December Cultural Calendar Ideas

In Sylix, December is referred to as “Spuxwtan” – the time of the snowdrift.

In Gitenimx it is “Hloxsa/Hm’mel” – the month of completion.

As we prepare for 2024, and another great year – full of cultural teachings, discoveries, relationship building, connections, support (and many other things too numerous to mention), we would like to end this month with some wisdom.

These wise words, reflections and reminders are from Nehiyaw Elder Don Campbell.

Kinanaskomiten to Grandpa Don for his wise words to end the year and for assisting us as we plan for activities of celebration, teachings and ending the year in a good way.

Grandpa Don starts his teachings by speaking in his Indigenous language of Nehiyawewin, December is referred to as “Pawacakinasisi-Pisim.”

“Pawacakinasisi- Pisim” means Frost-Exploding Trees, Moon and Blizzard Moon. In most traditional Cree/Nehiyaw territory trees would explode from being covered in brittle frost, ice and snow. December is also the season of many blizzards.

When Grandpa Don was a child, much storytelling was shared by community members and Elders about the first visitors who arrived on this land. Indigenous people were confused as to why these people from far-off lands would have two big feasts within one month (Christmas and New Year’s Day).

The Cree named New Year’s Eve and Day, “Kissing Day (Ocehtokisikaw)” as they were in wonderment of everyone going out of their way to kiss each other more than usual.

Grandpa Don wanted to share about December by using the Medicine Wheel teachings. With the winter solstice approaching on December 21, the ground is covered in snow to let the earth have a break. This is a sign that we also need to slow things down and take a rest. In the Medicine Wheel every season has a different type of wellness at the core of traditional teachings. This season focuses on mental health.

Grandpa Don reminds us to pace ourselves at this busy time and to focus on balance and caring for our mental health.

Grandpa Don ends his teachings for December with a reminder of the importance of self-care, to be gentle with ourselves, and to take care and look out for one another.

Thinking specifically of Grandpa Don’s Medicine Wheel teachings let us reflect on the supports we provide in our programs.

  • Does your program offer resources to families to practice mental health wellness at a time of year that has financial pressures and overburdened schedules?
  • Do you provide activities and guest presenters at family events and PAC meetings that help families gain the tools to practice mental wellness?

  • How does your program/host agency assist families with the pressures of the season of celebration?

  • Do you provide an updated outreach list of where families can go to be proactive and gain help to prevent the stresses of the season?

Most communities have a local branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association and they are always willing to help and offer a wide range of resources such as: Mental Health First Aid, and guest presenters. They also provide online seminars on topics such as: Emotional Intelligence, How to Find Community Family Support, How Covid-19 Affects Mental Health etc. Newsletters, family empowerment, family advisory committees, and services such as one-time assistance for rental emergencies are all available through this National Organization.

To Find Out More:

At AHS, not only do we support children and families, we also take extra care to support our Elders and community members.

  • How does your program support Elders at this time?

  • What supports does your host agency offer and what supports are offered in your local community?

We recommend having information on hand and in newsletters, as well as offering online web pages and handouts on community resource boards.

Support Resources:

In the Spirit of the Season Activities that Encourage Practices of Togetherness, Gifting & Sharing:

This month can be a fun and interactive month for children to be exposed to new experiences and teachings. We have gathered ideas based on the upcoming season change and winter arrival – including scents, sounds, tastes and familiar textures and sights that the holiday season and winter solstice bring about.

Art Centre:

Stock your art center up with the following items for December:

  • Blank cards,
  • Colourful envelopes,

  • Seasonal stickers,

  • Recycled pictures of winter calendar scenes or seasonal cards,

  • Artificial snow confetti,

  • Seasonal stamps and stamp pads in a wide range of colours,

  • Blue, white, red, or green tissue paper,

  • Cellophane,

These are all items that can inspire creativity this month.

