Policies | Cultural Holidays and Celebrations

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Overview

Keeping up with celebrations can be exhausting for pretty much everyone living in a consumerist society, and early childhood practitioners are in no way excepted: from high holy holidays of many religions to national or bank holidays, it can seem like not a week goes by without something that needs to be ‘celebrated’ (especially in the last few months of the calendar year.) In lots of ways, holidays and other important cultural celebrations are a fantastic way to introduce, understand, and appreciate each other’s similarities and differences within a classroom. In others, it can feel like you’re trying to ‘theme’ your days around a holidays, which can cause stress and worry while working to be inclusive.

Like so many other policies and practices, what your program or center chooses to do should be guided by what you want the children and families you serve to get out of being a part of your community. If it’s important to you that every major holiday is celebrated with special food, music, guests, and a ‘party’ atmosphere, then that’s fine: it’s your prerogative. If you would rather avoid every holiday altogether without so much as a passing glance, you have the ability to do that, too.

Assuming you want to find some sort of balance, the major things to keep in mind are anti-bias principles (who is represented, and who isn’t represented, and why?), avoiding misinformed and potentially damaging stereotypes (check the books you’re putting out, for a start), and creating a sensitive, diverse environment that honors your mission, vision, and values. Think about what kinds of books you’ll provide in the classroom, what activities are developmentally appropriate for the context of the children in your care, and how equitable the types of holidays and emphasis placed on them is within your school.

Where to Include

Consider putting this policy in your:

At Playvolution HQ, we recommend programs have three handbooks–a Parent Handbook, a Staff Handbook, and an Operating Handbook. Consider adding this policy to your Operating Handbook.

Considerations

  • In order to embrace a lot of holidays, you’ll need to learn about a lot of holidays – look to a variety of resources and voices to learn about what you’re trying to pass on to the children in your care.
  • You can’t please everyone. This kind of applies to all of these policies, but I figured it was very much worth mentioning here.
  • Some states/regions have policies that require food ‘from home’ to be store-bought.
  • Some states/regions have policies that ban balloons in early learning environments.
  • Some families might feel pressured to bring in treats or have host a celebration if other parents do, despite financial constraints.
  • Many families will want to take photos of students when celebrating, which could conflict with a photography or cell phone policy.

Sample Policies

Sample 1

Celebrating Holidays

Aidan is a non-sectarian and non denominational school and with all due respect recognizes that, though many holidays cross cultural boundaries, some of our families either do not observe or do not observe in the same way. We acknowledge that understanding these differences and appreciating the richness within our community is paramount to our children’s education. We realize that food is integral to the heart of so many celebrations and welcome the chance to have you share your heritage. Please refer to the above guidelines when preparing a menu; check with your child’s teacher well in advance. See guidelines for Full Class Snacks under Food Allergies.

Aidan Montessori School, DC, USA

Sample 2

Definition of Holiday Activities

It is important to define holiday activities because the words “holiday” and celebration” mean different things to different people. For purposes of this holiday policy and to define our holiday practices in the classroom, we define “holiday activities” in the following way. Holiday activities can be as simple as reading a book about a holiday and as elaborate and involved as having a party in the classroom with food, decorations, guests, and music. Activities often involve a group discussion about a holiday and how a family celebrates it, or the reading of a book about a holiday. Other times teachers set up open-ended, developmentally appropriate activities for children that relate to a holiday. We also have occasional parties to celebrate a holiday.


Goals and Functions of Holidays

  1. To validate children’s and families holiday experiences and traditions at home.
  2. To expose children to different ways of celebrating the same holiday.
  3. To expose children to celebrations, traditions, and religions different from their own.
  4. To foster respect for celebrations, traditions, and religions different from their own.
  5. To provide fun and a break in the routine.
  6. To mark time for children.
  7. To build a sense of community, family, and togetherness.
  8. To provide accurate information about holidays in a developmentally appropriate manner.
  9. To encourage critical thinking about bias and unfairness.
  10. To provide a stress-free environment.

Role of Holidays in the Program

Since we plan curriculum on an emergent basis in a way that is reflective of children’s needs and interests, the exact amount of time we spend on holidays will vary. We use children and families in the program as a “barometer” to help us decide how much we will do with holidays. We do have some guidelines, however, to make sure that holidays do not take over the entire curriculum. With regard to parties or actual celebrating, we will limit holiday parties to three or four per year. When we are “recognizing” a holiday (i.e. having a discussion or reading a book) or providing activities related to a holiday, we might include up to five holidays per month. For example, on the Friday before Memorial Day, we may talk about the fact that the center is closed on the following Monday and explain why, in two or three sentences. When we are talking with children about the day, we may talk about holidays that just occurred or that are imminently approaching. These recognitions of holidays, however, are no more than a two-minute discussion about what the holiday is called and what it is all about, unless children ask to know more. Similarly, when we provide activities, they will be open-ended and one of many choices so they are not the focus of the entire curriculum.

