JMS students trot around the globe

McALISTERVILLE – Every day this week third graders at Juniata Mennonite School have been experiencing Christmas from a different part of the world.

Paula Diven’s class has been busy “traveling” to various countries such as Germany, China and Mexico.

The hallway leading to their classroom door is decorated with colorful paper chains representing a Polish tradition as well as lanterns symbolizing the custom in China.

The aromas in that same hallway give away clues as to where the class will journey each day as they make St. Lucia buns from Sweden and tacos from Mexico.

The concept of Christmas Around the World began nearly 13 years ago when Diven’s class was reading a story about how a Mexican family celebrated Christmas and how they conducted other traditions.

“I realize the children in Juniata County do not have a global view of the world, so I decided to broaden their horizon by investigating where we get various customs we celebrate,” the teacher said.

The first year the class made tacos. Soon the list of activities had grown into a full week of learning and fun that even the staff and the rest of the school anticipates.

“The whole school gets excited,” Diven shared, hinting that some administrators and teachers mysteriously find their way into her classroom as various foods are prepared.

Some of the activities include preparing Wassail, a drink, and cornucopias, a treat, from England. They create Christmas banners from France and learn about and assemble prune people that Germans make each year.

“The prune people is something the Germans start as early as July,” Diven said of the fruity friends, “Some of them are quite elaborate.”

The class spends each Friday of the school year focusing on the Little House on the Prairie series. At Christmastime a popular activity in the days of Laura Ingalls Wilder was to tin punch lanterns – something the JMS class will do on their own later this week.

“Along the way, we make paper candles to show that Jesus is the light of the world and decorate our bulletin board with a Precious Moments nativity scene,” she said.

Clayton Martin said he learned that some of the common traditions here in America actually came from elsewhere in the world, such as the Christmas tree originating in Germany and the idea to hang Christmas stockings beginning in Greece.

“That’s where our traditions came from. The immigrants who came here brought these things from other countries,” the third grader shared.

Renee Moyer noted that she learned some Mexicans and Europeans decorate with a manger scene that does not include baby Jesus. He is placed there on Christmas Day.

The students glean more than just knowledge of geography and social studies, Diven stressed. They learn math as well as they measure and multiply items while preparing the food items.

“Hands-on is the best way to learn. They learn some life skills,” Diven said, and third graders can still learn by grasping a crayon or two.

“Sadly kids don’t color anymore. I’m trying to spark their imagination.”