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Creating an Inclusive Holiday Celebration in Your Classroom

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The holidays can be challenging for teachers whose many students celebrate many different holidays. Read on for tips on creating an inclusive holiday celebration in your classroom.

Multiculturalism and the Holidays

It's important to create a classroom environment where all of your students feel welcome and represented. While teaching a multicultural curriculum may not be too challenging most of the year, December brings the holidays, when one or two holidays are usually much more visible than the others. Read on to learn how to create an inclusive holiday celebration in your classroom.

Creating an Inclusive Celebration

In December, students are excited to get time off school and, in some cases, to celebrate their special traditions. The holidays are unavoidable, but you can be prepared to create an inclusive celebration in the classroom that goes beyond tacking up symbolic holiday images on your classroom bulletin board.

Focus on Traditions

If done well, an inclusive holiday celebration can help students learn about diversity. Each student and their family will celebrate the holidays differently. Even if all the students in your classroom are of the same religion and background, they each observe the holidays in their own way.

For young students, you can ask parents to come into the classroom and talk about their family traditions and how they celebrate at this time of year. This exposes students to different traditions even among the same religion. It also takes the pressure off you, as you may be feeling concerned that you need to know everything about your students' observances.

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Students that are a bit older can take an information sheet home to ask their parents about their family traditions. Once this is complete, they can share with the classroom or pin their sheets up on a board. Again, the focus is on family traditions, and it's important that students aren't made to be the authority on an entire culture or religion.

Older students can use this as a time for research. Students can be split into groups and learn about a holiday: its origin, traditions and how it is celebrated around the world. They can present their findings to the classroom, and the ideas can be used to inspire a multicultural holiday celebration.

Use the Season for Giving

One of the best ways to create an inclusive holiday celebration is to avoid the pitfalls of stereotypical foods and Santa hats by using the season as a time of giving. Students can collect items for care packages for service members overseas, collect canned foods, draw pictures for nursing home residents or host a bake sale to raise money for a certain charity. Students can vote on ideas or potential charities and all get involved in giving back to their community.

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Beware the Stereotypes

Even the most well-intentioned teachers might accidentally stereotype certain religions or cultures. In addition to focusing on familial traditions, you can avoid clichés by following the guidelines below.

Holidays Aren't Just in December

Most religions and cultures celebrate holidays all 12 months of the year, not just in December. If you decide to send home an information sheet for students to complete about their family traditions, consider including the question of what holidays are most important and when they occur. Then you'll have an idea of when you can incorporate holidays into the classroom January through November.

If you need other ideas for holidays outside of December, Teacher.org presents a list of major American holidays, and Study.com offers a lesson on major holidays around the world.

Avoid a Tourist Approach

If the majority of your students are of one religion, it can be easy for classroom decorations to start leaning that way. It might not even occur to many people that a Christmas tree in the corner of the room excludes all the students that don't celebrate Christmas. Additionally, not every person who celebrates Christmas even has a tree.

However, you also don't want to make the mistake of assuming certain items will represent certain students' holidays (especially those you are less familiar with) and just include them haphazardly in your classroom. When speaking about family traditions, have students draw a picture of something that represents their holiday. It might be something that is exclusive to their family. Then you can hang their pictures, and all of your students will be represented.

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Also, make sure that all holidays are treated the same. Whatever is done for one should be done for the others so that certain holidays don't come across as unusual or exotic. Making one religion or holiday seem exotic would have the opposite effect on the classroom dynamic.

Not Everyone Celebrates

Keep in mind that creating an inclusive classroom also means being respectful of students and families who do not participate in celebrations and holidays. If that is the case in your classroom, offer an alternate activity or focus on a service project, as suggested above.

By Michelle Garrigan-Durant
December 2017
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