Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Traditions

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is celebrated on the third Monday of January — which falls on (or shortly after) King’s birthday, January 15. Martin Luther King, Jr., a Baptist pastor, is remembered for his eloquent speeches and his tireless commitment to the non-violent Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.

Celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Traditions

Martin Luther King, Jr. was a courageous leader who considered it his duty as a Christian to stand against injustice. He wrote the following words in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail which are just as relevant for Christians today as they were in King’s generation:

“There was a time when the church was very powerful — in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. . . . If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the 20th century.”

May we indeed recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church that King so willingly exemplified in his life.

Here are some ideas for celebrating MLK Day:

1. Read about MLK: Learn more about Martin Luther King, Jr.’s inspirational life through some of these great books for kids . . .

A Picture Book of Martin Luther King, Jr.: For ages 5 and up; a brief narrative about King’s life that emphasizes how his childhood shaped him.

Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: For ages 5 and up; this author creatively weaves quotes from King’s writing and speeches into her narrative about his life.

I Have a Dream: For ages 5 and up; an illustrated book of King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

The Story of Martin Luther King, Jr.: For ages 2-4; a board book for preschool children.

For older kids, I recommend reading King’s own words in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” A great biography on MLK, Let the Trumpet Sound, referred to these letters as “the most eloquent and learned expression of the goals and philosophy of the nonviolent [civil rights] movement ever written” (Stephen Oates, p. 222).

2. Watch a Video about MLK (Links to YouTube):

MLK, The King and His Dream (3:26 min): A short animated clip about MLK.

BrainPop MLK Video (4:22 min): For those who enjoy the animated BrainPop videos, this is a good one about MLK.

Our Friend Martin (1 hour): A popular animated movie from 1998 about MLK.

You can find additional videos about MLK at

I also highly recommend a documentary about the Civil Rights Movement called Dare Not Walk Alone.

3. Sing along with this Fun Rap (Links to YouTube):

I Celebrate MLK Rap: A fun (and educational) rap about celebrating MLK Day.

4. Create Fun Food for MLK Day: Here are two fun ideas for MLK day! Mandy at Gourmet Mom on-the-Go came up with the heart in hands idea (there is actually a cookie cutter for this) and Jill at Kitchen Fun with My Three Sons created the MLK pancake (cracks me up!). I am planning to bake a black and white marble cake to celebrate King’s birthday.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Handprint Cookies Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Pancakes

5. Make a Craft: shows a cute “I Have a Dream Mobile.” You can find a printable mobile at the Constitution Center. Allison at No Time for Flashcards came up with the “How would you change the world?” craft.

I Have a Dream Mobile Craft for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day How Would You Change the World Craft for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

9. Color and/or Enjoy Activity Pages: You can print coloring pages from Google that depict Martin Luther King, Jr. Two of my favorite pages are designed by Daily Coloring — click the images below to link directly to the image.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Coloring Page 1 Martin Luther King, Jr. Coloring Page 2

10. Do an Object Lesson Activity: Vanessa at Pre-K Pages suggests two great activities to demonstrate that you cannot always judge the inside by looking at the outside. Click on the images below to link to the object lessons:

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Egg Object Lesson Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Bag Object Lesson

You can tie this lesson into MLK’s quote:

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character” (Martin Luther King, Jr., “I Have a Dream Speech”).

You can also incorporate the Bible verse:

“The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7b).

For more ideas, check out my Martin Luther King, Jr. Day page on Pinterest.

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