Each month, Au Pair in America provides a calendar full of fun activities and helpful information for everyone in the family.
In the northern hemisphere, December 21 is the first day of winter. Also called the winter solstice, it’s the shortest day of the year. In Washington, DC, the sun will set at 4:49 PM on December 21, 2016.
Animals handle cold winter weather in a variety of ways: some travel to a warmer climate while others grow thicker fur coats so they can stay warm and active during the winter. Many animals hibernate during the coldest weather – they spend the warmer months eating and storing as much body fat as they can and then live off this extra weight as they sleep.
Even though it’s tempting to stay inside when it’s cold and dark, it’s important to get outside in the daylight. Eating healthy, exercising, and keeping a regular sleep schedule will also help you keep up your energy. Au pairs DO NOT hibernate this winter! Call a new au pair and meet her for hot chocolate. Bundle up, get outside, and enjoy the cold weather.
During the last weeks of December, many host kids will have between ten days to two weeks off from school for winter vacation. The thought of having the kids home for multiple days during the winter can send even the most seasoned childcare giver into a panic. Cold weather, shorter days, extra sugar, later bedtimes, and visiting relatives can be a challenge, but with some pre-planning, you can provide your host kids with a vacation to remember.
Tip #1: Plan Ahead
- Take advantage of your host children’s free time. Pull out your calendar and read the Capital City Au Pair’s Winter Fun for DC Kids (2017-2018) post for hundreds of holiday and winter-themed events going on right here in DC.
- Play tourist with your host kids. Again, use the free time to explore DC. (Use the DC Guides section to help.) We live in an amazing city!
Tip #2: Dress the Part
Winter has finally arrived in DC. It’s important to dress for cold weather and to make sure that your host children are dressed warmly too. If this is your first experience with really cold weather, ask your host parents for advice on staying warm. For more info, read this blog post from October: It’s Cold Out There! A 2017 Guide to DC Winter Weather.
Tip #3: Plan a Cozy Day Indoors
- Staying home for the day? APIA’s Pinterest boards have loads of winter fun and holiday crafts and activities.
- Help the kids organize their toys and rooms with these suggestions. With mom and dad’s permission, perhaps your host kids can donate some of the toys they have outgrown. This will create more room for the new toys from Santa.
- Looking for a fun baking activity? Gingerbread is a delicious way to celebrate the season!
Tip #4: Make a Date
Playdates can be a great way for kids to socialize and work on the important skills necessary to being a good friend. Talk with your host family about planning a playdate over winter vacation. With their permission, you can use our cluster list to find an au pair who lives near you and has host kids who are compatible ages with your host kids. If hosting doesn’t work, you can also make plans to meet up at the library for a free story hour or crafting session.
Brr! In need of some ideas to keep the kids entertained this winter? Here’s a roundup of several great local blogs full of suggestions for spending the day exploring DC both before and after the holidays. Continue reading
Gingerbread is an important part of many cultures’ holiday celebrations. Gingerbread men, gingerbread houses, and even gingerbread-flavored coffee are just a few of the yummy treats available this time of year. DC-based cookie guru Meaghan Mountford details the history of gingerbread cookies on her fabulous website, The Decorated Cookie.
The story of the Gingerbread Boy has been retold in many versions. Head to your local library and check out a few of these fun books:
- Gingerbread Baby by Jan Brett.
- The Cajun Gingerbread Boy illustrated by Berthe Amoss
- The Gingerbread Boy by Richard Egielski
- The Gingerbread Boy by Paul Galdone
- The Gingerbread Man: An Old English Folktale illustrated by John A. Rowe
- The Gingerbread Man illustrated by Karen Schmidt
- The Gingerbread Man illustrated by Pam Adams
- The Gingerbread Man by Eric Kimmel
- The Gingerbread Man retold by Jim Aylesworth
Make Your Own Gingerbread Cookies
Excited to make some of your very own gingerbread? Below is a recipe for gingerbread cookies. (Don’t forget to use American measurements and temperature settings!)
