Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, you have to admit—children are drawn to it!
It may be the presents, the days off from school, the decorations, the joyful carols, the festive lights… what’s not to love?
This makes Christmas the perfect time to spice up your classroom routine with some exciting holiday activities.
Spanish-speaking countries have a whole world of traditions that you can use to teach the language and some culture through one of the most popular holidays of the year.
To get you started, here are 10 festive Christmas activities your younger Spanish students will absolutely love.
10 Incredibly Fun Spanish Christmas Activities for Children
1. Sing Christmas Carols
Teaching Spanish through music is always excellent and effective for both children and adults. It’s a fun way to teach vocabulary and grammar within a context, plus it improves pronunciation.
Some Spanish Christmas carols (villancicos) will be familiar to children, since they are simply translated versions—like “Noche de Paz” (Silent Night) or “El niño del tambor” (The Little Drummer Boy). But there are also plenty of carols that were written originally in Spanish, and whose new melodies will be catchy and fun to sing.
This is a great site where you can find a wide variety of Spanish villancicos to choose from. All of them have lyrics, and some have music and even videos.
There are many activities to teach Christmas songs, it all depends on the age of your students and your goals. The younger the children, the catchier the songs should be. Here are some villancicos that are especially great for children because they are catchy, simple, repetitive and great for practicing vocabulary:
- “A las doce de la noche” (At Midnight)
- “Campana sobre campana” (Bell over Bell)
- “La Marimorena” (Brunette Mary)
- “El Burrito Sabanero” (The Donkey from the Savannah)
You can act out the song with your students, creating specific actions they’ll do when they hear certain words—which will encourage active listening. An action could be as simple as clapping their hands.
For older children you can do typical fill-in-the-blanks activities, or even have discussions if their level is more advanced.
Songs can always add a lot of flavor to a language class! And if you’re all about bringing songs and videos to the classroom, then you should check out FluentU.
Besides media related to the holidays, you’re bound to find plenty of other content you could easily integrate into class activities!
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2. Illustrate a Christmas Carol
Another great activity involving Christmas carols is to have students illustrate the song once they’re familiar with it. If the children are younger, just ask them “to draw the song.” I’m always amazed at how creative young children are!
If they are older, you can give them a copy of the lyrics but replace several words with blanks. Play the song several times so they can become familiar with it. This is like a fill-in-the-blanks activity, but instead of writing the words, they’ll draw. Students can take notes while listening, but their final work should be a drawing.
Display their works to motivate your students, and to reinforce the vocabulary you worked on. They will love seeing their villancicos on the wall!
3. Act out “Las Posadas”
Las Posadas (lodgings) is a celebration held in many Spanish-speaking countries from December 16 to 24. These nine days represent the nine months of Mary’s pregnancy. The holiday is traditionally celebrated with a complex performance of two groups: an outside group that represents Mary and Joseph called los peregrinos (the travelers) and an inside group that represents the lodge (los posaderos).
The outside group goes from house to house pidiendo posada (asking for lodging) until one house lets them in. Usually neighbors agree in advance on which house will let them in. The travelers ask for lodging through a dialogue that’s been made into a song. Each group sings its part until the song ends. Here you can see the singing performance so it’s clearer.
In some countries, the act ends with some praying inside the house. In others, like Mexico, it ends with a party in which people break a star-shaped piñata and have fun. I suggest choosing the Mexican way to celebrate in your classroom, since this is an activity intended for older children that have an intermediate or advanced level of Spanish.
It should be fun and taught as a cultural tradition, not as religion. You always have to consider cultural differences among your students, no matter your beliefs.
Teach your class the Posadas song in advance and discuss its meaning. Give everyone a copy of the lyrics so they can practice at home. Students don’t need to memorize it, they should just be familiar with the words.
On the day of the performance you can divide your class in two groups: the peregrinos and the posaderos. The peregrinos will be outside the classroom, and the posaderos will be in the classroom. They will sing across the door until the inside group lets them in.
To extend this activity, you could combine it with #4 below and have a party afterwards with a real piñata, so your students can truly experience the tradition in a fun way.
4. Make and Break a Piñata
The original piñatas were the star-shaped ones, and they were religious items. They had seven points, which represented the seven deadly sins. In this link you can read more about the history and symbolism of piñatas.
