Holiday Videos

The NCSS (1989) recommendations give suggestions for incorporating the study of holidays which can motivate children’s interests as well as further their cultural knowledge:
“National holidays are obvious; religious holidays as celebrated around the world are also possible occasions for teaching students about important ideas and customs that co-exist with one another in our country and in the world, as long as teachers take pains to inform and not to indoctrinate the children.” (p. 9)
Three videos which fit this criteria are reviewed, two secular and one religious. Each video emphasized the circumstances for celebrating the holiday, namely respect for the personal courage of national heroes and an appreciation of seasonal festivals. Also, each video conveys a sense of curiosity, wonder, and sharing.

Paul Revere

Oliver’s Boston: Why Paul Revere Rode (MyTrip Ltd., P.O. Box 189, 142 Follen Road, Lexington, MA 02173-5944, 1992) is a 40-minute, animated video which could be used to celebrate the Fourth of July. It is geared so primary and pre-K children can get a first-hand glimpse of the tensions surrounding pre-Revolutionary War Boston. Oliver, a very knowledgeable owl and time traveler, kidnaps a brother and sister from the clutches of summer boredom and hurls them on a high tech ride through space and time. After an initial scenic tour of present-day Boston, the crew is transported to colonial Boston. The children learn of the political tensions as told from the perspective of Dr. Joseph Warren and participate in Paul Revere’s ride and the siege at Bunker Hill.

• Strengths — This engaging and believable video utilizes quality visuals and clear content. Computer-generated graphics are combined with maps, photographs of modern Boston, illustrations and paintings of colonial Boston, and artifacts of the time (for example, a copy of the Declaration of Independence). The video is fast-paced and witty. The character development of lesser known colonial patriots such as William Dawes and Dr. Joseph Warren is realistic and provides heroic role models. The plot progression will easily hold the attention of the intended audience.

• Concerns — The leisurely beginning and abrupt conclusion in this video may require adaptation for instructional purposes. Stilted hand and mouth movements from frequent stop-action animation are another noticeable weakness. In the story itself, as the children are transported back to the present day and recount their adventure with great excitement, their father’s patronizing attitude lessens the impact of the colonial climax at Bunker Hill. Nevertheless, this video will surely prompt questions and comments from young children.

Abraham Lincoln

In Mr. Lincoln’s Footsteps (Illinois State Board of Education, 100 N. 1st Street, Springfield, IL 62777, 1992) is a 20-minute, color, closed-caption video about five historic sites commemorating the Springfield, Illinois period of Abraham Lincoln’s life. It is best suited to a middle school and high school level audience. The video depicts two teenage boys who are taken on a tour by their eighteen year old cousin who is a volunteer guide. She escorts these thirteen year olds through the historic places of pre-Civil War Illinois: New Salem village, Lincoln’s home and office, the old State Capitol, and Lincoln’s tomb. Throughout the tour they meet knowledgeable and friendly tour guides who answer their questions and give interesting anecdotes about Lincoln’s life.

• Strengths —The video is more than a travelogue. It presents the ideas, issues, and conflicts that Lincoln faced as his career developed. The places and objects serve as props which define the critical experiences of his life. For example, as one of the boys holds Lincoln’s shaving mirror, the tour guide tells the story of why Lincoln grew his beard. This video would be an excellent supplementary activity for a history or geography unit on central Illinois.
A 32-page teacher’s guide accompanies the video and is very comprehensive. A variety of instructional tools including a timeline chronology of Lincoln’s life, a short summary of Lincoln’s associates, activity cards, a crossword puzzle, and questions about Lincoln from the New Salem period are provided. A series of 19th century replicas of the Illinois Gazette newspaper, as well as period photographs, are an interesting and informative addition to the packet. Colored glossy pamphlets on each of the sites are also included and a two-page evaluation survey is enclosed.

• Concerns — The video is limited by the restrictions inherent in the tour guide format. Since there are only two participants on the tour, there are limited opportunities for extended interaction. Although the boys ask good questions about the history of the sites, the dialogue seems forced and artificial at times. More use of music would help liven up the museum-paced approach. Finally, if more peripheral questions were asked about how people responded to Lincoln’s emerging leadership during the Springfield era, the story could be more personalized and complete.

Jewish Holidays

The Jewish Holidays Video Guide (Tapeworm Distributors, 12420 Montague Street, Ste-B, Arleta, CA 91331, 1987) is a 75-minute color video describing six seasonal Jewish holidays and the weekly Sabbath observance. The holidays described are a reminder of the rich history and heritage of the Jewish people and would be appropriate for students K-12. After an introduction identifying the importance of the Jewish Sabbath, major Jewish holidays, including Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, Sukkoot, Hanukkah, Purim, Passover, and Shavuot are portrayed.
The rendering of each holiday follows a consistent format. Each segment contains a short description of the origins of the holiday and its meaning or significance.

A longer section follows on how families celebrate the holiday and concludes with personal anecdotes from Jewish celebrities such as Theodore Bikel, Ed Asner, Judge Wapner, and Monty Hall. A Jewish family, the Cohens, also show how they celebrate each holiday. This not only anchors the different segments, but reflects the warmth, vitality, and variety of family traditions brought to each holiday.

• Strengths —The video is appropriate for viewers unfamiliar with Jewish heritage. Jewish holidays appear in many forms including story-telling, story-reading, skits, songs, photographs, illustrations (including children’s drawings), and reminiscences of different family rituals. English subtitles appear whenever Hebrew prayers are given. Printed topic headings and holiday descriptors would make this video accessible to the hearing impaired. Children play a prominent part in the preparation and celebration of each holiday, from blowing the shofar (ram’s horn) to asking the questions which begin the Passover sedar. Food is a prevalent theme in the home at the holidays. As the camera spans lavish table settings, the narrator gives a simple and succinct description of kosher food preparation and presentation. The acting is natural and comfortable, projecting a climate conducive to a neighborly visit.

• Concerns —There is so much detailed information in this video that it may be overwhelming to view in one sitting. However, each fifteen minute segment could be an effective prompt for further discussion or activities. The relative unfamiliarity of language and customs is offset by the genuine enthusiasm of those celebrating the Jewish holidays.

National Commission on Social Studies in the Schools. (1989). Charting a course: Social studies for the 21st century. Washington, DC: Author.
Hartoonian, M. (1993). A guide for redefining social studies. Social Education, 57(2), 59-60.

About the Author
Wayne Benenson is Assistant Professor of Elementary Social Studies on the faculty of Curriculum and Instruction at Illinois State University, Normal, IL.