Three years ago I was introduced to a wonderful holiday celebration. Stephen was attending a great preschool and the holiday season was approaching. Notices came home saying that a Winter Walk was planned and parents were invited to join in. During the weeks prior to the walk-date the children strung popcorn and cranberries, dried fruit slices, covered pinecones with peanut butter and birdseed, and bagels with suet and more birdseed. While preparing for the winter walk, the teachers read stories about forest animals and taught the children to sing: Jingle Bells, Oh Christmas Tree, and other holiday favorites.
On walk-day parents arrive, children bundle-up, bells are put into mittened-hands, and animal treats are put into baskets. When all are prepared, children, parents, and teachers walk though the woods to a pre-designated tree where carols are sung and edible gifts are left for the animals. The tree looks beautiful decorated in ornament/treats. The children feel connected to the animals that live around their school. During the weeks of preparation the children have learned about seasonal changes and how animals prepare for winter. They understand that animals lives are different during the winter months and that providing them with food is helpful. During the walk the children find gifts that were left for them by the neighborhood animals. A Christmas thank-you for their generous efforts.
This year I am a preschool teacher at the same school. And I have had the good fortune to help prepare for the Winter Walk. I have sung carols, strung popcorn and cranberries, made ornaments, cleared pathways, read books, and talked about animals and their winter habits. We also made special corn cakes for the animals. The children placed them in trees or on rocks along the path during the Winter Walk.
The director of the school told me that the tradition was inspired by a book called Night Tree. This book was written by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Ted Rand and published the year after this school opened. She and a teacher read the book and instantly knew they would build it into the school's holiday celebration.
Night Tree is a story about a family who pays a Christmas Eve visit to a certain tree every year. They bring edible decorations to put on the tree—apples and tangerines with strings on them, balls of sunflower seeds, and pressed millet and honey. When the tree is decorated they sit down on a blanket and admire their work. Then they share hot chocolate and sing Christmas carols.
I have chosen a tree in the woods near my house to decorate this year. We will string popcorn, dry apples and spread peanut butter on pinecones and roll them in bird seed. These offerings will be taken out to the tree and shared with the animals in our corner of the woods. Maybe this will be the start of a new tradition for our holiday celebration. Happy Holidays!