As a classroom activity, this will take you more than one class, but it will be totally worth it! On one class your students would make the base of the piñata and on the next class they will decorate it. You can’t do it all in one class since the base needs time to dry. On the last day of school, you can have a party in which you will break the piñata.
If you have a very small class, you can make one big piñata together, that you will break on the last day of class. This way, all of your students can be engaged in the activity. If your class is large, another option is that each student makes his or her own piñata, and you’ll just break the piñata that you, the instructor, made.
It can be a messy activity (especially the first part, when you’ll make the base), so here are a few things to consider if each student will make a piñata:
- You need a large classroom.
- Ask your students in advance to bring old clothes or a smock.
- Make sure you have plastic or newspapers to cover the tables.
- Have cleaning materials available.
- Reserve a place to let the bases dry until the next class.
This is the piñata song that people sing when they break it. Teach your class this song and distribute the lyrics before you start making the piñatas.
Then, here’s a tutorial that explains exactly how to make this type of piñata, and what materials you’ll need. You could watch this video with your class before you begin constructing, so they have an idea of the steps.
While making the piñatas, students can follow your instructions and watch you do each step. During the activity, you can ask students questions that’ll prompt them to describe exactly what they are doing.
This activity is not only very fun, but it can be totally educational. Depending on the level of your students, here are some topics to teach through this activity:
- With beginners you can use this activity to practice vocabulary like colors, classroom materials, fruits, candies and flavors.
- For intermediate students you can practice following instructions and verbs in different tenses (future tense when you tell them what they’ll do, present and present continuous while you do it, and past tense when you review how you did it).
- For advanced students, you can explain all the symbolism. If they are old enough, they can do some research and write a small essay about this topic (before or after you make the piñata).
If you want to take this to a deeper level and use the whole month dedicated to Christmas traditional activities, you can combine this activity with the Posadas. You could ask parents to prepare some food and drinks for the party. Students could even do some research about typical seasonal food in Spanish-speaking countries so the experience is even more authentic. On the last day of class, you’ll have a very fun and unforgettable end of the year party!
5. Celebrate Spanish April Fools’ Day
In Spanish-speaking countries, the equivalent of April Fools’ Day is celebrated on December 28: Día de los Inocentes (literally, Innocents’ Day). The whole day is full of pranks, jokes and crazy stories people tell each other. The media (radio, TV, newspapers) also reports fake news, some of which are so close to reality that people really get fooled. It’s said that you shouldn’t lend or give anything on this day, because you risk not getting it back.
Teach your students the Spanish saying that’s commonly said after someone’s been fooled:
Inocente palomita que te dejas engañar, que no sabes que este día ni se presta ni se da.
(Innocent little dove you allowed yourself to be fooled, don’t you know that this day you don’t lend and you don’t give.)
As a classroom activity, ask your students to come up with a good joke, prank or story for this day and write it down. It’ll be a fun way to work on writing skills, while practicing grammar and vocabulary as well.
If it’s something they can actually do on that day, ask them to later write about how it went. When students return from the holidays, they can then share their experiences. Each student will have a turn to talk about their joke, and the rest of the class can ask questions about it. This is especially good for practicing the past tense, plus students will love to hear how their classmates’ jokes went!
6. Write a Letter to the Three Wise Men
Instead of writing a letter to Santa Claus, ask your students to write to Los Tres Reyes Magos (the Three Wise Men), who bring presents to children for January 6. Depending on the level of your students, they can either make a simple list (in which you’ll practice vocabulary with them) or write a proper letter (in which you’ll review present tense and/or subjunctive depending on how complex the letter is).
In some schools in Latin America, on the last day before holiday break, children will tie their letters to a balloon and release the balloons into the sky all at the same time. It’s a great spectacle to watch, and children get really excited thinking their letters are flying to the Three Wise Men.
You can do the same with your class—just make a copy of their letters so you can keep one to review, since the other will be released to the sky. Check out this video so you can see how fun it is!
7. Make Christmas Carol Gift Boxes
Arts and crafts projects are a fun addition to any language class. After you’ve sung some Christmas carols, let students make a paper gift box that features a few lyrics on the sides, like the ones on Spanish Playground. Students should illustrate the lyrics that appear on the box.
