December is a time filled with holidays that are joyful for many - from Hanukkah to Christmas, and Bodhi Day to Winter Solstice, it can be difficult for educators to acknowledge these cultural traditions with the respect they deserve, without implying that certain traditions are more important than others.
“While the December dilemma presents real challenges for educators, it also offers tremendous opportunities: to include a wider range of religious and cultural traditions in their teaching; to promote religious literacy and respect for differences; and to foster a culture of inclusion” (Keiserman, 2015). Below are strategies to embrace this opportunity without excluding anyone:
Recognize cultural traditions that take place throughout the year, not just in December.
You can use this template to make a yearlong plan to recognize traditions from a variety of cultures represented in your school community. In your activities, go beyond the surface level discussions of food, music, and popular icons and explore why they are celebrated and the many diverse ways they are celebrated, even within the same tradition.
Celebrate the diversity within diverse cultures.
Avoid monolithic representations of cultural traditions and instead allow students to read about the experiences of real people through personal narratives, interacting with guest speakers, and interviewing community members. For example, Latinx and Asian cultures have a huge variety of celebrations that vary by region and dialect. For a thoughtful approach to the holidays check out this resource!
Understand your responsibility under the First Amendment.
The Supreme Court has made it clear that educators can teach about religious holidays, practices, and beliefs, but they may not celebrate, endorse, or denigrate any religious holidays, practices, or beliefs. All lessons about religion must be neutral, objective, and non-devotional. The National Coalition Against Censorship has an excellent resource here.
Do not expect a student to be an "ambassador" for an entire culture or tradition.
Use multiple sources and texts to explore cultural traditions, and do not put students on the spot to answer questions for an entire group.
Ensure a safe, respectful classroom environment.
This will help students to feel comfortable sharing and learning about a variety of cultural traditions. Promote a sense of community and belonging every day in your classroom, not just during the holidays. Check out this blog to find out why this is so important and some important questions to ask yourself first!
With these strategies, you can avoid the “December Dilemma” and foster learning and curiosity about diverse cultures all year long!
1. Keiserman, K. (2015). Teaching the Holidays: The December Dilemma. EdWeek. https://www.edweek.org/leadership/opinion-teaching-the-holidays-the-december-dilemma/2015/11
2. (2021). THE FIRST AMENDMENT IN SCHOOLS: RESOURCE GUIDE: RELIGIOUS EXPRESSION IN THE PUBLIC SCHOOLS. National Coalition Against Censorship. https://ncac.org/resource/the-first-amendment-in-schools-resource-guide-religious-expression-in-the-public-schools
3. (2019). Anti-Bias Education and Holidays: Making Thoughtful Decisions. naeyc. https://www.naeyc.org/resources/blog/anti-bias-and-holidays
4. Villalba, Y. (2021). Being a Culturally Responsive Sustaining Educator During the Holiday Season. McGraw Hill. https://medium.com/inspired-ideas-prek-12/being-a-culturally-responsive-sustaining-educator-during-the-holiday-season-c13a34a844cb