Stop Teaching Students that their Holiday is the Only Holiday! Christmas Around the World is Harmful to Students
It's that time of the year again - Christmas Around the World is popping up on lesson plans everywhere. As a teacher, I understand the draw of Christmas Around the World. It is exciting to have a topic that the kids are excited to learn about. It is exciting to get to teach Social Studies without trying to squeeze it in to the 15 minutes allotted. In a world of scripted curriculum, it seems like a dream come true to be creative and still connect to curriculum. And it gives us an opportunity to teach students about "the world" which increases their background knowledge and understanding of people different than them. If you've been a reader for awhile, you know that my background is in ESL and Multicultural education, so why then would I say that we should NOT be teaching Christmas Around the World?
Christmas Around the World is well-intentioned, but it is also very centered around Christian, European countries. Think about the activities normally done during Christmas Around the World: caroling in the United Kingdom, the yule log of France, the advent calendar in Germany, putting shoes on the windowsill in Iceland, the pinata of Mexico, lanterns in the Philippines and barbecuing in South Africa. All of the countries that are researched are either European or were colonized by European nations, with traditional customs being pushed out and replaced by European customs.
By teaching Christmas Around the World, we are telling students that Christmas is the only important holiday in the world. We are telling them it is so important that it is celebrated in every country, all over the world. This isn't true, but remember that to kiddos if they aren't hearing about countries where Christmas isn't celebrated, then those countries must be celebrating Christmas and we're just not telling them.
I'm not saying that Christmas isn't important, but the idea that it is so important that everyone celebrates it, just in different ways, is very harmful to our students. This idea leads to:
1.) Students who don't see the importance of other people's holidays.
When I teach students that people in Morocco don't celebrate Christmas, they are completely shocked. They assume in their head that everyone celebrates what they celebrate, and that any other holidays are celebrated in addition. Because they see these other holidays as things that are celebrated in addition to the "real" holiday, they see them as less important. Why would any holiday be more important than theirs?
This is why people who travel to non-Christian countries are shocked when shops (and government offices and schools) are open on December 25th. Often these same people get frustrated when non-Christians ask for a day off of work to celebrate their own holidays. This intolerance is seen at the adult level, but can be helped by teaching students that other people have holidays of equal importance to ours. For example, we can never imagine working on Christmas day, but have no problem asking Muslim students and teachers to work on Eid al Adha, which is a holiday of equal importance.
2.) Students who don't see the importance of other people's religions and cultures.
When we teach them that everyone celebrates Christmas, we are unintentionally teaching them that everyone is Christian and therefore that Christianity is the only acceptable religion. Last year I had parents complain because I was teaching students the story behind Eid al Adha. This story is from the Koran, just like the story for Christmas comes from the Bible. The parents had no problem with the Christmas story being taught, but a story from another religious book was very controversial. Now, I'm not saying that we should be teaching religion of any kind in a public school. However, 99% of all important holidays come from one religious story or another. Teaching students about different holidays should include teaching them that other religions exist, and are practiced by people who are more similar to us than different from us. Not teaching students about other religions and cultures breeds intolerance.
3.) Students who aren't learning about countries that contain large population and large political presences like China, India, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Japan, etc.
These are places that don't celebrate Christmas, and therefore are not included in Christmas Around the World. The people from these countries often look and sound quite different from the average American. If it is our intent with this activity to expose students to "others" then these are the most important cultures to expose them to. However, because they don't celebrate Christmas, they get left out of what is often the only time that students learn about cultures outside of the United States.
4.) Students who are learning that everyone in the United States celebrates Christmas, which is a myth in itself.
In our multicultural country, there are plenty of students who celebrate Ramadan, Eid, Diwali, Solstice, Feast Days, Haunakah, Kwanza, and other holidays. These students are left out enough when we are all completing Christmas activities in our classroom and our school. Now we are telling them that their holidays aren't even important enough to be celebrated when we actually learn about "the others". In addition, we are telling their classmates that the holidays they celebrate are not important enough to learn about. This makes already conflicted students feel more conflicted and already entitled students feel more entitled.
Now, I am not saying we shouldn't be teaching students about holidays around the world, I'm just saying it needs to truly be HOLIDAYS Around the World, with representation from all continents and all cultures. Multiple holidays need to be represented, from multiple cultures and multiple countries around the world. This is how we teach students about the importance of understanding and including other people from around the world.
I feel so passionately about this that I have a forever FREE reader's theater script in my Teachers Pay Teachers store called Light up the World with Celebrations. This reader's theater is designed to help students understand that there are different holidays celebrated all around the world, but they all use light and have a common purpose: to bring people together. In addition, I have a FREE holiday packet for Muslim Holidays and a FREE vocabulary packet for the holidays of Christmas, Haunakah, Kwanza and Diwali.
If you are going to do a HOLIDAYS Around the World celebration this year, please consider including some non-European, non-Christian holidays to show students that Christmas is NOT the only holiday celebrated by people around the world.
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