If your students are older, use a simple box template like this one and divide up the lyrics to an entire villancico between your students. Then when they’re finished, play a game in which students have to put the song in order.
Older students could also use the blank template and select which song and lyrics to copy onto their box to illustrate.
8. Play with Christmas Fortune Tellers
Follow these instructions and make Christmas-themed comoecocos or sacapiojos (fortune tellers) in class. If you have younger kids, you might prefer to use this printable of a Christmas fortune teller from Spanish Playground.
Once they’re made, playing with the fortune tellers in pairs is a great activity to practice vocabulary, asking questions and dividing words into syllables.
If your students are more advanced, instead of just saying the word to select a space, have them use that word in a complete sentence. So for example, if there’s a snowman on one of the flaps, rather than just saying “muñeco de nieve,” students could describe how to build one, describe its outfit, or tell a story about one—the possibilities are endless!
9. Create a Nativity Scene
Most homes in Spanish-speaking countries have a Nativity scene as part of the Christmas decorations. Making one with your students can be very fun for them!
For this activity, it’s important to consider the age of your students, so it’s not only entertaining but challenging for them. You can be as creative as you want, but I’ll suggest a few ideas that can be done during a class, and you can adapt them to your students.
For the younger ones, simple Nativity scenes made with egg cartons, Play-Doh or toilet paper rolls work well.
- Egg carton Nativity
- Eggs Nativity
- Play-Doh Nativity — If your students are younger, make less characters.
- Toilet paper rolls Nativity — These are biblical figures, but you can adapt them to the characters of the Nativity.
For older students, try using Play-Doh or tongue depressors.
To make these crafts an opportunity to learn and practice Spanish, you also have to consider your students’ language level. You can practice vocabulary (like colors, animals or classroom materials), following instructions, asking questions, etc.
You could even play a video for them as a tutorial, and then review what they saw. For example, here’s a video of two girls explaining how to make a simple tongue depressor Nativity, which may work for your class.
Prepare some comprehension questions in advance for the video, such as “What materials were used?,” “What color was the star painted?,” “What was the first step?,” etc. Students would practice past tense as they describe how the craft was made, or simple vocabulary if their level is more basic.
10. The Poinsettia: A Mexican Christmas Star
Known in Mexico as “flor de Nochebuena” (Christmas Eve flower) and in the world as “Poinsettia,” this flower of Mexican origin prevails today in homes during Christmas around the world.
The Aztecs, who used it during several celebrations dedicated to the god Huitzilopochtli, knew it as “cuetlaxóchitl,” which means “flower that withers” in Nahuatl. The name comes from a myth of a rebellion of the Chontales group, who refused to pay the “taxes” imposed by the Aztecs.
This rebellion happened in the place that today is Taxco, where a bush of white flowers grew. The Aztecs brutally defeated the Chontales, and the flowers withered after that (which explains the name). Because of the blood prints of the defeated ones, the bushes were covered with red flowers on the next blooming, symbolizing the spirit of the fallen ones.
When the Spanish arrived, the flower was renamed as Nochebuena (Christmas Eve flower) because it could keep its red color during the Christmas celebrations. The Spanish missionaries took advantage of this opportunity to distance the symbolism from the blood of the defeated, and gave the flower a Christian reinterpretation.
In the 19th century, the ambassador of the United States, Joel Robert Poinsett, saw the flower for the first time during Christmas while visiting the church of Santa Prisca in Taxco. He took some samples to the United States, where it easily acclimatized, and he was able to commercialize it all over his country—and eventually in Europe. The Christmas Eve flower was patented in the United States, where was named “Poinsettia,” after the ambassador who introduced it to the world, and was popularized as a Christmas decoration.
As a classroom activity you can tell your students the story behind the flower, and then ask them to make a picture of the story or to write it down with their own words—it all depends on their age and level. If they’ll draw a picture, you can later ask your students to present it to the class, which will give you an opportunity to reinforce grammar, vocabulary and speaking skills.
You now have plenty of ideas to add a seasonal touch to your Spanish classroom this Christmas, spicing up your classroom routine. I’m sure your students will have as much fun as you will!
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