Holidays around the world, via Acorn Airlines

Wanda and I yust go nuts at Christmas. We spend each December learning about how the world celebrates, with our very own fictional airline.

Wanda, wearing a Santa Lucia crown, with our Christmas tree.
Wanda, in her Swedish Santa Lucia crown.

Wanda and I have our own imaginary airline, Acorn Airlines, that we use to "travel" the world and learn about other places—complete with our own boarding passes and passports.

A homemade boarding pass and passport.
Acorn Airlines boarding pass, and Quercus Prep world passport.

Each trip starts with an announcement from the gate agent for Acorn Airlines (me, holding a wrapping paper tube up to my mouth, to get that barely-intelligible airport announcement sound):

"Attention all Acorn Airlines passengers... attention all Acorn Airlines passengers... our flight will soon begin boarding at gate LR12... all passengers, please make your way to the boarding area... thank you for flying Acorn Airlines!"

I hand Wanda her boarding pass and passport, and she makes her way to the maps & globes corner of our living room, where I've set up a child-size plush armchair with a breakfast-in-bed tray in front of it. First class! She settles in, and I play a sound effect of a jet taking off. Once we're in the air, I start snack service: a bit of juice in a teeny little stemmed clear plastic cup—terribly fancy, this is first class after all—and an appropriately paltry amount of pretzels on a square napkin.

A child-size padded armchair, with a wooden tray in front holding a small drink, pretzels, a small globe, and our boarding pass and passport.
First Class seating on Acorn Airlines.

Once we've reached cruising altitude, it's time for the main attraction: the in-flight entertainment. I bring out an iPad, pre-loaded with a Google Slides presentation I've created with the day's lesson. The presentation usually has 15-25 slides, starting with a welcome greeting in the language of that country, and a map of that country's continent with the country highlighted. I then dive into some information about that country, paired with gorgeous beauty shots I've ganked from the web. I typically touch on the country's terrain, history, landmarks, industry, demographics, food, music, traditions, and more. These days we also include a Geography Now! video. Honestly, it's a mega infodump, and I don't expect retention to be high. I just want to paint a picture to help her start to build a general idea of what's out there.

After our flight, we spend the rest of the day doing special activities. Sometimes we watch some videos about the country, and often there are craft projects, or special foods to try.

A small cake shaped like a log, dusted with powdered sugar "snow." "Noel" is written in shiny red gel.
We made little Bûches de Noël when we visited France, after learning all about the origins and history of the yule log tradition. (Don't be too impressed, we just slapped frosting on some Little Debbie Swiss Rolls. Also, say hi to our old friend, the ✨ Sparkly Party Plate of Science ✨.)

We take trips on Acorn Airlines all year long, but we're frequent fliers during the holiday season. (We're atheists, and Wanda is half Jewish, but we are over-the-top into Christmas, in a totally secular way.) Holidays touch on history, culture, geography, and more. Studying the way holiday traditions are similar and different across areas gives great illumination to how cultures connect, often through shared history, and helps to build a mental map of the world. With Christmas in particular, it's been fascinating for Wanda to learn, over and over, how invading Christian forces co-opted long-standing seasonal celebrations and morphed them into Christian traditions, and how those traditions have continued to change over the years, and have turned into the weird-ass things we do today.

A bit of warning about doing a "holidays around the world" lesson series:

There are plenty of "holidays around the world" resources out there, for sale and for free. They collect a handful of countries and list their traditions, and give ideas for crafts and lessons. After having done the legwork myself to seek out better information directly from people who actually live in those countries, I have found every single one of those "holidays around the world" resources to be riddled with outdated information and errors, sometimes culturally insensitive ones. I cannot recommend them. It's not that hard to find videos and articles created by people from those cultures. Stick with those, and find several different primary sources to confirm what you're seeing.

And another thing: the potential for creating a Grecian Urn lesson is high here, so step back to check your goals in your lesson design.

A small homemade gnome-like doll, with a pointed green hat and a white beard.
We made this little nisse two years ago, when we "visited" Norway.

This year, Wanda has requested some return visits to her favorite Christmas countries. We'll visit Sweden; Wanda will wear her Santa Lucia crown and we'll watch Kalle Anka (you know him better as Donald Duck). We'll visit Norway, 'cause we're Norwegian, and we'll make a nisse and listen to Stan Boreson's "I Yust Go Nuts at Christmas" (I grew up in Seattle, and it's a very Pacific Northwest, mid-century, Scandihoovian humor thing). And we'll make Wanda's all-time favorite Christmas trip, to the Czech Republic: there's a golden pig in the air, there are nut boats, there's fortune-telling with molten lead and with apples, and—most magical of all—there's a carp in the bathtub.

A green holly-design mug filled with a warm, wintry beverage, with the British flag, candles, and other Christmas decorations behind it.
Our trip to Great Britain included a lot of Charles Dickens, with an assist from the nearby Dickens Fair.

Other countries we've visited in Christmases past include Ireland, France, Mexico, Italy, Great Britain, Austria, Netherlands, and Germany. I've already mentioned our Diwali trip to India, and we've also visited China, South Korea, and Vietnam for Lunar New Year. I'm gathering some info for Acorn Airlines trips to Latin America and Africa this season. Wanda has asked to take an Acorn Airlines trip to Australia. If you have personal knowledge of the Christmas traditions in these countries, we'd love to learn from you!

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