When I went to school, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas/Hanukah and Valentine’s Day were the predominant school holidays. Most teachers had their standard...
Holiday Celebrations in Schools
When I went to school, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas/Hanukah and Valentine’s Day were the predominant school holidays. Most teachers had their standard box-of-goodies to celebrate each of these special calendar days. Not much thought was put into “inclusion”, “diversity” or “offending someone”. Today, we need to be more conscience of how we approach holidays. Our student population, varying cultures, and sensitivities have changed dramatically. One size no longer fits all.
In order to avoid conflict, some schools have instituted a “no holiday” policy. Others have developed clear curricular goals and rules. Yet others have chosen minimal holiday recognition in a simplified format. Let’s explore the issue.
With students coming from Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, pagan, atheist or any other belief system, finding a healthy balance can be a real challenge. However, ignoring the holidays might be like telling someone not to notice the elephant in the room. We are bombarded with holiday commercialism all around and our families are often busy with preparations. Why teach and celebrate holidays at all?
Some of the reasons to have holiday celebrations in schools:
- To have children feel accepted and validate the cultures and experiences of their homes
- To teach the cycles of life
- To have fun
- To demonstrate areas of diversity and tolerance by learning about other cultures, traditions and religions
- To explore the virtues associated with particular holidays- peace, friendship, love, giving, etc.
Assuming your school permits holiday recognition, the first recommendation is to clarify your school’s policy on celebrations. Can we only read a holiday book or are decorations and parties permitted? Are group discussions, art projects and music encouraged or forbidden?
Secondly, it can be wise to ask the parent body to share their personal traditions. Would people like to discuss how their family celebrates holidays or bring in a special dish, share a song or show a ritual to the class? Try to explore the similarities and differences among family holiday celebrations noting that everyone does what works best for them. Respect and tolerance are key. It is, of course, important and challenging to limit the amount of religious content as most holidays do have a religious aspect which can potentially cause conflict if not handled carefully. We must also remember to maintain the separation of church and state.
Additionally, it should be noted that learning about diverse populations only through holidays can give a skewed view of a particular culture. Exploring cultural diversity is an all-year-round goal. Only noting variety between us during the holidays can limit our appreciation of our differences and similarities.
As educators, we need to ensure that all of our lessons are inclusive, balanced and positive. These issues are even more important when holidays are involved.
Some points to note are:
- Determine what goals you want to accomplish through your activities.
- How much time will be given towards holiday curriculum?
- Which holidays will be included?
- Validate all student approaches to holiday celebrations.
- Do not overly focus on one particular culture or holiday.
- As the teacher, be sure that you have educated yourself on a particular holiday which a family might be presenting. The family should not be the sole supplier of information.
- Avoid stereotypes when presenting information, putting up decorations and implementing activities.
- Limit the religious aspects of holidays and do not stress that one is more correct than another.
- Inform families about school activities related to the holidays and holiday celebrations in schools.
With a solid policy in place, holiday activities can promote positive relationships between children, families and staff and build connections between the school and home-life. Children can feel valued for who they are and how they live their lives and people can learn to appreciate differences as well as similarities.
What holiday policies have your school implemented? What approach have you taken towards holidays in your classroom? We’d love to hear from you.