To Celebrate or Not to Celebrate?: The Annual Question About Holidays in School


We live in a culturally diverse world, which means that, whether or not you have a culturally diverse classroom, cultural sensitivity is important if we’re striving for understanding – and, yes, world peace. At no time does the issue of cultural sensitivity become more prominent than during the fall/winter holiday season, with questions arising as to the best way to handle the issue. Is banning them the best bet? If not, what’s the best approach? What about First Amendment issues?

I strongly recommend that you listen to the fabulous conversation I had with three intelligent, thoughtful educators. You can find it by clicking here. And below are the thoughts they shared with me following the discussion.

From Gisele Lundy-Ponce:

When it comes time to highlight specific cultural holidays, how do you pick the right materials so that they are culturally responsive? No matter what you choose to shed light on the subject (a lesson plan, ongoing unit study, field trip, cultural fair, special performance presentation, etc.), the goal is to expand all your students’ knowledge, interest and respect for the group being featured. Here are some ideas to help you highlight multicultural and religious holidays appropriately, and select the right activities and materials:

Consult more than one internet or library source and do not expect a student to be your sole “ambassador” or resource for finding out about a whole culture or ethnic background.

Incorporate the information you select into existing lesson plans or special projects.

Make it more than just about food, music or popular icons.

Seek various representatives to show the diversity within a common group – keep in mind that no one group is as homogenous as it might seem.

Plan ahead of time – don’t wait until the day of the celebration or designated month to bring up the subject.

Encourage other children who may not have “official” holidays representing them or whose families have lived in the U.S. for multiple generations to explore and share their own heritage and background.

Ultimately, what you need the most to make these strategies truly successful is collaboration and buy-in from your peers and colleagues. It will not be easy or quick. As we all know, any substantive change takes time. Please be patient and start out where you can. While you ultimately want to work toward schoolwide recognition of these strategies, you may only start out with one or two teachers on board with diversifying the way we celebrate holidays in schools. Building a foundation to help students, families and educators develop their own culturally sensitive skills during the holidays and throughout the year is a step in the right direction to be successful in our multicultural and diverse world.

Some useful resources:

Amanda Morgan added:

Really embrace and respect diversity, rather than trade it for a homogenization where only one culture is acknowledged or where culture isn’t allowed at all.

Know your children and be aware of the sensitivity that will be required regarding holidays. Don’t ignore a child’s cultural differences, but don’t single any child out or put him/her in an uncomfortable position of defending or explaining those differences alone.

Plan units of study that connect to holidays without being consumed by them. (Food Unit during November, Friendship Unit during February, etc.)Then allow children to make their own authentic connections to holidays and cultural aspects that are meaningful to them.

Finally, to read a fabulous post by Nancy Flanagan, titled “It’s Beginning to Sound (Depressingly) Like Christmas: Four Tips for Educators,” click here. And Gisele’s co-authored piece, “Culturally Responsive Instruction for Holidays and Religious Celebrations,” can be found here.


Thanks for this Rae. I wonder if there’s also a piece about gauging the students’ level of interest in the holidays or holidays and using their questions to guide how holidays are celebrated (or not) in the classroom? In my experience, teachers are often more interested than students are.

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