It has been a couple of whirlwind months with little time to slow down, reflect and be present in the moment. I question why I am in constant motion and what I need to do to slow down. As usual, my mind goes to how this continuous adult search for the following best things impacts and affects them. That is why I wanted to share my thoughts about the meaning of the winter holidays and how we can celebrate them in a way that makes them inclusive and filled with wonder for all children.
Throughout the years, as I observed and visited early childhood programs, I noticed an emergence of Christmas trees and Christmas scenes added to the environment. I know some children and adults enjoy this time of year and look forward to the crafts and activities. Then, some children may feel excluded.
Let me start with a story shared by an educator who intended to support the children in her classroom. During the winter Holidays, the families chose to do a gift exchange among the children. The organizing group sent a note to the rest of the families asking them to buy a 5.00 dollar gift to exchange. They added that if they could not afford the present, their child could stay home and not participate in the gift exchange. The educator thought that this was an acceptable alternative. On the gift exchange day, a child came without a gift. When he saw what was happening, he wanted to be included. He got some markers from the shelf and wrapped them. When the gift exchange ended, the child was asked to return the gift he got because what he did (wrap the markers) was not acceptable or fair to the child that brought a gift to share and ended only with the used markers.
As I listen to this story, my heart breaks for the child who just wanted to belong. My heart worries about the children that did not learn a lesson about kindness because they felt cheated by not having a “real” gift. My heart is concerned for the educators who, with all “good” intentions, failed to see how painful this type of activity can be for many children who do not have the financial resources to participate in a gift exchange.
A big part of me wants to tell you not to celebrate the Winter Holidays in the early childhood programs. However, I have learned that it is a battle that I can’t win. Instead, I would like to engage in a dialog that helps us keep our celebrations by making them more inclusive.
ENGAGE IN INQUIRY THAT IS GROUNDED IN EMPATHY
Each of us has a culture that gives us a sense of place and belonging. Our culture encompasses our history, heritage, language, celebrations, values, and traditions. Culture shapes our identity and the way we experience the world. It helps us connect and build relationships that sustain and develop our humanity. As early childhood educators reflect on their own cultures, we learn to value and honor the cultural identities of the children and families in our programs. We celebrate children’s innate curiosity to learn, intentionally respond to their inquiry about celebrations and traditions in responsive ways, and build a sense of belonging. Children are submerged in the cultural majority holiday of Christmas during the winter holiday. As educators, we must question and discuss ways to make the experience of the Holidays and how to make them more inclusive and representative of the early childhood ecosystem’s community. Let’s research and dialog with families and educational advisor’s to find more inclusive and culturally responsive ways to celebrate together during the winter holiday season.
- How do we create a physical and social environment reflecting our community’s beauty and strength of diversity?
- Do we support children learning about diverse perspectives, cultures, languages, and traditions?
- Are we ready to, rather than celebrating the holidays, seek to celebrate family and cultural traditions?
- Do we see traditions as integral to family, self, and the ecosystem’s identity?
Traditions create a sense of belonging, history, and continuity. They remind us of events that have shaped family, school, and community. Family traditions tell a story of family dynamics, core values, and at the center: relationships. Traditions and stories families share with children profoundly influence the development of children’s identity and self-confidence. Traditions connect our past, present, and future, as well as give children (and families) a sense of history and respect for their heritage.
BEGIN WITH THE ECOSYSTEM’S COMMUNITY
Begin with the aesthetic messages: Look at the beauty of the winter holidays and the Light they bring into our homes. During Christmas, families add lights to their homes. Hanukkah is the holiday of lights when Jewish families light Hanukiah for eight days to remember the miracle of Light. During Kwanzaa, the celebration of the harvest, a Kinara, or seven-space candleholder, is lit by families to represent the original stalk from which the African people originated. Lighting candles to honor the solar year celebrates the Winter Solstice. During Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, houses, shops, and public places are decorated with small oil lamps called Diyas and colorful lights. During the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Fitr, lights are put up in homes as part of the celebration that marks the end of Ramadan. Light is not only a beautiful way to celebrate our humanity but also a way to bring us close to each other as humans.
Make authentic connections: Build traditions that create and sustain a sense of community among children, families, and educators. We know this comes with a set of challenges, for instance, the “holiday dilemma.” Holidays can give pleasure to many children, families, and educators, but they can also make other children feel excluded, isolated, overwhelmed, and/or over-stimulated. Implementing family traditions and creating school and community traditions requires us to listen, respect, and honor the diversity in the classroom. Instead of focusing on the concrete, routine, or ritual aspects of traditions, find joy in sharing the gift of building relationships in the ecosystem and with the community. Invite families to share family history and cultural heritage. Throughout the year, work as a community to establish traditions that create relationships and a strong sense of connection and belonging. Instead of limiting traditions to specific times of the year, instead seek to include, highlight and create traditions year-round. Build on our empathy for children of all backgrounds, and we have made a profound commitment to ensuring that every child, family, educator, and staff are part of a culturally responsive and inclusive community.
Engage in Critical Reflection: After critical reflection on the community’s diversity, Create a core tradition to inclusively and honor global Winter celebrations centered on a variety of aspects of Light. The main intention/ and goal is to create traditions that bring families together across shared values.
Praxis: Through reflection and explicit knowledge and understanding of the theories that guide our work as educators can make e commitment to gather as a community each December to celebrate the beauty of our differences and the unity of our similarities, including our shared humanity.
THE MEANING OF THE WINTER HOLIDAYS
For me, the winter means going inwards and finding comfort in my surroundings. The light changes, the days are shorter, and the sunsets’ color seems to be more intense. The shadows cast in the winter appear elongated and more mysterious. I love the fairy lights and the opportunities to read and reflect under the candlelight. The warmth of the fireplace creates a sense of belonging, making me feel refreshed and renewed. This is when I gather with friends and neighbors, and we honor new and old traditions. This is when I just sit and relax and can be present with my thoughts and feelings.
That is why I ask you to take the time to reflect on how you will create a sense of wonder that brings the community together?