  • Yarn in various colours,

  • Metallic foil,

  • Paper dollies,

  • Sparkly paints,

  • Seasonal cookie cutters to dip in paint or to trace,

  • Glue pots filled with glue, dyed seasonal colours,

  • Scrap pieces of felt or duffle

Crafts:

Mason Jar gifts for Elders or family members – invite children to fill up mason jars by using measuring cups. To make a favourite soup mix, use a dried bean soup or you can do cookie recipe ingredients such as jumbo raisin cookies. Children can make brightly coloured tags to add to the jars and decorate the recipe cards. Bath salts, tea mixes and other items can also be filled by the children to gift.

Baked Gifts – Children can also help make items such as molasses cookies, ginger snaps, and raisin Bannock for gifts. Have each child decorate their own treat box to fill with the items they have made. Boxes can include labels or recipes translated into traditional language.

Boughs or wreaths for household decorations – Spruce boughs or fir/pine wreaths can be decorated by each child – you can use different materials, such as artificial berries or real cranberries, muslin ribbons, pinecones, and winter animal or mitten shapes that the children have painted. You can use pony beads to make shapes such as: snowflakes, the first letter in their name or last name, or hearts or candy canes. Items can be attached using pieces of sinew, thin pieces of hide or yarn. These can be sent home for the children to hang on their front door.

Sensory:

Winter Sensory Jars: Have the children help create winter sensory jars that they can bring home to enjoy during the winter holidays.

Playdough: Playdough can be used this month as a fun scented sensory activity.

Winter scents can be added to the dough – gingerbread, eggnog, peppermint, sage or cranberry. Glitter can be added for a touch of sparkle. Cookie cutters in the shape of snowflakes, gingerbread people, mitten, can all be offered!

Science Themes to Explore:

  • How do animals stay warm in the winter?

  • Why does snow and ice melt?

  • Why does salt melt ice?

  • How to use snow to make an igloo – or – why is it warm inside an igloo?

  • Make a salt crystal, snowstorm jar or a frozen bubble.

  • Add a pine seedling to the science area have children take turns caring for the seedling that can be later planted.

Cooking / Food Prep / Gathering:

Invite Elders, family members or community members in to make their favourite winter solstice/holiday recipes. Examples could be baked salmon, char, trout or halibut. Tortierre, La boullettes, pudding in a bag, roasted goose or duck with a traditional relish or Saskatoon or low bush cranberry sauce, soups or stews. Children can help cut up seasonal vegetables for soups or stews, measure out frozen berries for sauces, and take turns dumping in and stirring ingredients for Bannock, scones, or other seasonal baked goods.

Playful Additions:

Building Block/Construction Area:

  • For preschool or 3-5-year-old classrooms.
    1. Wooden blocks can be wrapped in leftover pieces of foil they can pretend these are blocks of shiny ice they are building with.
    2. Boxes in various sizes can be wrapped in leftover winter-themed gift wrap to encourage them to build with different sizes.

    3. Alphabet blocks can be added to encourage the children to spell out their name or even the names of classmates. This is a fun and hands-on way to practice names.

Infant/Toddler Classrooms:

  • The addition of alphabet/number blocks will help encourage letter and numeral recognition in the future.

Dramatic Play Area:

Ideas for encouraging creative play this month:

  • Present wrapping centre. Children can have fun role-playing what they see in their homes and community using donated gift wrap ends and odd pieces of wrap paper and tissue paper, recycled newspapers, donated rolls of half-used tape etc. recycled boxes, bows and cards.

Seasonal scene on the children’s level. Ideas can be a:

  • Sliding hill or outdoor scene with pictures of the children on toboggans, dog sleds, ski-doos.
  • Fireplace scene with family photos, children’s photos etc.
  • Ice fishing scene with outdoor photos.
  • Log cabin scene with family photos, indoor activity photos etc.

Reading Area:

  • Have a flannel board available for children in your reading area!

  • This allows children to create their own stories.