How Decisions Will Be Made About Which Holidays to Include

Individual decisions about which holidays will be included will be made every year and at other times of the years when children and families leave or enter the program.

  1. Teachers will use a variety of methods to determine which holidays are important to the children and families in their group. These will include a questionnaire and daily communication.
  2. Teachers will then make a list of any additional holidays they think are important to include. These include holidays they have incorporated in the past, social justice holidays, holidays that are celebrated by the staff, and holidays that support overall classroom goals. In order to provide opportunities for teachers to help children correct wrong impressions, teachers may also discuss holidays that have traditionally reinforced stereotypes or misinformation.
  3. Next, teachers will look at holidays with which the children may be unfamiliar. Before deciding to include any of these holidays, teachers will make sure they can introduce them in a relevant, respectful way that connects to children’s own experiences.
  4. Teachers will make sure that all the chosen holidays meet at least one of the stated goals for holidays and that none of these will offend or hurt any child or family.

How Holidays Will Be Implemented in the Curriculum

Below is a list of general guidelines we follow as we implement holidays:

  1. We are inclusive. We strive to validate everyone and exclude no one. We pay attention to the balance and the importance we put on certain holidays over others. No one holiday is portrayed as more important than any other.
  2. We concentrate on reflecting a holiday in a way that is important and relevant to families at home. We work to be culturally relevant in all of our activities.
  3. We involve parents/guardians as much as possible in the implementation of holiday activities and celebrations. We also keep families informed of upcoming holiday activities and events. We are careful to avoid stereotypes when presenting holiday information to children, putting up decorations, and implementing activities.
  4. We provide activities that are developmentally appropriate for the ages and stages of the children.

How Religious Aspects of Holiday Will Be Approached

Teachers will not teach the religious aspects of a holiday or teach one religion or religious holiday as the correct one. We will explain, in a developmentally appropriate way, what the historical meaning of that holiday is if children ask us directly for that information. Religious aspects will be explained in a matter-of-fact way, with simple language. Families will be consulted for the actual language they use when talking about religious holidays to their children. Children will also be referred back to their families for more explanation and in-depth information about religious aspects of holidays. Aside from providing answers for children’s direct questions about the religious aspects of holidays, teachers in general will avoid talking about religion without sacrificing the underlying meaning of a holiday. For example, we will explain that Christmas is a time for giving and sharing and Valentine’s Day is a day of friendship and caring.

Plan for Working with Children and Families Who Don’t Celebrate Holidays

We will not celebrate any individual holiday that excludes one or more children. If we have children in the program who do not celebrate any holidays we will work with the families to come up with a plan for meeting their children’s needs so they are not left out.

How We Will Evaluate the Effectiveness of Holiday Activities

We will be constantly reflective of holiday activities we have done in the past and how we might handle holidays in the future. When families join our school, we will survey them about their family background and culture, home language, and religious practices.

Chapel Hill Cooperative Preschool, North Carolina, USA

Sample 3

Holidays and Holy Days

We believe that holidays are best celebrated within the context of family, homes and places of worship where they can be honored with the respect they so richly deserve. Our classrooms are places where children of all beliefs, cultures, and traditions come together to grow and learn while experiencing traditions common to all (i.e. “The Candle Song” at lunchtime). In a society where holidays are surrounded by commercialism, we strive to make PPP be a respite for children (and adults!) from a frantic world that overwhelms us all.

We are a place where children are encouraged to express themselves using an array of colors and materials rather than colors and decorations dictated by the traditions of each holiday. We  are a place where children can sing, tell stories, dress up, build blocks, and cook without being confined to songs, stories, and recipes of the “season.” Remember that caring and nurturing adults will listen to stories that your children tell and the conversations they have about their own traditions and celebrations. What we can do well in this setting is listen well and warmly to what children share, and share that back with you.

Piedmont Progressive Preschool, North Carolina, USA

Sample 4

Holiday Curriculum/Family Traditions

A philosophy of our program is to honor diversity. Children come from a variety of cultural and ethnic backgrounds. It is our desire to be inclusive; we will happily include a variety of cultural festivities. Please feel free to speak to staff about bringing in experiences to share your culture.

Arlington Partners for Pre-Kindergarten Learning Enhancement (APPLE), Washington, USA

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