A Magical Night – Aglow with Lights!

girl setting candle in start shape on groundThe Somerset community was aglow with a million lights as students, staff, families and community members took part in their Winterfest Light Up the Night outdoor celebration on Wednesday, December 15, 2021.

Twinkling lights from every classroom window illuminated the clear cold night, beckoning a warm welcome to students and families as they arrived. Fairy lights and blinking lanterns strung up between trees gilded walkways as families made a loop around the exterior of the building, learning about a multitude of cultural traditions and experiences along the way.

On one end, visitors were greeted by a pathway of paper luminarias while across the way, a fully decorated Bellevue fire truck delighted visitors. Each student was given a candle to add to the unity star, designed and constructed by Somerset custodial staff. As they made their way to the field, families walked along a path lined with floating wish lanterns. Staff supplied hot chocolate that warmed cold hands and a ruddy-cheeked kindergartener exclaimed how his school felt “magical.”

people standing around table decorated with lights at Somerset ElementaryAn Initiative to Engage Families

Somerset Winterfest was born, in part, out of a conversation between principal, Cathy Elder, and a few Somerset parents. As a part of the district family engagement initiative to Listen To, Learn From, Lead With families, Cathy met with a group of Korean parents to better understand their experience at school. After the meeting, the group of parents remained connected, networked and became very engaged in sharing their unique Korean culture with the school community.

“In partnership with building leaders, teachers and Somerset’s MLL facilitator, families put together this celebration to affirm and validate the cultural and linguistic identity of every student.” – Cathy Elder, Somerset Principal

CommUnity Partnerships

2 kids read notes with adults crouched near byTeachers, staff and parents were not the only contributors to Winterfest. Boy Scout troops from the Somerset community came to serve at Winterfest by lighting up the library windows, filling luminaria bags with sand and preparing the school garden after the fall harvest.

When families walked the route around Winterfest, one of the stops they came to was a display in the main office window. A snow village scene was displayed to highlight the activities and celebrations of winter. Principal Elder notes that she asked for support through an online group to make the village scene more inclusive of the diverse Somerset community. Without hesitation, a stranger from California reached out to support her work and donated a Lunar Dragon Dance accessory piece, which Cathy added to the scene. The importance of a school working to celebrate the identities of all students and families deeply resonated with individuals both near and far.

Bringing Brightness and Joy to the CommUnity

Under the coordination of a kindergarten parent who organized each of the cultural/holiday displays, a multitude of Somerset families were engaged to cultivate celebrations of winter festivals, holidays and celebrations from around the world. The common theme of each cultural celebration at Winterfest was the use of light. Throughout the world, light is used to brighten festivals and bring joy during the dark months of winter.

Parents felt that this was an opportunity to share their cultures and traditions and to celebrate strength as one diverse community. Teachers and staff and the community appreciated how the displays affirmed the unique identities of many students. Among the nearly dozen displays, some of the celebrations included:

Paper Lanterns decorated school with lights and people

The Chinese Festival of Lanterns – During the Lantern Festival, children go out at night and release paper lanterns which can symbolize the release of the past and starting new.

Korean Lunar New Year – One of the most important traditional Korean holidays that commemorates the first day of the Korean calendar.

Diwali – A festival of lights celebrated by many faith traditions in India. It symbolizes the spiritual victory of light over darkness, good over evil and knowledge over ignorance. The festival usually lasts five days, and families light the exterior of their homes with oil lamps called diyas, paint doorways with colorful chalk art called rangoli, and light fireworks.

“We celebrate Diwali in our family by decorating our homes, lighting diyas and sharing food with friends. It is joyful festival.”  – Somerset parent of a first grade student.

Boxing Day – Originates from the ancient practice of churches and parishes opening up charity boxes inviting contributions that can be distributed among the less fortunate.

Three Kings Day – A celebration observed in many Spanish-speaking countries, commemorating the visit of the Magi. The eve of the feast is celebrated as Twelfth Night. In many countries, children leave out their shoes the night before Three Kings Day. The Three Wise Men leave candies and toys in the shoes of good children.

“We set out shoes outside our door at night and receive gifts of candy the next morning. It is a special day in our house.” – Somerset parent of a third grader and kindergartener.

Omisoka – A traditional Japanese celebration held on the last day of the year that involves concluding activities for the current year and making plans to start the new year fresh.

Hanukkah – A Jewish festival observed for eight nights and days. Hanukkah is observed by lighting the candles of a candelabrum with nine branches, commonly called a menorah. One branch is typically placed above or below the others and its candle is used to light the other eight candles.

Kwanzaa  An annual celebration of African-American culture culminating in a communal feast called KaramuKwanzaa is based on harvest festival traditions from various parts of Africa, including West and Southeast Africa.  

Other Winterfest celebrations included: St Nicolas Day, Winter Solstice, Christmas, Festival of lights from the Philippines and Thai-Loi Krathong.

From custodial staff, teachers, administrators, parents, and students – the community brought Somerset’s Winterfest to life and together they could Light up the Night!

Share Your Rich Cultural Experience 

BSD is committed to engaging our community and telling the stories of culture and tradition held by our students and families. In the weeks ahead, you will learn more about our communication’s engagement efforts and how you can get involved with developing our cultural calendar, sharing your rich cultural heritage and building relationships across the district by sharing stories which enrich the experience of each and every student! Contact Gargi Trichel at trichelg@bsd405.org for more information.   

girl looks at families playing in snow
The Bellevue School District acknowledges that we learn, work, live and gather on the Indigenous Land of the Coast Salish peoples, specifically the Duwamish and Snoqualmie Tribes. We thank these caretakers of this land, who have lived and continue to live here, since time immemorial.