Winter Themed Story Suggestions (Compliments of the AHSABC Provincial Team):

Outdoor Ideas:

  • Take children with Elders out to harvest cedar, fir, and spruce.
    1. These can be used for many purposes, like for traditional decoration, balms and medicines.
  • Take the children out for walks (pending Covid protocols) to local seniors housing or
    Elder gathering places.
  • The children can sing songs, bring cards they have made, participate in a craft with Elders etc.
  • For those with snow in the outdoor play area – have the children involved in learning how to make an igloo or traditional snow shelter.

    1. Check to see if you have a Knowledge Keeper, volunteer, Elder, or host agency staff member who is familiar with this skill. If not, there are several books and internet directions by community Knowledge Keepers on how to do this process.

  • For those without snow ask Elders, Knowledge Keepers, parents, and community members for feedback on cultural activities that took place outside in the winter.
  • Invite those with knowledge to lead these activities with children and staff in the outdoors.
  • Look into events being offered in your community depending on locations – this could be seasonal outdoor fairs, sleigh rides, going to tour a tree farm or outdoor barn with animals.

  • Winter Outdoor Activities for Preschoolers

Circle Time Area:

  • Read the book “A Winters Gift,” then go around the circle asking each child what gift winter has brought.
    1. Each child’s idea can go on a snowflake or gift shape with their picture on it. This can be displayed in the classroom to create child-led conversations and recall activity.

  • Have a traditional style mitten and animal figures and act out the story
    1. Book: The Mitten

Have a sleigh bell hanging from a ribbon for each child. Sing winter songs in traditional language and have the children shake their bells.

Innovative Ideas:

Talking Little Feet AHS, Grand Forks BC
This is a cultural seasonal activity we are doing in the infant/toddler room. We started by sharing the book Metis Christmas Mittens with the children by looking at the pictures of the mittens and talking about them, I then bought some mittens and sewed some left-over material I had that looked like beading to represent the Metis mittens. I just brought them out today and have them readily available for the children to put on. I will have them out until after the holidays. This activity helps the children develop the process of grasping and using their pincers grasp to get the mittens on. This also helps the children to get comfortable with wearing mittens as the weather gets colder.

Elder Involvement:

Gather the Elders together with tea, healthy snacks and some Winter seasonal treats to make Winter solstice gifts for the children. You can also use time to plan a winter feast or main celebration activity for children and families.

Instead of having Santa Claus let’s put our heroes that show up every day for the children be central to your winter celebrations. Have them help plan a feast with traditional food items, traditional games, gift exchange, songs, teachings etc. Give each Elder/Knowledge Keeper, and community leader who participates a role at your seasonal event.

Parent Involvement Ideas:

  • Send home a special invitation to each family to share a special winter recipe, song, activity, craft etc.
    1. This will be to celebrate the season and the Winter solstice.

  • Have the PAC lead seasonal fundraising and then pick out what they would like the fund to go, such as:

    1. Traditional foods for each family, a traditional item for each family home, a traditional item for each child etc.

If the program needs seasonal items such as cedar, fir etc. put a call out to families to provide.

Families who cannot help during work hours may be willing to collect these items during their off-time and contribute to your program in this way.

Several programs throughout the province use this system and find it a successful way to have parent involvement and participation that suits busy work schedules.

Following your Host Agency/Covid protocols have a Winter celebration feast.

  • Have Elders, Parents, and Chef involved in the planning of this event.
  • Have traditional songs, activities, words from the elders, craft projects and feast foods be the heart of the seasonal celebration.
  • Have children perform a song in traditional language they have been practicing showing the parents and feast attendees.
  • Songs do not need to be hard it could even be having the children sing their prayer song before the feast begins.
  • Other ideas: community celebration songs: twinkle twinkle in traditional language, 5 little snowflakes/polar bears, etc.

Outreach/Activity Kits:

Winter Break PJ kits: Use coupons, and extra fundraising dollars or encourage donations from local community members or businesses.

