In kindergarten, when December rolled around, I came in to find the classroom decked wall-to-wall in red and green, the stench of gingerbread permeating the air. I asked what was going on, and my teacher looked at me incredulously.
In first grade, we were told to write letters to Santa Claus asking what we wanted for Christmas. I wrote I wanted cookies, which I remembered associating with Santa because we kept getting told not to forget to put out a plate for him the night before Christmas.
In second grade, I painted an ornament to hang on the non-existent Christmas tree I had at home – I accidentally dropped and broke it.
And so on.
Having grown up Muslim, I always felt very alienated by the classroom holiday activities in which we were made to participate without any alternatives. I mean, sure – I enjoy some hot eggnog and listening to “All I Want For Christmas is You” as much as the next person, but it means very little to me.
Jewish and Muslim kids in particular have felt this alienation for as long as we can remember. We’re only now starting to get some cultural – and corporate – recognition for our holidays, but we will always be religious minorities as long as we’re in this country.
To those who say, “Christmas isn’t even a religious holiday anymore,” I say, “We are not at the cultural point in time where Christmas activities are completely divorced from their more-or-less religious origins.”
And yes, yes – we’ve all gotten the spiel that Christmas has pagan roots, that Jesus wasn’t actually born on Dec. 25 – we’ve heard it all before.
Regardless of our backgrounds, we have all been exposed to Christianity in this overwhelmingly Christian country, founded on Christian beliefs, having Christian roots. It’s embedded into this nation’s fabric, regardless of the extent of our individual levels of religiosity.
Most of my friends who grew up in households that practiced Christianity to some degree do not expressly observe religious practices anymore, such as going to church, saying grace, or memorizing Bible verses. (That’s what Christians do, right? I was just guessing.)
But they still carry with them the nostalgia of going Christmas caroling, opening presents next to a highly decorated tree, or making the fruitcake no one eats.
Before you say, “My family doesn’t do any of that!” just to be a contrarian, consider this: if you are not part of a religious minority, you have never felt like an outsider on that front during this time of year.
When I first started working at Starbucks three years ago, people took up arms online and in my cafe about the fact we started the holiday season off with green cups instead of red ones. This, unbeknownst to me, apparently alluded to a Muslim holiday takeover, since green is a traditional Islamic color.
Even though right-wing religious fundamentalists who spew nonsense about the War on Christmas that’s killed as many as the Bowling Green massacre aren’t universally touted as voices of reason, many of them still have high stakes in this country and its education systems.
Framingham State is where many educators have gotten their starts, and where many continue to learn and grow. This University was founded as a teaching school and continues to carry on that proud legacy.
That’s why it’s all the more important to reiterate this: not all of your students will be eagerly participating in Christmas-themed activities or understand them right away.
Now, I’m not waging my own War on Christmas and telling all present and future teachers to nix all Christmas-related activities – although, I might be tempted to do so if I have to hear “Santa Baby” one more time – but at least provide alternatives and plan to make some non-denominational winter crafts.
It’s not bending to some kind of evil secularism or pandering to a politically correct agenda – it’s called being considerate.
Teachers who aren’t appreciative and considerate of the diversity within their classrooms will leave a bad taste in their students’ mouths and will not be remembered very kindly.
Sure, children will enjoy anything hands-on, interactive, and edible. But they will actually learn from new, affirming, and inclusive experiences.