What Do Different Cultures Say About The Tree of Life?

Tu Bishvat, also called Tu B’Shevat and The New Year of the Trees, is coming up on February 9, 2020! And I wish I had a whole tree unit done already, but for now I have this super fun freebie that I think is equally perfect for this holiday. You see, this Jewish tradition involves planting trees. So, what better time than now to learn about how they grow and what they symbolize to different people!

The tree of life story seems like a tale as old as time, reaching across countless cultures, which makes it a great tool for comparing cultures. Plus, it’s chock full of symbolism and often comes with stories of great adventure and struggle to reach it, much like the Holy Grail. And if you know me, you might know I love these two things a lot – ancient symbols, and stories that apply them. My family spent a lot of time this month enjoying all these different tales we could find and created this freebie for you!

I hate to string you out and say that you’ll have to wait for my tree unit to finish before I can pull my thoughts together on how each culture views the tree of life differently, but I can say that the thing that stays the same is that the tree of life is always viewed as a type of paradise and rest. And that’s what I tried to capture most in my coloring page.

The coloring page is full of different symbols that I thought represented some of my favorite parts of each story we read in some way or another. Some of those symbols include:

  • 7 branches. In Hebrew, 7 represents something being perfect or whole.
  • 10 fruit. Multiple accounts talk about the fruit being “most desirable” and compare the fruit to blessings. In Hebrew, 10 can just mean a lot, or even numberless. Like numberless blessings coming from the tree.
  • The tree of life in many accounts is near a body of water, but in some interpretations, the flow of water seems to come from the tree itself.
  • The tree is associated with a higher power.
  • The Baobab tree is considered the tree of life in Africa, and I read that elephants are one of its only natural predators. The way elephants can sense the water in the trees is amazing and, I thought, symbolic.
  • The flowers drawn on the trunk are structured like the Kabbalah representation of the tree of life.

I also included a very brief summary of each of the traditions that we read from. Our favorite story though, was The Legend of the First Baobab Tree. So I made it into an easy, printable coloring book for you to enjoy with your littles!

Enjoy this look into the book and then subscribe below to get your own copy!

Follow along on social media this week to learn more about these with fun story-tellings and videos!

To receive access to all of my freebies, including this one, just subscribe below! I promise I don’t have time to spam you and will use your email only to send you the most exciting and informative occasional updates, like when more freebies are added to the vault!

3 Easy-Setup Toddler Activities for Chinese New Year!

Chinese New Year is here again! And if you didn’t know, it’s on January 25, 2020. So what do you need to celebrate this Lunar New Year event? Not much, actually. Just some food, friends, family, games and hong bao! And though I can’t control the friends and family for you, I can help give some suggestions for the other areas.

In this post I’ll offer three easy and so inexpensive activity ideas that you can do, along with resources I’ve made myself for a couple of them!

NOTE: any purchases are made through PayPal and the download will arrive in your email within a day.

Chinese Food

There are so many delicious chinese foods! The most popular for celebrating Chinese New Year is dumplings, according to my VIPKID students! But of course, it depends on what region of China you find yourself. The most important thing is just to feast with family in the spirit of moving forward into a new, prosperous year.

My 2-year-old son’s favorite Chinese food at the moment is egg rolls, and so that is what we will be eating this weekend alongside some homemade orange chicken!

When it comes to fried food, I have a strict perimeter the kids have to maintain in the kitchen so that nobody gets hurt. But leading up to the frying part, egg rolls are a super fun and the easiest food for little hands to practice folding and wrapping! It’s seriously such a simple side dish! Maybe I’m late to this knowledge, but here’s a tip from our favorite way to make egg rolls – use some broccoli slaw instead of normal coleslaw! YUM!

The Chinese Zodiac

Legend tells of a time long ago when a loud fight broke out among the animals over what to call each of the years. To solve the problem, the Jade Emperor of Heaven commanded each animal to race for a position to have the years named after them. The first twelve animals to cross the finish line would be given the honor of having a year named after them.

This year, 2020, is the year of the rat, which happens to also mark the beginning of another zodiac cycle! Spoiler Alert: the rat wins in the traditional great animal race story. And though this game I’ve created is skewed to help the clever rat win, it’s not a guarantee.

In this fun game, learn about the 12 animals that won the race, what characteristics helped them win, and then lead your own race to see who wins in a rematch! Purchase it here and receive to have it emailed directly to your inbox!