Preheat oven to 350F
In a large bowl, sift together:
- 3 cups flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 teaspoon nutmeg
In a smaller bowl beat together:
- ¾ cups brown sugar
- 6 tablespoons butter
- 1 egg
- 2/3 cup of molasses
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
Stir the dry ingredients into the creamed mixture. Cover and refrigerate for one hour. Roll out on a lightly floured surface and cut out cookies. Bake on a greased cookie sheet for 8-10 minutes. Place on a rack to cool. Decorate.
Gingerbread Fun Without the Baking
If you aren’t a baker, head to almost any store (Target, 5 & Below, Safeway, Giant, Harris Teeter are just a few) to buy a kit to make a gingerbread house, It will include everything you need ~ just add your imagination!
Even More Gingerbread Ideas
Or if you’re ready to take your gingerbread to the next level, The Decorated Cookie has loads of fun ideas. If you decide to try any of these projects out, be sure to post pictures on our cluster group page on Facebook.
- Gingerbread Man Marshmallows
Homesickness can be a problem during the holidays, even if it hasn’t been at any other time of the year. Au pairs often miss their friends and family, familiar places and their own traditions and customs. The holiday activities in the United States seem, and may actually be, different just at a time when an au pair would welcome something familiar.
It is common for au pairs’ emotions to be close to the surface during the holidays. Her highs are higher, her lows are lower. The enormity of what she has done–actually living in another country (which is an amazing thing when you think about it!)–hits her and throws her into a self-protective mode.
Host parents can help her through this unfamiliar territory by talking to her about what your specific family activities will be (gifts, meals, visitors, religious services, in-home traditions, or none of these, as the case may be.) In the spirit of cultural exchange, ask her if she has any favorite holiday traditions or foods that you might be able to incorporate into your family’s celebration of the season. Let her know what you will be doing, when you will be doing it, and what she can expect. Talk to her about what has to be accomplished and get her involved and interested. Don’t expect her to just “know” what needs to be done. Give her some clear, agreed upon assignments. Make her feel a part of things. And, let her know her contribution is needed and appreciated.
Photo: Sheila Sund (Flickr)
Each month, Au Pair in America provides a calendar full of fun activities and helpful information for everyone in the family.
We have host families from a wide variety of backgrounds and faiths; some of our host families celebrate Christmas, some celebrate Hanukkah, some celebrate Kwanzaa, and some celebrate more than one holiday or none at all. If you’re an au pair living with a host family who celebrates Christmas and you do not, I encourage you to take part and experience it with them. This can be a great opportunity for learning and culture sharing. I also encourage host families to ask their au pairs to share their holiday traditions and customs.
Christmas is both a sacred religious holiday and a worldwide cultural and commercial phenomenon. For two millennia, people around the world have been observing it with traditions and practices that are both religious and secular in nature. Christians celebrate Christmas Day as the anniversary of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, a spiritual leader whose teachings form the basis of their religion.
In the United States, popular customs include exchanging gifts, decorating Christmas trees, attending church, sharing meals with family and friends and, of course, waiting for Santa Claus to arrive. December 25–Christmas Day–has been a federal holiday in the United States since 1870. (Source: History.com)
Christmas Traditions in the US
In the US, Americans celebrate Christmas with traditions that have been introduced from different cultures as well as some uniquely American celebrations.
- The period of time in the US from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day is called “the holidays.”
- Decorated Christmas trees begin lighting up windows in homes, and shops and outdoor plazas shortly after Thanksgiving.
- Christmas tree ornaments can be found in almost every store, but many families have boxes of treasured ornaments made by children out of paper and other crafts which are lovingly hung year after year.
- Christmas lights decorate trees indoors as well as the front lawns and porches of houses. Many parks have special holiday light displays.
- Children write letters to Santa Claus requesting gifts. Shopping malls, parties, churches, and some schools host events where children can have their photo taken with Santa Claus and ask him for gifts in-person.
- Christians remember the birth of Christ with nativity scenes displayed on church lawns, Christmas pageants performed by children in churches and some schools, and delicate, often handcrafted manger scenes set out among the Christmas decor at home.
- On December 24, Christmas Eve, many families have special traditions and often attend Christmas Eve church services. Children hang Christmas stockings, leave cookies and milk for Santa Claus, and try their best to fall asleep so Santa can deliver their presents.
