regions, or cultures unlike our own. This generation of children, however, embrace difference and diversity in their own unique way. They are curious about it, and holidays can be a unique and fun way to explore so much about the United States and its various cultures and history and science. Just what has D Day to do with me; it happened so long ago? Flag Day, Chinese Boat Festival, Independence Day—why should kids care and be aware? What can they learn about their past familial and country histories that can inform them today about who they are and why?
Some of the dates listed are national commemorative holidays; while others, like Chinese Boat day and Juneteenth blend history and culture. Still, others like Labor Day, for example, first celebrated as a holiday on Tuesday, 5 September 1882 in New York, began as an idea to honor and celebrate workers and their contributions. Oregon was the first state to pass a law for Labor Day to be a state holiday, 21 February 1887. By 1894, Congress passed an act, declaring the first Monday in September Labor Day for the country.
Another thread running through the summer calendar is freedom: Bastille Day, Independence Day, V-J Day WWII, and Mexican Independence Day. How might your kids think about and define freedom? Have they thought about what this word means to and for them personally, now and future? Have we thought about how that word has changed over the history of our country? Does the word have the same meaning and importance for everyone?
Although only the summer months are listed, don’t forget about all the others! This link provides a list of all holidays: holiday insights.com.
The list of holidays provided here is one that includes a variety of recognized dates you can use and have fun with your kids to discover more about yourselves and family history, as well as explore and discover other cultures, historic dates, yes, even a bit of science, with the Summer Solstice and Autumnal Equinox.
My parents loved the holidays, and my Father was in the Navy. So, although he died right after I was ten, I still remember going to Galveston to see the big ships on D Day; the flags and homemade ice cream on the 4th of July, and the wonderful stories and pictures of some of my ancestors before 19 June 1865 and how the family moved on afterward—the food smells, laughter, tears, and joy. The family images I have shared here are ones that have been passed among out family for us to remember and share.In so many ways these photos provide a family map of Juneteenth—1865, the present, and the future. Other images of different holidays are included to give you some ideas.
We teachers do our best. Parents and families can work magic!
So, take out those old photos, look for old newspaper articles, ask other family members, neighbors, friends to join in on the discovery and fun. Let the calendar be your guide to discovering more about yourself, your culture, your country, and others about whom you may not know so much.
- D Day
- Flag Day
- Chinese Dragon Boat Festival
- Summer Solstice
- Independence Day
- National Postal Workers Day
- Bastille Day
Great-Great Grandfather Henry Tom Chadwick and wife, Ollie. Included in this pic my Great-Grandfather, Dock Chadwick (c.1850s).
The Banks—my paternal Grandmother’s family (a blend of Black, Native American, White); The parents—my Great-Grandparents with my Grandmother (Beatrice) on my Great-Grandfather’s knee.
V-J Day WWII
- Labor Day
- International Literacy Day
- 911 Remembrance
- Mexican Independence Day
- Citizenship Day
- Constitution Day
- Chinese Moon Festival
- Autumnal Equinox
- Native American Day (and Indigenous People Day in October)