The Great Animal Race Game

Playing board, 12 animal pieces, spinner, game rules, and a short version of the great race story to read! (a total of 5 pages) This is all so easy to print and put together that makes for a lot of fun! Ages 3+


Hong Bao

Hong = red , bao = package. More than any other tradition, this is what my Chinese students show off to me after their month-long New Year vacation. The red package that comes stuffed with money from moms, dads, grandparents, and even aunts and uncles. It represents good fortune for the upcoming year, as most red things do in the Chinese culture.

An example of hong bao that is so easy to do at home!

You can purchase this fun printable I made to be emailed to you to make your own hong bao and surprise your children this weekend!

Hong Bao

Just print, cut, fold, glue, and then stuff your hong bao with notes of love and/or money! Three different styles vary from somewhat traditional to a fun one for the year of the rat.


If you want to learn more about Chinese New Year, its legends and traditions, then check out this post from last year: C is for China Celebrates!

Celebrating MultiCultural Calendars and Why They Put Us Ahead of Our Time

This year I have made it my goal to discover as many holidays from as many cultures as possible around the world, and on each holiday to learn something about the people that celebrate it. As I go through the holidays, I will be sharing what I learn on social media and giving ideas and activities for some of the holidays that you might do at home.

It’s impossible to learn everything about a culture in a year, or even a lifetime, even if its a culture you’re immersed in. But my belief is that all the most beautiful parts of any given culture come out in plain sight on holidays. The food, clothes, music, poetry, dances, and all everything else puts on its best and brightest form when we gather to celebrate. So by learning something about the people who celebrate all the different kinds of holidays throughout the year, I hope to get a better idea of the world we live in. I hope that you’ll join me in this journey and follow along with my Multicultural Holiday calendar as I share some of the things I learn. I’ll also be sure to share about any celebrations I try to take part in, especially those that are new to me.

The 2020 Multicultural Holidays Calendar

Note: The calendar has been updated to have black text for each holiday on the calendar so its easy to read!

This fun, interactive 12-month calendar celebrates a different country each month of the year. Each page includes

– 12 pictures to color in of a culturally significant landmark in

– fast facts about 1 of 11 different countries (France gets two shout outs with the Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower)

– a place to make notes of facts you learn about holidays in each month

The 11 places are Russia, China, India, Easter Island, Mexico, France, the USA, Australia, Cambodia, Romania, Egypt, and France again.

Each month has at least 9 holidays listed. These holidays might be:

– Religious (Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, etc)

– National (South Africa, the USA, Ethiopia, Egypt, etc)

– Famous People’s Birthdays

– Historically Significant Events

– Dates of Scientific Breakthroughs

QR codes are also provided if you wish to learn more about each of the holidays throughout the year by following my instagram or blog, where I will share more details and even some celebratory ideas for every holiday listed in this calendar this year.

2020 Multicultural Holidays Around the World Calendar

This 26-page download includes 14 printable calendar pages (a cover page and an instruction page with QR codes plus the 12 months), as well as the 12 full-page versions of the hand-drawn landmarks to color.


January 2020 Multicultural Holidays Printable

Celebrate Holidays from around the world this month including Tai Pongal, Chinese New Year, MLK Day, Holocaust Day and more! This printable comes with the January calendar, an 8x11 coloring page of St Basil's Cathedral, and the QRcodes to follow along as I share what I learn about each holiday!


February 2020 Multicultural Holidays Printable

Celebrate Holidays from around the world this month including Tu B'shevat, Kawhia Kai Festival, Magha Puja Day and more! This printable comes with the February calendar, an 8x11 coloring page of The Great Wall of China, and the QRcodes to follow along as I share what I learn about each holiday!


What is Culture?

I work for VIPKID, teaching English online to children ages 4-15 from China. When we discuss the question of “What is culture?” with them, the curriculum’s answer is: “Culture is art, food, music, sports, celebrations and language.” This is a very simplified definition of a somewhat complex thing. Once we can list off those basic answers, then we have to ask ourselves things like, “But why are those (art, culture, music, food) so deeply ingrained in us – a nation, neighborhood, family, or religion? What is it about our traditions that makes them so hard to let go of? How is it that others, who don’t know us, can come to define us by our culture?” It’s a lot to process, I know. Usually we even find ourselves mingling in a small variety of cultures as we go throughout our daily or weekly responsibilities making this whole concept all the more confusing. While I clearly don’t have all the answers, hopefully I can shed a little light on the subject, and would love your input as well in this learning journey!