- On December 25, Christmas Day, children wake up early to see the gifts Santa Claus left them. Families exchange gifts, which have been wrapped and placed under the Christmas tree.
- Americans mail Christmas and holiday cards (often with photos of the family) throughout the holiday season. In 2010, Americans mailed 1.5 billion holiday cards.
Many Americans view the same beloved Christmas movies year after year. Some classic favorites include, “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “The Christmas Story,” “Home Alone,” “Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “Frosty the Snowman,” “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas,” “Elf” and “A Miracle on 34th Street.”
Celebrating Christmas in Washington, DC
- Winter Wonderland: Your Guide to the Holiday Season in Washington, DC
- The 2017 KFDC Guide to the Holiday Season in DC
- December 2017 Festivals and Events in Washington, DC
A very Merry Christmas to all!
We have host families from a wide variety of backgrounds and faiths; some host families celebrate Hanukkah, some celebrate Christmas, some celebrate Kwanzaa, and some celebrate more than one holiday or none at all. If you’re an au pair living with a host family who celebrates Hanukkah and you do not, I encourage you to take part and experience it with them. This can be a great opportunity for learning and culture sharing. I also encourage host families to ask their au pairs to share their holiday traditions and customs.
Hanukkah is the Jewish Feast of Lights or Feast of Dedication. The Hebrew word Hanukkah means dedication. The holiday begins on the eve of the 25th day of the Hebrew Month of Kislev and lasts eight days. Hanukkah usually falls in the month of December, but occasionally can start in November. This year Hanukkah begins at sundown on Tuesday, December 12, 2017, and ends the evening of Wednesday, December 20, 2017.
How Do You Spell Hanukkah?
According to Judaism 101, the process of writing Hebrew words in the Roman (English) alphabet is known as transliteration. Transliteration is more an art than a science, and opinions on the correct way to transliterate words vary widely. This is why the Jewish festival of lights (in Hebrew, Cheit-Nun-Kaf-Hei) is spelled Chanukah, Chanukkah, Hanuka, and many other interesting ways. Each spelling has a legitimate phonetic and orthographic basis; none is right or wrong.
The books of the Maccabees tell the story of Hanukkah which occurred in 165 B.C. After three years of struggle, the Jews in Judea defeated the Syrian tyrant Antiochus. The Jewish people held festivities in the Temple of Jerusalem and rededicated it to God. After removing all Syrian idols from the Temple, the Jews found only one small pot of oil to light their holy lamps. Miraculously, the small pot provided oil for eight days. Judas Maccabaeus, the Jewish leader, then proclaimed a festival to be observed by Jewish people. (Source: www.apples4theteacher.com)
Hanukkah Traditions (Source: www.bhg.com)
- The Menorah
The centerpiece of the Hanukkah celebration is the Hanukkah or menorah, a candelabra that holds nine candles. Eight candles symbolize the number of days that the Temple lantern blazed; the ninth, the shamash, is a helper candle used to light the others. Families light one candle on the first day, two on the second (and so on) after sundown during the eight days of Hanukkah while reciting prayers and singing songs. The menorah — either store-bought or homemade and crafted of metal, wood, papier-mache, or clay — is filled from right to left, but lit left to right so each new candle is lit first. (Source: www.bhg.com)
- Singing Songs
Hanukkah — one of the most family-oriented of Jewish holidays — comes with its own set of carols sung around the glowing menorah. These celebrate everything from the glory of God and the ancient Temple of the Jews (“Maoz Tzur”) to the simplicity of a dreidel (see below), as in “Dreidel, dreidel, dreidel/I made it out of clay/And when it’s dry and ready/Dreidel I shall play.”
- Yummy Treats
There’s nothing low-fat about Hanukkah – many of the traditional foods of the holiday are deep-fried. In honor of the oil-y miracle people celebrating Hannukah like to eat foods that are fried in oil like latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiyot (jelly-filled doughnuts) and different fried breads. Want to have a go at making something? There are lots of recipes for yummy treats here.
