Forget the Holiday Hassles; Have a Mirthday Sillybration and Plant an ArtSeed Instead!

December 17, 2009

Everyone has the right to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.
• Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human rights, part of the International Bill of Human Rights, adapted and proclaimed by the United National General Assembly Resolution 217 A (III) on December 10, 1948

I’m looking at USA Today’s “Snapshots” by Michelle Healy and Keith Simmons (D1, December 17, 2009), a poll asking “What causes you the most anxiety during the holiday season?” It’s no surprise that the top stressors are “being strapped for cash” and the “inability to buy gifts for everyone you’d like.” Others listed in the top five are “shopping for the perfect gift, dealing with family conflicts, and spending time with family.”

We have new stressors at this time of year as well, cultural fractures related to which holiday(s) to celebrate and how to avoid offending others who do not share the same beliefs. In the community where I teach, an elementary school removed a giving tree because of a few parental complaints and put it back up because of widespread protests. Regardless of the outcome, such situations leave everyone feeling a bit uneasy. School administrators all over the country wonder what symbols are inoffensive and representative of no particular culture.

Can students make snowpeople (certainly not men, right?) and snowflakes? Are jingle bells okay? Is holly acceptable? What can students sing about? Should they sing at all? Should there even be a holiday break? I don’t pretend to have answers to these increasingly contentious issues, but I do have to make sure my students who will be teachers are aware of possible pitfalls and understand how these issues are related to the choices they make for their classrooms.

When I began teaching, I had several students who did not celebrate birthdays or other holidays for religious reasons. I wanted them to be involved in the classroom community, so I began what I called Mirthday Sillybrations (Zinn, 1994). Instead of traditional reasons for celebrating, we created our own, often accompanied by the planting of ArtSeeds (Zinn, 2000) that celebrated creativity and caring and art•full thinking. George Scialabba said that perhaps imagination is only intelligence having fun, and the free and cheap activities of ArtSeeds encouraged all my students to develop their imaginative skills in service to the larger community of human beings. It’s hard to find fault with that idea.

I came up with these concepts many years ago while I was in high school. As the oldest of five children, I had lots of opportunities to make birthdays and other holidays special for my brothers and sisters and to surprise them with other celebrations all year long. I also liked to get them involved in making life special for other people. When I became a mother, one of my greatest joys was surprising my children—any time of the year. Every month had a special character who visited. From the Presidents who spread pennies and dollar bills around the room to celebrate President’s Day to the Great Heart to the April Fool to Charlie Brown’s Great Pumpkin, each of these characters allowed me to be a conspirator in the magic of believing.

ArtSeeds are magic too. Leaving little surprises for others to find reminds them to think about creative possibilities in their own lives. You don’t need a recognized holiday to celebrate. Any day can be a Mirthday Sillybration, and it’s possible to make merry over just about anything from pencils to trees to smiles to chewing gum. ArtSeeds I’ve planted with students include Earth Day Haiku Hats made from origami-ed newspaper, featuring handwritten “happy haikus”: If you’ve found this / it’s your lucky day, so laugh and / dance and sing and smile!, and Crayon Bombs, little coloring books celebrating peaceful living to color in and pass on (crayons included).

One of my favorites ideas that can be used any time of the year is The T.O.Y. Company (Thinking Of You) ArtSeed. When I made these with my students, we created colorful tags with messages to attach to small toys we left for others to find. The tags had the T.O.Y. Company logo along with an inspirational quotation and a handwritten message from the planter, rather like leaving a good fortune cookie for someone to find. Creating a common culture of caring about one another and adding to the happiness of others seem to me to be good things to promote any time of the year.

What can you do this season to lower your stress and make someone else happy too? My idea for an end-of-the-quarter Mirthday Sillybration is one I’m going to do today. I’m going to take a bunch of quarters and leave them in various places for other people to find. Just imagine how lucky each of those people will feel. Why don’t you join me? What cheap thrills we’ll get for just a few bucks!

Little surprises around every corner, but nothing dangerous.
• Willy Wonka



  1. My idea for a Mirthday Sillybration is to celebrate kindness. In my classroom, (in February) the 100th day of school and Random Acts of Kindness coincide. I have my students catch eachother being kind and write down their kind acts….once we reach 100, we have a celebration!

    • I love this. I challenged my students with a home•work assignment that was a kindness challege. I’ve written about it in my blog. Being kind to others outside of school and the classroom is revelatory. W-OZ

  2. I love the idea of sillybrating something random. I think it helps include everyone by choosing something without a cultural/religious stigma. For my class I choose another stressful time….state testing! We will sillybrate the end of testing! (It would be nice to have a funeral and bury it!) Hopefully students will enjoy themselves enough to forget the misery of the last few days.

  3. My children and I celebrated Licorice Day for our Mirthday Sillybration. I bought string licorice and we tried to think of new uses for it. We made licorice bracelets, licorice sling shots, licorice letters, etc. Then we went to Bandon Sweets and Treats candy story to purchase 1-3 samples of (almost) every type of black licorice they had, and learn which countries made them. At home, we looked in our Atlas to find all the different countries that our licorice came from, and tasted the licorice from each country. We had a wonderful time.

  4. My Mirthday Sillybration is National “We Love Chips” Day. We will use our five senses to observe different kinds of chips. By the end of the lesson each student will use their five senses to complete their worksheet, a picture of their chip and discuss chip observations at each table. Some students can stand up and share a sentence using one of their five senses to describe their chip. Either the teacher or students will be in charge of bringing in different kinds of chips for the Mirthday Sillybration.

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