By Paddy Bowman, Sylvia Bienvenu, and Maida Owens
Part 1 The Seasonal Round
If you wear a rubber mask, thats Halloween, not Mardi Gras. If you wear face paint, thats Halloween. Screen masks are Mardi Gras--and only Mardi Gras.
--J.B. LeBlue, Acadia Parish
For New Year, we would cook cabbage. Some people would cook black-eyed peas. That way, you would always have money for the year. And we had to have our egg nog. That was one tradition waiting for the New Year to come in. And when the New Year would come in, Daddy would take his gun and let us shoot a few rounds to bring in the New Year.
--Grace Populas, St. John Parish
Part I Introduction
Envision the months of a year as a wheel, a visual seasonal round that folklorist Jack Santino illustrates in his book All Around the Year (see Unit IX Resources). What customs fall where on this wheel? The solstices are more or less immutable with the summer solstice falling around June 21, the winter solstice around December 21, the vernal equinox around March 20, and the autumnal equinox around September 22. Some holidays, known as "movable feasts" on liturgical calendars, change annually according to lunar phases or because different religious groups follow different calendars. Examples include Mardi Gras, Easter, Passover, and Ramadan. Easter is always the first Sunday following the first full moon after the spring equinox. Count back six and a half weeks for Ash Wednesday, and Mardi Gras is the day before. Other holidays fall on the same date each year: December 25 or July 4. Still other holidays fall on particular days; for example, Memorial Day is always the last Monday in May. Finally, personal holidays such as birthdays or anniversaries fall randomly on the seasonal round.
Many holidays have ancient roots; others are quite contemporary. Some are religious, others are secular, and some combine elements of the sacred and the secular. Mardi Gras has an old and complex history, President Woodrow Wilson instituitonalized Mother's Day in 1914, and Kwanzaa grew out of social changes inspired by the Civil Rights Movement. Presidents' Day and Martin Luther King Day honor national heroes. Juneteenth celebrates the news of freedom that reached slaves in Texas months after the Emancipation Proclamation.
What relationship do holidays have to the seasonal round? How do seasonal changes affect not only celebrations but daily life and the folklife of a community? Fourth graders will enjoy plotting their personal calendars and researching holidays and customs specific to their families and communities as well as national and international holidays. Eighth graders, at the juncture of adolescence, may prefer to look at the life cycle. Both themes are easy to integrate across the curriculum from science to social studies, and both present interesting opportunities to conduct short-term or long-term fieldwork and to create an array of student-centered activities and products.
As your class moves through the school year, you will also be moving through a seasonal round. Integrate this concept into your curriculum, noting the often overlooked seasonal changes that affect our lives in many ways at work, at play, in everyday life, in celebrations and rituals. Fourth-grade teachers might choose to start the school year with this unit. Even for many grown-ups, a new school year announces a sense of purpose, a chance to start anew. The smell of freshly sharpened pencils and the anticipation of seeing friends after summer break are deeply embedded in many adults' memories.
Beginning the observation of the seasonal round with the start of school is only one approach. Jump in at any time and adapt this unit to your needs. Return to the concept of the seasonal round throughout the school year, or use this unit to introduce students to the concept, initiate simple fieldwork projects, or get to know one another better. Similarly, 8th graders may study the cycle of life and rites of passage as a complete unit or return to this theme as they go through the school year. Or, they may use Part 1 to study the seasonal round and research holidays in more depth than younger students. Comparing people's annual celebrations and life cycle customs cultivates respect for differences and awareness of similarities among cultural groups.
Jane Vidrine, a folklorist and teacher in Lafayette, Louisiana, adapted Louisiana Voices Seasonal Round activities and resource for her student and offers her lessons in Researching and Celebrating the Seasons.
Some religious groups do not celebrate certain holidays, so be prepared to offer students alternative activities such as researching, writing about, and documenting landscape and weather changes throughout the seasonal round. Their work can illustrate a large class calendar. Talk with students' parents to determine a suitable alternative assignment. Sending a letter home about this unit is part of planning the lessons.