Hate Hurts
Holiday Activities Guidelines
Lesson Plans
Teaching Tips
  Responding to Hate-Motivated Behavior in Schools (part 1)
  Responding to Hate-Motivated Behavior in Schools (part 2)
  Holiday Activities Guidelines
  What is Anti-Bias Education?
  Creating a Positive Environment In which to Raise Diversity Issues

Related Links

What to Tell Your Child about Prejudice?
Prejudice: 101 Ways You Can Beat It!
The 'December Dilemma'

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Be 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.

Avoid Stereotyping

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.

Be Constitutionally Appropriate

Holiday observances, 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.

* Derman-Sparks 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.

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