This is a big one. A loaded topic, and one that even the most open and inclusive teachers have a problem with. Christmas and how we celebrate that in the classroom. As usual here at Diamond, I would like us to take a few minutes to consider whose voices and experiences we are amplifying, who we are supporting in our spaces, and who we are leaving unheard or unrepresented. So let’s chat.
Christmas is perhaps the most widely celebrated and obsessed over and popular holiday in schools across Canada and America. I have yet to see a single school (with the exceptions of an Islamic school and a Jewish school that I’ve observed at) that does not acknowledge its existence and celebrate it in some way. Which, in and of itself, is not a problem. Christmas is something children are familiar with, many of our students celebrate it, and absolutely talk of Christmas is culturally relevant for a large chunk of our families.
But- what does it tell our children when our classrooms become awash with red and green on December first? What message are we sending when our ‘winter’ theme really means ‘Christmas’? Whose voices and culture are we amplifying when we have a ‘winter/December’ shelf full of Christmas transferring and language cards and puzzles? What are we telling families when we make ‘holiday’ cards to be sent home that say ‘Merry Christmas’?
Thinking critically about the messages we send to our students is important. Taking stock of who is being represented in our classrooms is important.
I want to be clear here- de-centring Christmas in your classroom does not mean we don’t acknowledge Christmas. It doesn’t mean we talk about any number of other holidays and leave Christmas out entirely. It doesn’t mean we can’t have Christmas themed language cards or materials. It does mean we should take a step back, pause and truly think about who is being represented and who is being excluded and doing our best to challenge that.
Instead of requiring students to make Christmas cards to send home, which is uncomfortable for families who don’t celebrate Christmas- how about you set up a generic card-making activity? Have it on your shelf, and the children who want to make a card have that ability. I have card making year round with a booklet of sample phrases to copy- hope you feel better; i love you; just want to say hi; etc. At certain times of year I add other phrases- Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas, Eid Mubarak, Happy Easter, etc. Simple, inclusive and entirely optional.
Instead of doing a ‘winter’ concert with songs that are clearly Christmas-themed (Jingle Bells and Frosty the Snowman included- just because these songs are secular doesn’t make them less ‘Christmas-y’), why can’t there just be an end of year gathering? Samples of what the children have been working on throughout the first half of the year on display, and a time for parents, staff and children to connect- no holiday decorations necessary.
Instead of a shelf full of red and green transferring- how about just one? I have a Christmas themed transfer work. Many of us do. But imagine what a student who doesn’t celebrate Christmas, who isn’t even Christian, would feel walking into their classroom December first and seeing the entire transferring shelf transformed into red and green works? Not a single work available that doesn’t represent Christmas. What does that tell that student? What does that say about the dominant narrative in their school and what we deem worthy of amplifying?
Instead of Christmas crafts- how about just winter ones? I have a snow globe/snowflake collage I pull out every year. No Christmas imagery, it uses glitter, and it’s always a hit. Do we need to do footprint reindeer and fingerprint Christmas lights? Probably not. What is it saying to our students when the ‘holiday’ crafts we do all centre one holiday in particular?
Right now, I have one Christmas transfer work (tiny light bulbs into a silicone lightbulb ice cube tray type thing) out. I have the card making activity I have year round as previously mentioned. I have a one to ten tree and ornament counting activity out alongside a Hanukkah counting activity. I have nomenclature cards for the Nutcracker out alongside Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and penguin species cards (we’re talking about Antarctica this month). And that’s it. No classroom decor. No Christmas songs. No Santa crafts. My classroom looks pretty much identical to how it does any other time of year. And what a relief that is- to both myself and to my families, especially those who don’t celebrate Christmas.
I’d love to hear ways you try to de-centre Christmas in your classrooms, and what that looks like for you. Share below!