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Investigate Holidays Through Artifacts

Students will conduct research to identify holiday-related artifacts. They will analyze the artifacts to determine what they reveal about the holiday. Then they will write a brief report on their findings.

PROCESS:

  1. Inform students that an artifact is something made in the past that reflects what life was like during that particular point in time. Tools, weapons and pottery are common artifacts. So are ancient homes, boats and drawings. As a class, discuss why Charles Dickens' story A Christmas Carol could be identified as an artifact, too.  
  2. Point out that historians learn about the past when they study artifacts. And the more artifacts they have, the better. Each artifact they find may reveal something new about the topic.
  3. Instruct students to select one December holiday they would like to learn more about. Then have them use the Smithsonian Institution's collections to investigate artifacts related to that holiday. Tell students to use both broad terms, such as Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa, as well as more specific words, like menorah or Santa Claus, as they conduct their research. 
  4. Encourage students to select their favorite artifacts, analyze the artifacts to determine what they reveal about the holiday and write a brief report on their findings.

ASSESSMENT: 

Invite students to share their reports with the class. As a class, discuss what artifacts reveal about holidays and how those holidays have changed over time.

CUSTOMIZE THE LESSON:

Grades 3-4:
Divide the class into three groups. Assign one December holiday-Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa-to each group. Instruct groups to select two artifacts and determine why each one represents an important part of the holiday. Then have groups write a brief report on their findings.
Grades 5-6:
Divide the class into three groups. Assign one December holiday-Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa-to each group. Instruct groups to select three holiday-related artifacts from different time periods. Challenge them to analyze how the artifacts show that the holiday has changed over time. Then have them write a brief report on their findings.
Grades 7-8: 
Divide the class into small groups. Instruct each group to select one December holiday-Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa. Then have them conduct research to identify four holiday-related artifacts from the same period. Challenge groups to analyze what the artifacts reveal about the holiday at that time and write a brief report on their findings.
Grades 9-10:
Divide the class into pairs. Instruct partners to select one December holiday-Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa. Then have them conduct research to identify five holiday-related artifacts that depict the same object during different time periods. Instruct pairs to analyze how that object has changed over time. Challenge them to identify cultural factors that could have instigated those changes. Then have them write a brief report on their findings.