Peace Corps · Teaching Abroad

Where Christmas Snow is Only Ever Made of Paper

Creepy Santa

{Teaching Malagasy students about American Christmas traditions}

I taught my 7th grade (5eme) students how to make paper snowflakes and sing Christmas carols this week. When we started the activity, one student held up the test I had just passed back, jokingly suggesting that he would use that to make his paper snowflake. I shrugged because after all, I had used an old exam paper myself to make the demo-snowflake. After the laughter died and we finally began, I felt graciously surprised at the silent concentration that swept over my students as they tried to follow along with folding their papers into smaller and smaller triangles, then cutting it in all the right places. Somewhere along the way, a small din broke out as they passed scissors around the room – of 50 students, only 15 or 20 had scissors. My own pair even got momentarily lost in a crowd of boys each time I finished demonstrating where to cut a semi-circle or triangle into the folds of the ice-cream cone shaped piece of paper.

Once finished, they all held up their snowflakes – which was an awesomely logical and straightforward craft activity for a largely un-artistically inclined culture – muttering phrases like “milay be” (vey cool) or “good, good, teacher!” One boy even went as far as to kidnap my scissors and speedily made a whole pile of snowflakes, filling up one of the unused laboratory sinks with a paper blizzard.

Our Christmas decorations done with, I moved on to a song. When I taught the Christmas carol during the last class of the day (and of the week, the month, the year), two of my more enthusiastic students shouted the carol at the top of their lungs, overshadowing the confused murmurs of their classmates. We all found it tremendously hilarious when I isolated the aisle filled with my laziest and quietest students and their attempts to follow along with “We wish you a merry Christmas” fell apart at the first ‘merry’. Sadly — or humorously, depending on perspective – regardless of my students’ individual levels, they all sung the “Christmas” part in monotone while pronouncing it “Crees-mas”. “Wish” was pronounced “weesh”. Is it bad of me to say that their mispronunciations gave the whole performance a comical feel?

I felt ridiculous for other reasons as well. Mainly, these students have no idea how much I disdain singing in public and the personal sacrifice I’m making by standing in front of this giggle-prone audience and belting out the tunes to English pop songs. I hate it, but after so many requests to learn English Christmas carols I knew I should relinquish a little pride and work it into a lesson. The tattoo of a music stanza on my arm probably throws them off. (Side note: Interestingly, in every country I go people who see my tattoo have a different idea as to how I’m musically inclined. In Central America, people frequently asked if I played guitar. In America, people generally ask whether or not I play any musical instrument. However, in Madagascar the most popular reactions to my tattoo are either “LA MUSIQUE!!” or “do you sing?” It seems as though women play instruments even more rarely here than in the West, meaning a music tattoo could only imply that I am a singer.)

Anyways, it’s difficult to get in the Christmas spirit while wearing tank tops and summer dresses, even if most of the more prestigious shops, restaurants, and bars owners in town have decked out their establishments in shimmery, Chinese-made garland. However, harvesting my students’ enthusiasm about Christmas and the upcoming two-week vacation certainly helped me be more present about the imminent approach of the Christmas holidays.

Tratra ny Kristmasy daholo!
Merry Christmas everyone!

Photo: (1) Creepy Santa giving Malagasy children candy at a friend’s Christmas work party

*I teach all 200 of the 5eme students (equivilant to the American 7th grade) at a public middle school (CEG) in Madagascar. The students are split up into 4 sections, which study English for three hours every week.

3 thoughts on “Where Christmas Snow is Only Ever Made of Paper

    1. The Malagasy classroom doesn’t have a heavy focus on the creative. Art isn’t a part of the curriculum and telling my students to free draw something usually ends most of them shouting “I don’t know how to draw!” unless they’re copying a picture I’ve already drawn.

      There are some fantastic crafts and art work here though, so maybe that statement should be rephrased.

      On Sun, Dec 23, 2012 at 12:49 AM, Beat Nomad

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      1. Ahhhh, okay. Now I understand. I’ve always assumed that all cultures are artistically inclined in their own ways, so I wasn’t sure what you mean. Thank you for the clarification.

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