Thanks to Education World for use of my Mrs. Waffenschmidt illustration.

Thanks to Education World for use of my Mrs. Waffenschmidt illustration.
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Monday, November 23, 2015

Holidays at the White House(Factoids)

 Note: Click here for a free download, great Interactive Notebook Activity!

Holiday Traditions at the White House!
An Interactive Notebook Activity
Gail Skroback Hennessey

• In 1923, President Calvin Coolidge began the custom of a National Christmas Tree.  It had 2500 electric lights!

• First lady Jacqueline Kennedy began the custom of having a theme for the official White House Christmas tree.

Environmentalist President Theodore Roosevelt didn’t approve of cutting a tree down for the Christmas holidays. Because of this, he banned having a Christmas tree in the White House. However, Archie, his son, cut a small tree down and hid it in the closet in the swing room. He also decorated it.

• The first president to have electric lights on the family Christmas tree was President Grover Cleveland. The year was 1894.

• President Benjamin Harrison had one of the first White House Christmas trees. It was lit with candles. The year was 1889.

• Did you know that George Washington paid 18 schillings(a lot of money at the time) for someone to bring a camel to  Mt. Vernon for the Christmas holidays? Ok, Mt. Vernon isn’t the White House but I liked this fact. Interestingly, the tradition of having a camel come to Mt. Vernon during the holidays continues to this day!

• In 1834, President Andrew Jackson’s children had fun at the holidays including having snowball fights in the White House…with snowballs made from cotton.

Traditionally, the official White House Christmas tree, is the one placed in the White House’s Blue Room. The tradition of an official tree at the White house began with First Lady Lou Henry Hoover(1929)
In 1997, there were thirty-six trees decorated for the holidays, and in 2012, there were 54 decorated trees!

• President Franklin D. Roosevelt  always read Charles Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol” to his family on Christmas Eve.

• The holiday tradition of a gingerbread house, in the White House, began with First Lady Patricia Nixon, in 1969.  Did you know that the White House gingerbread house is made from about 150 pounds of gingerbread dough? More than 250 pounds of white chocolate are used for decorating.

  • Hanukkah is often celebrated around this time of year. In 1979, President Jimmy Carter became the first president to honor the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, by lighting a National Menorah.  The tradition continues each year.  In 1993, President Bill Clinton lighted the first menorah in the White House.  President George H.W. Bush hosted the first White House Hanukkah Party in 2001. 

  • President Benjamin Harrison dressed up as Santa Claus for his grandchildren!


If you had to create a theme for the official White House Christmas tree, what would you select and why. Draw and picture of your tree.

• Which do you think is more environmentally friendly, a REAL or ARTIFICIAL tree? Give 2 reasons for your opinion.

Teacher Page:
Extension Activities:
1. The holiday season is a time of giving. Encourage students to “pay it forward”, doing an act of kindness for someone else.
3. Illustrate one of the facts learned.
4. Teachers may wish to read this article to share with students on which type of tree is MORE environmentally friendly:
6. Words such as abuzz, flummox, the creeps,round the clock and whiz-bang are credited with Dickens. Other words that Dickens helped to popularize include, kibosh, butter-fingers,boredom,messiness,squashed,bah humbug,and tousled.  Have students create creative sentences using several of these words.

• Check out my web quest on Charles Dickens! A Christmas Carol is probably the most popular holiday story.Have your students learn about Charles Dickens,one of the most famous writers of all times! 8 informative web questions. Additional activities/links,too. It is said Dickens used an amazing 4.6 million different words in his writing! Skills include:reading for information and using research/computer skills.

• Check out my TpT Store for web quests and Reader’s Theater Scripts:
Illustration from

Sunday, November 8, 2015


This year , 2016, Diwali, or Deepavali, begins on October 30th and lasts for 5 days.

Deepavali means "festival of lights”. It's a happy time of year and is the biggest holiday in the country of India.  Practiced mainly by people of the Hindu faith, many other people enjoy taking part in the festive holiday season,too. During the holiday, people pray, give gifts and light lamps(Dipa lamps). Special sweet treats including Laddus(sweet wheat balls with nuts and fruits inside) and Karanjis (flour fried dumplings with coconut and sugar) are eaten. Families and friends get together and fireworks are set off to help welcome the new year.
Fun Facts:
Diwali celebrates the end of the harvest season.

President Barack Obama was the first US president to participate in a Deepavali celebration in the White House, in 2009.

Shubh Deepavali” means “Have an auspicious Diwali “and is a common greeting for this holiday time. 

Diwali marks the Hindu New Year. It is a national holiday in India.

Other countries which have Diwali celebrations include: Australia, Guyana, Trinidad, Nepal, Singapore, Japan, Thailand, Fiji,  Malaysia,Myanmar, Tobago, Surinam, Mauritius, Sri Lanka and there are celebrations in the United States. Use a world map and identify the location of these countries.

Extension Activities:
Make a Rangoli- Using colored rice flour and water, people decorate patterns on the ground outside their homes and place of worship. It's a way to honor the Hindu Goddess Lakshimi and hope the goddess feels welcome in their homes. Use colored markers and create a colorful Rangoli pattern  See some pictures:

Make a Dipa Lamp:
Usually made from clay, they are traditionally the size to hold in the palm of the hand. Make sure you make a small depression in the center to hold a votive candle.You can paint your lamp purple, yellow, blue or red and decorate with colorful sequins. Dipa lamps are lit and placed in the water. Legend says if the dipa lamp makes it across the water to the other side, a wish will be granted by the Hindu Goddess Lakshimi.

Have small groups of students review the country of India at this link:  Draw/color a picture of something that has to do with India(Taj Mahal, tigers, etc.) Write 5 facts learned about the country to share with the rest of the class.  Learn more about India at this link:

Read a folk story from India to the students such as “The Elephant and the Blind Men”. Have students write a summary of the story.

Additional Links:
Learn more about Diwali at these links:  Cartoon video on Diwali for kids

Learn about India with these resources:
1. India in Focus,is a web quest, with additional fun facts and extension activities. Did you know that it was ancient India which gave the world the idea of the zero? The game Chutes and Ladders comes from an Indian board game. More people speak English in India than in the United States? Students learn about the country of Skills include:reading for information and using research/computer skills.

2. Taj Mahal:Explore World Landmarks are great to introduce kids to some popular world landmarks around the world. With writing in the content area, the short activities can also be used in Language Arts classes, too! About one page of reading, discussion questions and extension activities. Grades 4 and up. 
3. Chess, yoga,the game Parcheesi and the place value -zero are just some of the gifts we have from India. Want to introduce your students to the country of India? This resources will be most helpful.Basic notes,mapskill activity, lots of extension activities and links to get your students engaged in learning about the country of India.

NOTE: Check out this reading passage resource on Diwali:

Note: Illustration