Have you ever found yourself in a group situation where everyone but you seemed to know how to act? For me, that’s about once a month, at least. You’re in good company. When you feel that way, it is probably because you have stepped into a new culture. It may be the Target Dollar Spot shopper culture, a religious culture, a class culture, or a family culture. Just recently I took my son to his first “Music Makers” class for toddlers offered at my husband’s grad school. All the little kids that had been going already seemed to know the songs, how to beat the sticks to the beat, when to dance and spin with the rattles, but Trey just clung to me, looking for some sort of sense and rules in all the chaos. This was a culture he was not familiar or comfortable with. All these rules and behaviors weren’t something that had been explained or practiced before, so he looked and felt out of place. Likewise, when I had my first Christmas with my husband’s family, I kept ruining the fun by forgetting to guess what was in my gifts before opening them. But, with time, practice, and observing others’ examples we all begin to find ways to fit or break the mold of our respective cultures.

According to The Hartman Group in Forbes Magazine, a wonderful read I enjoyed recently, “Through an ethnographic lens, it’s possible to observe how consumers craft unique identities through consumption. This has led us to observe that foods and beverages are bought for reasons far beyond just simple sustenance. Viewed culturally, food and beverage purchases can signal:

  • Who we are
  • Who we want to be
  • How we want others to see us
  • How we see the world”

I seriously love that they studied foodies and the food culture and how we all make food decisions. Sign me up to work for them! Or to be their study subject. The point is, there can even be cultures created entirely based around food! It doesn’t matter what the focus of the culture is, so long as the thing encourages us to consider or express the four points above: who we are, who we want to be, how we want others to see us, and how we see the world. If you don’t think that food can do that for you, then join me in binge-watching “The Final Table” on Netflix. Food is life for those chefs.

Couldn’t the Hartman Group’s same conclusions be said about many other types of culture? Our unique cultures shape our views of, well, everything! Ourselves, others, the entire world! This is in line with Miriam Websters definition of culture – “the beliefs, customs, etc., of a particular society, group, place, or time.” More deeply ingrained in culture than just what we do is how we think. Of course, the two are inseparable, because how we act and what we believe tend to be displays of inner thoughts and feelings.

Let’s take a minute to think about how our ideas and views have been affected, based on the four bullet points above. Remember, the following statements may or may not be fully true or accomplished about me, but it’s what I want to believe or achieve based on different influences of my upbringing. As an American, I believe I am independent to the core; and I want to be someone who changes the world; and for others to see me as someone who chases my dreams; and I have a tendency when traveling to feel untouchable and interesting based on my country of origin alone. As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, I believe we all have a certain relationship with God; and I want to be better; and I want others to feel like I will show up when they need help; and though I often feel warned of the terrors of the world, I see tremendous hope everywhere! Lastly, as a Hancock/Smith turned Boyack now, being perseverant (or hard-headed, more accurately) is in my blood; and I want to be someone who puts family first; and for others to be able to depend on me; and I see the world as a place that, given enough attention to detail, can be beautiful.

Think about your cultures for a minute. How are they influencing you? Do you feel a little choked up with pride at the groups you’ve been born into, or chosen to associate yourself with? Do they encourage you to be a version of you that you find attractive? None of my cultural influencers are without their flaws, but you can probably find some good things like I did to dwell on.

So, why study cultures outside of our own? Why even study our own? As we talk throughout this blog, we have to recognize that we do not just belong to one cul de sac, city or even state. Each of us should also be expected to act as world citizens. As we expand our knowledge of others’ ideas and perspectives of the way the world works and believes, we can make more accurate, educated, and confident decisions on a larger scale. We, and our children, will be able to hold more conversations on the sufferings and successes of people at a world-scale. We will learn to better appreciate literature, to understand the feelings and motives behind art and media, and even to want to look more closely at the people and events that lead to scientific and mathematical breakthroughs. At least, this has been my experience. Hopefully, as you participate in fun activities built to enhance your children’s creativity and academic standing – all while looking at countries and people they may have not heard of – you and your children will feel the same!

Now, as a last point. Culture has a third description that I found enlightening. Or rather, the evolution of its meaning is interesting. Look at what Google had to say about where our word “culture” comes from:

That little paragraph teaches us that “culture” and “cultivating” hold the same root. I mean, this makes sense in science terms, of course. But in our ideas, beliefs, arts and experiences with people should we not also being trying to cultivate new things? To cultivate our “mind, faculties, or manners” as Google says, is just as important as understanding what used to be or is culturally accepted now. We should take the ideas and practices of the past and change them for the better, not just stick blindly to them forever.

So tell me – what has influenced the way you feel about yourself and others around you? How can you/we/anyone create or improve upon existing culture?