Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Dec 18 2011

On the first day of Christmas, my students gave to me…

On Friday we had our Christmas assembly. Side note: anyone who says rural America manages to separate religion and school is kidding themselves. 98% of our students are Christian (there’s one Muslim family in the school), many of them devoutly so. Also, because of the stunning lack of outside world experience our kids have, most of them have only a vague idea that Jewish is a religion. Our nod to multiculturalism was our final research paper this quarter, where the kids researched Ramadan, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa and wrote a paper describing the holiday and who celebrates it. Except that in the end they had so very little background knowledge that three kids thought Ramadan was a country and another two thought Muslim was a food. They also frequently used the phrases “Hanukkah people” and “Ramadan people” and “Kwanzaa people,” as in: “The Kwanzaa people light candles.” Oops.

Anyway, what all this boils down to is that the whole school pretty much ignores all other holidays and goes nuts for Christmas. We have Christmas trees in our classrooms (even me, because what kind of Grinch could look into the wide eyes of 9-year-olds and lecture about nondenominational holidays when they ask “Why we can’t have a sparkly tree like Ms. So-and-So’s class?” Plus there was an extra). Santa came to Specials, and we got a grant to give the kids giant stockings full of little toys and other essentials like toothpaste and vitamins. And we had a Christmas assembly.

It was the cutest thing ever. Because it was supposed to be an Elvis Christmas Assembly (though almost everyone missed the memo), there were adorable things like kindergartners with drawn-on sideburns and fifth grade Elvis boys giggling as fifth grade fangirls cheered for them. Plus there was the best act of all: our grade’s act, the Southwest 12 days of Christmas! Here are the lyrics our students came up with (with explanatory commentary by me):

On the 12th day of Christmas my true love gave to me:

12 Timberwolves Howling (Our mascot is the Timberwolf, and here all the kids get to howl.)

11 Roadrunners Running (State bird of New Mexico = roadrunner. Mu-meep!)

10 Sacks of Flour (Blue Bird Flour, of course. Why this is the only brand we have here, I don’t know.)

9 Spicy Chiles (Everything has chile on it here, and the age-old question is, “Red or green?” Best answer: Christmas, which means both. When you have to pick just one, it totally depends on what restaurant you’re in. Don Diego’s: red. Salsa’s: green.)

8 Navajo Tacos (Navajo tacos are way overpriced and taste like a heart attack but they’re so delicious! They’re a staple of the Flea Market, powwows, and pretty much any public activity. Basically it’s pinto beans, lettuce, tomato, onion and cheese on a big piece of frybread. Mmmmmm.)

7 Turquoise Bracelets (Turquoise is for protection in Navajo culture, and is a VERY popular jewelry medium. A huge number of people are silversmiths and jewelers out here, and they sell their crafts either at the Flea Market or walking around through restaurants and other public places. Pretty much everyone on my Christmas list is getting jewelry…surprise!)

6 Tasty Pinons (Pinon is a kind of tree, and apparently the nuts are really tasty, according to my kids. Gathering pinons to eat is a pretty traditional activity, the kind of thing you do with your grandma. I have yet to taste a pinon, mostly because I don’t live near pinon trees.)

5 GOLDEN FRYBREADS! (Frybread is the most quintessential Indian food ever. It is exactly what it sounds like: dough, slapped flat and round, then fried in Crisco, served with either salt or honey. At our school’s cultural night, one of my favorite moms and a few of the grannies taught me how to make it.)

4 Prairie Dogs (These things are a menace. They’re everywhere, and they dart in front of cars, and people get in accidents because of them. But they’re super cute and the first time we came out here to interview at the school we actually stopped the car to watch their adorableness, so they have a special place in my heart.)

3 Lost Sheep (Navajo are sheep-herding people, traditionally. Sheep get lost. Nuff said.)

2 Moccasins (Traditional moccasins are so beautiful. There are different ones for men and women, and people only wear them for ceremonies or dances, because they’re really expensive.)

And an Elvis in a Pear Tree!

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    In which I muse about New Mexico, teaching, and life in general.

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