Accurate and Sensitive
Religious holidays offer
excellent opportunities throughout the year for teaching about religion
and its historical importance. However, in order to avoid student
embarrassment, don’t ask children to explain their own religious
practices or observances or to bring religious objects to class
as a basis of discussion. Be aware that some religions teach that
celebrating holidays -- or birthdays -- is wrong. Children should
always be permitted not to participate and should have the opportunity
to engage in optional, enjoyable activities. Remember that writing
a letter to Santa may be uncomfortable for the non-Christian child
who is "not on his list." An option that is true to the spirit of
the winter holidays might be encouraging children to write to merchants,
or other children, seeking donations for children who lack any toys.
Not all members of the
same religious group observe a holiday in the same way. Make sure
that you do not treat some holidays as regular and others as "exotic,"
nor that you introduce an ethnic group only in terms of its holiday
observances. Multicultural activities that focus only on foods and
holidays have been justifiably labeled the "tourist approach." *
Better to share the holiday’s name, when it occurs, who participates
and how this holiday reveals the historical experiences and culture
of its followers. Because some holiday customs incorporate stereotypes,
help children, for example, to identify stereotypes of Native Americans
on Thanksgiving cards and decorations, and to understand why Thanksgiving
can be a reminder of promises broken and dispossession for some
while it represents togetherness and thanks for others. Spend
time creating new cards and decorations that celebrate the holiday
with respect for all.
if held under public school auspices, violate the First Amendment’s
separation-of-church-and-state mandate. Joint celebrations (Christmas-Chanukah,
for example) do not solve the problem, as they only serve to introduce
religious observances into the schools, They also tend to pit holidays
in competition, with each other and distort the significance of
each. While recognizing a diverse group of holidays validates children
and their families, bringing religious leaders into a public setting
is not appropriate. The use of religious symbols such as a cross,
menorah, crescent, Star of David, crèche, symbols of Native American
religions, the Buddha, among others, that are part of a religious
tradition is permitted as a teaching aid, provided such symbols
are displayed only as an educational example of the culture and
religious heritage of the holiday and are temporary in nature. They
may not be used as decorations.
Use holiday activities
as a way of enhancing respect for religions and traditions different
from one’s own, but stress common themes, as well. Many religions
focus on festivals of light, including Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa,
Santa Lucia Day and Diwali. Liberation is the theme of such holidays
as the Fourth of July, Passover, Cinco de Mayo, Juneteenth and Martin
Luther King Jr.’s Birthday.** By connecting holiday themes, you
communicate that holidays are a valid expression of cultural and
religious pride. You also convey that it’s okay to be different.
Louise. Anti-Bias Curriculum: Tools For Empowering Young Children.
Washington, DC, NAEYC, 1989.
** Bisson, Julie.
Celebrate! An Anti-Bias Guide to Enjoying Holidays in Early Childhood
Programs. St. Paul, MN. Readleaf Press, 1997.