Around the holidays, teachers forums light up with questions and comments about what to teach about winter holidays in public schools. Questions generally surround around not upsetting parents, and whether it is really a part of the curriculum. For most curriculums, holidays are NOT a part of the curriculum – for better or worse. However, this doesn’t stop most teachers from including holidays in their activities during the winter months. Generally, we integrate it into our writing, our read alouds and of course build in some fun, crafty activities.
Personally, I think that holidays should be a part of our curriculum, not as a craft opportunity, but as a teaching opportunity - as long as they are presented in a way that promotes acceptance of people and understanding of cultures. When Christmas is presented as the only holiday that happens this time of year, it leaves out a part of your population and gives those who celebrate Christmas the idea that everyone in the world is the same as them. This does a disservice to both groups of children – those who celebrate Christmas and those who don’t.
Holidays present us with the opportunity to let kids discover cultures around the world that they didn’t even know existed. It also provides us with the opportunity to show students that cultures and holidays are more similar than they are different.
When I was teaching 1st grade at an American school in Morocco, I was asked to prepare a song for with my students to present in the “Winter Holidays Show”. I looked around at my options, knowing I didn’t want to sing a Christmas song with a population of students who were mainly Muslim. The winter songs like “Walking in a Winter Wonderland” didn’t make much sense either – not in a country that only sees snow in one or two mountain towns. By chance, I stumbled across a song called Eid is Here on YouTube. This song was based out of India and talked about Christmas, Eid and Diwali. What I loved most about the song was that it talked about the things in each holiday that were the same. Each holiday gave people a chance to: wear new clothes, eat special foods, spend time with family and friends and use special lights. While my students and I learned the song, we were able to learn about different holidays, but compare how they were similar. This was a concept that the kids easily grasped and one that allowed them to see each other in a new light, as someone who did things similar to how they themselves did things.
This experience encouraged me to write the reader’s theater: Light Up the World with Celebrations for a similar group of children. Before we performed the reader’s theater, we learned about a large variety of celebrations from countries and cultures around the world who use light as a part of their celebrations. I presented the information to my students using my Winter Holidays Power Point, and then we created a chart to help us compare and contrast different holidays.
Last year, I worked with some bloggers from around the world to create a Holiday Cookbook for Kids, full of recipes that are often found at holiday celebrations around the world, as special foods is another common feature of holiday celebrations worldwide.
No matter what holidays your students do or don’t celebrate, knowing about holidays celebrations around the world can help your students to identify that celebrations are a time for people to get together with family and friends, eat special foods, have special lights or decorations, wear special clothes, and be happy as a group. You may also talk about charity to others, as this is a part of many, many celebrations worldwide. Ignoring holidays in the classroom prevents true conversation about different cultures and pigeonholes students into thinking that all people are – and should be – the same.
So, during this winter holiday season, be sure to discuss holidays and how they bring people together. Include diverse holiday stories, encourage students to share how they celebrate different holidays, invite in guest speakers, do research on new holidays, watch videos about how holidays are celebrated in different countries, and throughout it all, encourage your students to look for those common themes that bring people together to celebrate and be happy.