Wednesday, December 2, 2015

I {Heart} Our School's Holiday Policy

Before we moved here, we checked out lots of aspects of the public school, but its policy on holidays wasn't even something we thought to investigate.

Turns out, we got incredibly lucky.

Some schools practically forbid anyone to say "Christmas," which I think is kind of dumb. In the effort to be inclusive, that kind of thing only excludes everybody. Our school actually devotes a week of December to learning about each winter holiday: Hanukkah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa.

To be honest, it's not a perfect system because they still don't really cover the why of the holidays. The kids bring home coloring sheets of Christmas trees instead of nativity scenes on Christmas week, and handmade dreidels instead of stories about the rededication of the Second Temple and the miracle of the oil on Hanukkah week.

I'd prefer they learned those things, but it's a start.

Several years ago, my daughter's 1st grade teacher sent home a flyer for parents. Anyone interested could come in to share one of their family's holiday traditions with the class, and would I like to sign up?

Of course I would! We have a ton of Christmas traditions at our house. But then I hesitated.

In our house, Christmas is a religious holiday. We still open a present from Santa Claus and decorate a Christmas tree and consume copious amounts of sugar, but at the heart of it we celebrate Jesus' birth and life. So our most important holiday traditions aren't "safe for school" topics. They are:
  • Getting together with friends and watching our kids act out the Nativity as one of the adults reads it from the Bible
  • Settling down with egg nog and cookies on Christmas Eve to watch a video about the Nativity
  • Corralling the kids on Christmas morning before we open presents and reading Luke 2 together

So I emailed the teacher and asked her: can I come in and share a religious tradition that is meaningful to us?

She emailed me back and said sure, as long as we present it in a "this is what we believe" kind of way (you know, sharing versus preaching) and remain respectful of kids in the class who don't believe that way.

I {Heart} Our School's Holiday Policy -- Something awesome happened when I asked to bring our Nativity set to my daughter's public school: they said yes.  {posted @ Unremarkable Files}
What we ended up doing was bringing in a few of our Nativity sets. We left the breakable ones at home (after all, these are 1st graders we're talking about) and brought in the Fisher-Price Little People Nativity (that's my affiliate link if you want one for your own house) and a really beautiful metal set from India that Phillip's mom gave us.

We explained that the reason our family celebrates Christmas is that it's the birthday of somebody really important to us, and then my daughter then used the pieces to tell the Nativity story to the class.

Then we invited all the kids up to play with and touch the pieces if they wanted.

And do you know what? Everyone had fun. Nobody was offended. It was a good day.

When I told Phillip about it after he came home from work, his mouth fell open. "You said 'Jesus' in a public school??" he asked with astonishment that was half-mock, half real.

I sure did.

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Meagan - said...

That's such a great idea! I love the fact that you were able to change the assignment into something more meaningful to you and, most likely, for everyone else. : )

Queen Mom Jen said...

Fabulous! I love that you did this. What a great experience for your daughter and the children in class. Don't you just love that new video!

Unknown said...

I hate the idea of schools banning the mention of even the word Christmas. I think things are a bit different over here - my son goes to a 'Church of England' run school (the most common type other than Catholic & secular). They do nativity plays each year. I'm not sure how far they go into other religions at the elementary level though. I'm beginning to really have to question my own beliefs now though because the six year old has really started asking and thinking about death and if I'm honest I think I actually believe that we are all part of the organic matter of the earth the same as the trees and plants and animals - we have our life cycle, then we return to the earth and consciousness is over for us. I feel like that belief is also at odds with all of the Christian signs, symbols and beliefs that I have grown up around and therefore I have been giving my son mixed and vague messages about what he should believe. Its also really tricky when you are feeding ideas like the reality of Santa Claus into your children too! I think if I had to go into his school in the way that you went to your child's and speak about, not so much holiday traditions but alternative beliefs then I would look more into Humanism - as long as people of religious faith were OK with that then I would be OK with others sharing their religious beliefs. I'm going to guess that this probably isn't a likely scenario either in the US or the UK!

Unknown said...

In Wyoming and Oregon we were always under the Winter Holiday umbrella. It is so refreshing here in Wisconsin to hear my children are actually learning Christmas carols at school! I was shocked when my daughter first told me. I mentioned it to my husband and he's sure it's because of the huge Catholic population we have here. It's so nice! Your choice of Nativities is perfect, too. We have the Fisher Price one also.

Jenny Evans said...

We have a large Jewish population here and I really do hope that some of the Jewish parents (if not that year, then another year!) also came in to talk about some of their more meaningful Hanukkah traditions - beyond just getting 8 nights of presents. I think it adds so much more richness and depth to know WHY people do things and not just that they do them.

Jenny Evans said...

Yes, I imagine that scenario wouldn't have played out the same way in some other schools (or maybe if we'd even had a different teacher!)

I remember reading your post about your son starting to ask questions about death and I stilI think "I don't know. This is what I think - what do you think?" is a perfectly acceptable answer if you're not 100% sure of the answer yourself.

Being exposed to different belief systems (and probably for your sons, too) is a little hard for kids because everything is so black-and-white to them, but it's been a really good thing for my kids. One of the things I love most about my kids going to school with friends who are Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, and atheist is that it's given them opportunity to think about what we believe instead of taking it as a given. We've had great discussions about it. It also lets them see that people who believe/live differently than we do are often wonderful people just the same - I wouldn't change their experience for the world!

Unknown said...

I, too, had the F-P nativity. Thanks for bringing that memory back.

PurpleSlob said...

I'm so happy you did this!! All of us need to have courage to stand up for Jesus!!