Text: Monika Pedersen
The clocks have gone back, and the days are becoming shorter, but this does not deter November from being a busy month for festivities in an international school. Of course, not all celebrations are happy ones, but they are undoubtedly memorable moments which provide a teachable moment and encourage an appreciation of the broadness of the world around them.
The very tail end of October brought Halloween. Though not a Danish tradition but an American one, its popularity has grown in recent years. It is firmly planted in every middle and primary school child’s calendar. Any discerning teacher knows that pumpkin carving is a must within the primary classroom or the art room. An ample supply of pumpkins, knives, and creative designs must be ready. An afternoon of carving and creating is truly relished by students.
In addition to pumpkins, Halloween provided a wonderful opportunity to dress up, and students loved it. A lot of time and thought goes into planning the ‘perfect’ costume. Originally the preference was for the typical characters associated with Halloween, such as witches, black cats, spiders, ghosts, and ghouls. This has now broadened to include a plethora of hero costumes, including spiderman, batman and robin, wonder woman, or characters from Star Wars or other sci-fi favourites, to mention a few. The excitement created by the costumes is always intense as students parade around the playground or corridors, grade level by grade level.
And no Halloween is complete without a trick-or-treat evening around the local neighbourhood, where candies and monies are collected.
"The most beautiful festival on the international calendar is Diwali. It is the Hindu festival of lights, symbolising the victory of light over darkness."
The most beautiful festival on the international calendar is Diwali. It is the Hindu festival of lights, symbolising the victory of light over darkness. The tradition is that entire cities are decked with lights, candles and illuminations. It is a time when families gather to exchange gifts and elaborate sweets. It is as glamorous as Christmas in south Asia, and the celebrations last several days. At school, 4 November is often celebrated with a colourful assembly, with parents and students in traditional dress and dances and tasting the unique sweets. It is an uplifting celebration.
In sombre contrast, Remembrance Day, with the traditional one or two minutes of silence at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month (11:00, 11 November) that marks the moment when the armistice became effective, is an important calendar date. Teachings to raise awareness among young people of the sacrifices made by others to provide the freedom many of us enjoy today are common themes of the day. For many Brits, the poppy is something missed here in Denmark. However, some people, like myself, keep it safe and bring it out yearly. It interests students, so time is used to explain the remembrance poppy and its significance.
Also celebrated on 11 November is the Danish tradition of Sankt Mortenaften (Saint Martin’s Day). Sankt Morten was a monk who supported livestock and beggars. He worked in Tours, France, and the villagers wanted to appoint him as their Bishop. However, Morten did not want this, so he hid in a goose shed, but the geese exposed him, and Morten had to take up the office of Bishop. As revenge, he decreed that a goose must be slaughtered as a sacrifice once a year. As geese were expensive, the duck was used as a cheaper replacement. The tradition came over to Denmark in 1616, and after 11 November, goose or duck was eaten.
A much-loved tradition is the American Thanksgiving, celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November. The day recognises the founding fathers’ harvest feast shared with the English pilgrims and Wampanoag people. The celebratory Thanksgiving meal typically includes turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, gravy, bread stuffing, cranberries, and greens, followed by pumpkin pie for dessert. Often, the parent committee hosts a thanksgiving lunch, and the entire school population enjoys a communal meal in the school canteen.
These are just a few of the common celebrations, but it is evident that November is a month rich in international culture. It is a vibrant time that paves the way for further excitement brought by the countdown to Christmas.