- Spinning Tops
It’s customary to play with dreidels (spinning tops) during the holiday, even wage gambling games in which players guess which side of the top will fall face up. Legend has it that during the Greek-Syrian dictatorship in Israel of yore, Jews got around the ban on reading the Torah by bringing spinning tops to study sessions so their oppressors would think they were just playing around. The Hebrew characters carved into the four sides of today’s dreidels are the first letters of “Ness Gadol Haya Po/Sham,” which roughly translates to “Great Miracle Happened Here/There” (depending on whether you’re in Israel or not).
Celebrating Hanukkah in Washington, DC
- National Menorah Lighting: Tuesday, December 12, 4 pm on the National Ellipse
The lighting of this menorah – the world’s largest – is attended by thousands every year and seen via media by tens of millions across the nation and around the world. Along with the lighting, there will be live entertainment and menorah kits and dreidels to take home. Tickets are free but must be ordered in advance.
A very Happy Hanukkah to all!
When I moved to DC from the warm South Carolina coast for graduate school, I refused to believe that winter weather would actually arrive and (even worse) stick around for several months.
That first September, I was confused by the empty hooks hanging in the back of all of the classrooms. I couldn’t imagine that in a few short months each hook would be holding a winter coat.
In October, I ignored the racks of coats and stacks of sweaters displayed in all of the stores. My lightweight jacket and jeans seemed to work just fine.
In November, I dashed to and from the car, grateful for the warmth and heat inside my house and university. “It’s just a cold snap,” I told myself.
And then it snowed.
I watched my neighbors shovel their sidewalks and head off to work. I checked the university website and was shocked that classes hadn’t been canceled. December had arrived and I was living in DC without a hat, gloves, scarf, or boots. I slipped and slid my way to my car, carefully drove to Nordstroms (marveling at the snow plows clearing the roads), and bought the only pair of snow boots left in the store.
Seventeen years later, my closet is fully stocked with coats and everything else necessary to live, work, and play in the winter. Because that’s the biggest lesson I’ve learned about living in a city with winter weather- unless we have a blizzard, people go outside in the cold weather. In fact, they even have fun outdoors.
Children love to play in the snow- and they need the exercise. Staying cooped up inside only leads to grumpiness and fights. It’s much more fun to stay outside and build a snowman. Au pairs need to be prepared to join in the excitement.
For those of you not used to this weather, I understand your dismay. However, I encourage you to take advantage of this unique experience. Embrace the cold weather months as a chance to wear sweaters, try out a pair of gorgeous boots, and experience the snow. The au pair year is over very quickly, and before you know it, you’ll be home again showing your friends and families pictures of the first snowman you ever built.
Dress in Layers – Consider buying sweaters, jackets and long underwear. If you wear several layers, you can take off things to be comfortable. For example, when it might be too warm for a heavy jacket, but too cold for just a sweater, you can combine different pieces of clothing.
Set a Good Example – Host parents will expect you set the example for your kids by wearing a coat when it is cold outside. You should have a winter coat, hats, gloves, boots, and scarves. Your host kids will fight wearing a coat if you don’t wear one. Think of yourself as a celebrity and everyone wants to look like you — especially your kids.
Check the “Emergency Change of Clothes” – With young children, we often keep an emergency change of clothes in the car, diaper bag or at their school. If you haven’t already switched out the shorts and t-shirt for something warmer, now is the time to do it.
Buy Cold Weather Clothing Now – Many stores have sales this time of year. Target, T J Maxx, WalMart, and Macy’s have lots of outdoor gear in their stores. DSW has tons of warm and stylish boots and has many DC-area locations, including Columbia Heights, Friendship Heights, and Georgetown. Lands End and Amazon are great online alternatives. An even more affordable option would be to go to a thrift shop. There are many in the area and you can often find a very warm jacket for a small price compared to buying one new.
Monitor School Closings and Delays– Because DC doesn’t get as much snow as the Alps, school is often canceled or delayed when it snows just a little. Au pairs from Germany, Poland, and other cold-weather countries will laugh at the DC area’s dysfunction in the winter ice and snow. Talk with your host family now, so you can all understand the plan for these inevitable schedule changes.
(*Important Tips includes information first posted on Christine Connally’s Au Pair Chatter blog. )
It’s possible to look great and still be warm. Here are a few articles to inspire you:
- How To Look Fashionable While Staying Warm
- 6 Winter Fashion Tips for Looking Good When It’s Too Cold to Deal