With December here, you’ll have to change your calendar. And that means that you might as well change the bulletin boards. And that means that it is time to decide: do you have Christmas in the classroom or not?
In our state, Thanksgiving is in the frameworks, so there’s no suspense there. But Christmas is, like Hallowe’en, controversial. Some schools ban all lessons on all holidays (excepting, presumably, those required by the state frameworks), on the grounds that it is impossible to be evenhanded with holidays, observing all of them equally, even if we arbitrarily limit the holidays we cover to those that we believe are celebrated in our particular community. We’re probably wrong when we make that guess, by the way.
There are also many adults, some of them teachers, who have happy childhood memories of classroom holiday celebrations, who feel that we are robbing our students of some wonderful classroom experiences when we don’t honor holidays. And there are those who feel that we are being intellectually dishonest if we skip over Christmas, when it is so widely celebrated in the United States. There are also those who feel that, if we are going to include Christmas in our classrooms, it is essential that we do so in a particular way — usually either with or without its religious significance, again for a variety of reasons.
In short, it is practically impossible not to offend someone at this time of year.
There are several possible approaches:
- Acknowledge that Christmas is widely celebrated here, that the children know about it and are interested, either as part of their own cultural experience or as something interesting about another culture, and decorate with Christmas symbols. Secular Christmas symbols, generally, if you are at a public school. If you go this route, there are lots of ready-made choices, from Santa Claus to Christmas trees and more. We’ll be bringing you ideas for this approach, and lesson plans for some of our favorite holiday books, too.
- Present Christmas as one among many winter holidays that people celebrate. This has the potential to give kids the impression that, say, Chanukah is “the Jewish Christmas” or Diwali is “the Indian Christmas,” and in general turn diversity into a badly understood mishmash. Carefully done, it can be a great study, but it does have the potential to offend people of many different faiths. As Ethan Stanislawski puts it, “Are we really being egalitarian if we rank the importance of holidays of other religions by their proximity to Christmas?” One solution here is to study multicultural holidays, recognizing the important holidays of various faiths and cultures, regardless of when they are celebrated. TCR’s Multicultural Holidays and The Festive Teacher: Multicultural Activities for Your Curriculum take this approach. So does our Holiday Traditions Lesson Plan.
- Decide that, since you personally celebrate Christmas or do not celebrate Christmas, you will decorate your classroom as you do your home, giving students an opportunity to learn about your customs. This has potential to offend, but you have an answer if anyone brings it up.
- Learn about the ways that Christmas is celebrated around the world, thus offering a sense of diversity without implying that other holidays are variants on Christmas. TCR’s Celebrate Christmas Around the World does a good job of this. We’ll be presenting some fun ideas for this option from our “Christmas Around the World” workshop over the next few weeks.
- Recognize that children, whether they observe Christmas as a secular or as a religious holiday or not at all, are bombarded with holiday messages outside the classroom at this time of year, and decide that they don’t need more in the classroom. Ignore Christmas, and go with something seasonal yet unrelated, like mittens or winter sports or earthquakes (the great New Madrid quakes began in December, you know) or snowmen. It is hard to see how anyone could reasonably be offended by this approach, and we will be bringing you a variety of these options during December.
There are many decoratives nowadays that allow you some flexibility. The Home and Holiday Hearth from Teacher’s Friend lets you focus on general winter topics by putting the clock or the books on the mantelpiece and treating it as a winter scene. One day, you might add stockings and talk about Christmas, or the menorah and talk about Chanukah. In due season, you can switch to the Kwanza symbols, confident that you are making the point that different cultural groups have different celebrations, and that quite a few of them take place in the winter, when it is nice to be at home with your family anyway.
Another flexible option is to go with something which is strongly enough associated with Christmas that students who celebrate that holiday will enjoy it as part of their holiday celebration, without being so strongly associated with the holiday as to make those who do not celebrate it feel left out.
One of these possibilities would be gingerbread. Gingerbread houses are traditional for Christmas, but also work well as a theme on their own.
Check out our lesson plans for “The Gingerbread Boy.”
Other themes that work well for this option are bells, stars, reindeer, and candy.
Those of you teaching at home, in parochial schools, or in churches and other places of worship don’t have this problem. The rest of us can contemplate our choices for the next couple of days.