Platte Center Elementary explores the world

December 20, 2018 GMT

Platte Center Elementary School students on Wednesday had the opportunity to experience how the holiday season is celebrated around the world without breaking out their passports and boarding a plane.

“I think it’s really fun,” said sixth-grade student Ana Jimenez, who was fascinated to learn about Samoan culture.

The school hosted its first “Christmas from Around the World” event this year, highlighting traditions from Samoa, Ireland, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Germany and Switzerland, as well as customs from decades ago. Sessions were led by parents Celeste Perkins, Veronica Vargas, Ula Gaylor and Christy Dietrich, as well as Platte Center residents Angela Dolezal and Illeana Jarecki.

“It’s important to know how other people do things and that it’s OK to do things in a different way,” Principal Quentin Witt said. “It’s for them to learn that there’s a lot of different ways to celebrate (Christmas) and why it’s celebrated in different ways.”

Witt said school staff put together a Multicultural Day in the past, however, they wanted to switch the event up by focusing on the holiday season.

Dietrich said Christmas in Switzerland begins with a Sunday church service, followed by family time. Growing up, Dietrich said she remembers Santa Claus giving out peanuts and apples to children on Christmas Day and at the Sunday service.

During Dietrich’s session, students took a closer look at her grandmother’s old cookbook filled with traditional Christmas cookies made with ingredients like raisins, dates and coconuts.

Gaylor, who led the session about German culture, shared a family heirloom with students. It was an advent calendar hand-stitched by her father using different types of fabric. Instead of small doors obscuring gifts as typically seen with advent calendars, children were able to collect one gift daily for a month starting on Dec. 1 from small stockings pinned onto the fabric.

Gaylor said the tradition was started by her grandmother.

“It’s just a really cute tradition to do from Germany that I grew up with,” said Gaylor, noting the calendar has been handed down to her children. “These are the little things that still bring Germany into my home.”

Passing down culture is something Gaylor does at home, as well.

Gaylor’s son, Alex, who is a six-grader at Platte Center Elementary School, hasn’t been to Germany. Because of that, Gaylor said it’s up to her to pass down her family’s German heritage.

“I am still German. Traditions are important to me,” the mother of three said. “Families are important to me.”

Although countries around the world have different Christmas traditions, they all share one common trait.

“It’s time to spend with the family,” Gaylor said.

Witt said he hopes to open students’ eyes to the different cultures that surround them in their school and community.

“We just want (students) to be multicultural,” Witt said. “To hopefully allow students to learn more about other culture and have a broader view of their world rather than just being focused on what they know.”

Natasya Ong is a reporter for The Columbus Telegram. Reach her via email at natasya.ong@lee.net.