  • Have a kit with a pair of PJs, a craft project, popcorn, hot chocolate or apple cider, a seasonal or cultural children’s book or family card or board game.

Here are Some more AHSABC Provincial Staff Book Favourites:

Seasonal presents for the children please consider gifts of literacy.

  • Barb: My personal favourite was ‘Don’t Put Mustard in the Custard’. It’s a book of imaginative poems that are funny, silly and often poignant. That being said, my kids’ favourite was probably ‘The Bike Lesson’ because it made them laugh and gave ample opportunity for reader-provided sound effects.
  • Alanna: “I always liked the Frog and Toad books. Frog and Toad, All Year has some seasonal stories in it…I also like ‘Goodbye Autumn, Hello Winter.’”

  • Dana: “ I love ‘How Chipmunk Got His Stripes’ by Joseph Brucharc… ‘Dipnetting with Dad’ by Willie Sellars is one of my faves!”

  • Jenessa Joy: “I’m a big fan of ‘The Book with No Pictures’ by B. J. Novak. It’s a fun and silly book filled with sound effects and provides a lot of laughter for both reader and listeners!”

Other books perfect for gifting: ‘Metis Christmas Mittens’, ‘Metis New Year,’ ‘Mouse and the Winter Solstice,’ ‘The Sky Sisters,’ ‘A winter Gift,’ ‘The most Amazing Bird.’

Lofty Ideas:

To further explore the topic of hibernation, turn your loft into a bear cave and fox’s den. Fabric can be draped, cardboard used, and any other mediums that will capture the child’s attention and inspire creative play! Have decorated trees close by that the children can use with animal puppets to add to their loft play!

Resources & Related Articles:

  1. Indigenous Activities You Should Try This Winter – Muskrat Magazine:
    https://muskratmagazine.com/indigenous-activities-you-should-try-this-winter/

  2. First Nations Winter Games: https://www.spsd.sk.ca/Schools/brightwater/teacher/midteachers/resources/Documents/First%20Nations%20Winter%20Games.pdf
  3. Acknowledging the Winter Solstice: https://ndncollective.org/acknowledging-the-winter-solstice-is-a-decolonial-act-for-indigenous-people/

  4. Indigenous Winter Solstice Traditions Explained to Seekers: https://powwowtimes.ca/winter-solstice-meaning-to-indigenous-peoples/

  5. Winter Solstice Children’s Activities: https://homeschoolsuperfreak.com/what-is-winter-solstice/

Recommended Seasonal Children’s Books:

Mouse celebrates Winter solstice.

Author: Terri Mack

I Build an Igloo!

Author: Michael Kusagak

A Metis New Year

Author: Leah Marie Dorion

Joan’s Favourite: Something from Nothing

Author: Phoebe Gilman

Metis Christmas Mittens

Author: Leah Dorion

Book of the Month:

Title: A Winter’s Gift

Author: Kaitlin B. Curtice

Winter’s Gifts is a joyful and tender family story of honouring creation, the power of storytelling, and how a new perspective can transform us.

We are excited to gift each program their own copy of this heart warming story as a part of Winter Solstice Pkgs!

Traditional Foods / Health Link Recommendation:

Please see this helpful link for diabetis education/resources specific to Indigenous communities: https://nada.ca/resources/

Recipe of the Month:

Blue corn, pumpkin and walnut pancakes with a pumpkin whipped topping!
Author: Teyotsihstokwathe Dakota Brant

Haudenosaunee have a wide variety of corn & squash (pumpkin)varieties that are harvested along with walnuts in the autumn that inspire important traditional Mid-Winter and Winter Solstice Dishes. Haudenosaunee have ceremonial connections to what they harvest, and these foods have been readily available since time immemorial.

Please see the link for a Wintergreen tea that accompanies feast foods, you will see served in Haudenosaunee territory in parts of Ontario!

To incorporate the important blue corn in our meal plans in programs across the province AHSABC has sent pkgs of blue corn flour to use for warm, comforting and traditional seasonal food selections.