Network Bulletin

September 2019

Animals and the Holidays

Celebrate the happiness that [animals] are always giving; make every day a holiday and celebrate just living.

Amanda Bradley,
Writer & Historian

Upcoming holidays can be a great opportunity to teach young people about our relationship to animals and to encourage questioning the ways in which animals are involved in specific traditions or connected to various festivities. We can also teach about how to keep our animals safe if we have certain traditions that may be fun for us but not fun for them. For example, many people like to celebrate Christmas with poinsettias, which are poisonous to cats, dogs, and horses. Other holidays are celebrated with lit candles, such as in a menorah during Hanukkah and a kinara during Kwanzaa. It is important to keep these items out of reach from our pets. During the Fourth of July, a lot of people like to enjoy fireworks, but they can be terrifying for animals, so we need to take proper precautions to make them feel safe and comfortable.

We are highlighting a handful of holidays—Halloween, Thanksgiving, Valentine’s Day, and Easter—in this month’s bulletin to provide examples of activities and lessons you can develop to teach youth about respecting animals and taking them into consideration during these special occasions. When teaching about holidays, it is also important to be sensitive to the cultural backgrounds of the youth you are teaching. Make it clear that you are not promoting any particular religious holiday over another, but instead discussing how animals are related to the holiday. We believe it is important to value and respect everyone’s cultural and religious holidays, as well as those who don’t celebrate any holidays. When you develop your lessons, focus on those celebrated by the communities that you serve, while also acknowledging those who don’t celebrate them. 

Our featured downloads provide activities related to Thanksgiving. As a preface to the activity, we encourage you to consider addressing social justice concerns related to specific holidays. These discussions can be valuable teachable moments. For example, Teaching Tolerance offers a lesson plan and an article for educators that can help you address historical myths about Thanksgiving and the horrific reality of how indigenous people were treated when Europeans came to the United States. Inform your students that some people in the United States do not acknowledge the fourth Thursday of November as Thanksgiving, but instead observe that day as A National Day of Mourning. Help them to understand that celebrating Thanksgiving can be a time to reflect on what we are thankful for, but it is also a time to remember how Native Americans have been treated in the past, how Native Americans are treated today, and ways that we can work toward restorative justice and resolution.

We also believe it is important to think about turkeys—particularly in November—since according to Farm Sanctuary, approximately 46 million turkeys are killed each year for Thanksgiving celebrations. In our featured download, we provide activity suggestions that highlight the remarkable qualities of turkeys to help build appreciation for them and encourage youth to see them as the intelligent, social, and emotional beings they are.

Let’s enjoy traditions, but in ways that acknowledge our past, and that do not come at the expense of other people or animals. Let’s teach youth to create new holiday traditions and observances that are inclusive and sensitive to the feelings, needs, and experiences of everyone.  

Lessons & Activities

Lesson/Craft - All Ages
Appreciating Black Cats
Superstitions about black cats are often heard around Halloween. These misconceptions can influence the way people feel about black cats, and the way that black cats are treated. This activity helps to dispel myths about black cats and encourages people to treat them humanely.
Lesson - Grades 3 and up
Holiday Animal Stories
Unfortunately, people sometimes think Easter is a good time to get a baby chick or a bunny as a gift for someone, even though animals are living beings and not toys. Use the stories and discussion questions in this activity to teach youth about these issues from the point of view of the animals.
Activity/Craft - All Ages
A Valentine for Animals
With this craft, youth are encouraged to write up and decorate a poster showing slogans and images about animals with Valentine’s Day and love themes. This is a great way to build awareness and spread messages of love and caring for animals in your facility, community, and the world.

Related Articles

Book Recommendations
'Twas the Night Before Thanksgiving
By: Dav Pilkey
On Thanksgiving Eve, a group of children visit a turkey farm and learn that something bad is going to happen to their feathered friends. They find a way to save the turkeys and give everyone something for which to be thankful.
Bat Loves the Night
By: Nicola Davies
This fictional story about a mother bat includes facts to build reverence and empathy for these nocturnal creatures. The mother bat travels through the night sky to find food and comes back before the break of dawn to feed and care for her baby.
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