Learning through Celebrations in Early Years

As we enter the final half term of the autumn, celebrations and festivals dominate the EYFS and school calendar; and whether it’s a time of year that fills you with the festive spirit or a few weeks you’d rather hide in the back of Santa’s Grotto, schools and nurseries across the land will be dusting off the Christmas tree and fighting over the best set of twinkly lights. So how will you be learning through celebrations in your Early Years Settings?

So why are celebrations and festivals such a big deal in the early years?

Festivals and celebrations across the world are a way for people to express their beliefs and values and play a significant role in children’s lives across the globe.  In the early years, we can use festivals and celebrations as a way to support children in their understanding of the beliefs and values of the people around the world as well as the commonalities that are shared by all cultures and religions.

Festivals and celebrations around the world bring people together, often through caring and sharing, preparing special food and by exchanging gifts.  Helping children in the early years to develop an understanding of festivals through the context of family experiences gives them a context and helps bring the experiences of others to life.  Children will learn that members of families of all religions (or of none) love one another and that they show this in different ways.

Exposing and teaching our children about the various traditions and cultures from around the world through festivals and celebrations, opens them up to opportunities to experience something new and exciting and nurtures their sense of identity, developing values and beliefs. By explaining to others how they celebrate a festival or taking part in a celebration, a child’s self-confidence and self-esteem is developed, and children’s awareness of, and respect for, others’ beliefs is nurtured.

Where does learning through celebrations fit in the Early Years Curriculum?

We can find references to learning about celebrations within both Development Matters and the Birth to 5 Matters framework.  Here is a breakdown of the objectives covered in nursery and reception settings.

3-4 Years old:

  • Continue developing positive attitudes about the differences between people.
  • Know that there are different countries in the world and talk about the differences they have experienced or seen in photos.                                                                                                                                 

Children in Reception:

  • Recognise that people have different beliefs and celebrate special times in different ways.
  • Recognise some similarities and differences between life in this country and life in other countries.


  • Know some similarities and differences between different religious and cultural communities in this country, drawing on their experiences and what has been read in class.

Which winter festivals are often celebrated in the early years?

Here’s a breakdown of some of the most popular festivals and celebrations during the winter months that could be explored in your early years setting,


  • Diwali (24th)
  • Halloween (31st)


  • Guy Fawkes Night/Bonfire night
  • Armistice Day (11th)
  • Remembrance Day (13th)
  • Advent (begins 27th)
  • St. Andrew’s Day (30th)


  • Hanukkah (begins 18th)
  • Christmas Eve (24th)
  • Christmas Day (25th)
  • New Years Eve (31st)


  • Chinese new year (22nd)

Learning through celebrations in the early years


Planning in the early years can often be a time-consuming process.  Take a look at our Celebrations MT Planning here to save you time and give you an excellent starting point when it comes to creating the best opportunities for the children in your setting.

Here are 3 top tips when planning for your setting:

  1. Observe the children in your setting.  There are many new experiences to be had within each festival but try to keep the children in your setting at the forefront of your mind when you plan out learning opportunities and continuous provision.  Are there children from a particular culture or background you could take the opportunity to focus on?  Can parents or carers help to enrich areas of your setting with special items used in festivals?  How do the children in your setting like to learn best and how can you use this to support your planning and preparation?
  2. Plan for some reoccurring themes throughout the winter months.  For example, light is a theme that crops up in almost all of the celebrations throughout the winter months.  How can you use this to help you manage the amount you are changing the environment within your setting or utilise resources you have already?
  3. Create an idea bank.  Websites such as Pinterest or planning sites such as Is It Time to Play? Have great planning and ideas banks you can draw from to create some fantastic learning opportunities for your children.  Utilise them along with the experiences of other practitioners in your setting.

Activity round-up

Of course, there are thousands of learning opportunities to explore within each and every celebration listed above, here are just some activity ideas to get you started the festival season.

Toilet Tube Painting

This simple mark making activity is perfect for exploring colour mixing, expressive art using different materials and representing their ideas in an imaginative way.

Christmas light walk

In the winter months, darker days means amazing lights!

Take your children on a Christmas light hunt in your local area and use the opportunity to talk about the different ways festivals are celebrated using lights.

If a local area walk is challenging where you live, set up some lights in your outdoor area for the children to discover.

Celebrations using lights in Early Years

 Hanukkah writing tray

Hanukkah is an 8-day Jewish celebration, which is sometimes spelt as Chanukah and might also be called ‘The Festival of Lights’. It takes place between November and December each year on a different date, following the Hebrew calendar.

This mark making activity is a great way to introduce children to different types of writing around the world and develop their fine motor control Use dyed salt or rice for this activity.      

Hannukah mark making for learning through celebrations. Image credit: Fantastic Fun and Learning    

Dragon play dough

Chinese New Year is a fantastic festival to explore in the early years following a return from the Christmas Break.  It gives us a chance to link themes the children have likely experienced in their own homes to that of a different culture.

Additionally, children who are from a Chinese family, often enjoy sharing their own family cultures and traditions after the Christmas hustle and bustle has died down.

This dragon play dough activity is a simple one to include within your enhanced provision and works on motor development, imagination and creativity.

Image Credit: The Fairy and the Frog

Learning through Celebrations

However you’re marking the winter festival season, be sure to check out my planning banks to get you inspired this term!

Here are some of my favourites for winter:

Friendship EYFS Planning    (Great links to anti-bullying week)

Planning Bank Stickman

MTP Light and Dark and Planning Bank Light and Dark

MTP Celebrations

Christmas Planning