You might have noticed a holiday trend in the U.S.: towards the end of September, store aisles started to sport “Seasonal” decor such as wire, clay, and glass pumpkins, boxed cards with ornaments that say “Happy Holidays”, and the ubiquitous Italian-inspired relief carved majolica turkey platters. The end of those same aisles are the realm of bargain-priced oddly assorted items, or an occasional nod to non-dominant holidays with a shelf or two hosting the gelt gold coins, dreidel paper plates, and a hanukkiah made in China, and maybe a shelf with loaded with black, green, and red accoutrements to celebrate Kwanzaa.
I grew up celebrating the dominant holidays found on a U.S.bank calendar as shared in Examining My Approach to Holidays. As a Montessori educator dedicated to preparing environments that value every community member’s social identity, I find schools that are looking to address holidays though a more equitable lens. In the hope of amplifying every child’s healthy identity, I synthesized research and formulated 8 guiding principles for best holiday practices taught in an online course. These principles are based on evidence that an overemphasis on bank calendar holidays create a Western- and Christian-centric hidden curriculum of which harm all members of a community.
A Spectrum of Holiday Approaches
A broad survey of guides and administrators showed how most Montessori schools follow one of the following approaches to holidays:
- School members default to celebrating bank calendar holidays either through traditions or autonomously from teachers
- School has a holiday policy and does not celebrate any holidays whatsoever.
- School has attempts at equalizing the holidays by hosting “Seasonal” or general “Holiday Parties”
- School commits to intentionally apply an equitable holiday approach.
Students and faculty that observe only dominant holidays are adversely affected by such limited exposure and experience with diverse expressions of identity. For students and faculty that observe non-dominant holidays (whether they be belief-based or secular) or no holidays at all, the harm of not being reflected in what the community values as normal, or exclusion for being unable to participate, oppresses their access to form healthy identity.
“Be careful – a child’s soul is like a bright mirror on which any breath can cast a shadow.” -Dr. Maria Montessori, The 1946 London Lectures p204.
The Second Approach
When school communities choose to not recognize any holidays whatsoever such as in the second approach, they omit a child’s group identity and reduce the opportunity to authentically learn about others.
“In the social jungle of human existence, there is no feeling of being alive without a sense of identity.” – Erik Erikson
The Third Approach
The third approach of trying to serve everyone’s holidays by recognizing them under one umbrella, feels a lot like Christmahanakwanzika, a made-up holiday approach of not really trying to authentically represent any holiday and thereby disrespecting all of them. To be clear, this was a solution I applied earlier in my career, just one of many missteps I’ve taken myself that prompted me to dig deeper into what a best holiday practice would look like.
An Equitable Holiday Approach
To actualize an equitable holiday approach, the 8 guiding principles give a framework in which to adapt to their particular community’s ethos, or approach to holidays. When all students are exposed to an approach that embraces the 3rd Principle: Educate Rather than Celebrate, they receive the message that their family holidays are valued, and increases the possibility of nurturing a healthy sense of self and well-being. I believe this level of critical action of respecting each family’s values cultivates radical acceptance of others, and dismantles systems of oppression.
Where do you start in adopting a more equitable lens? I’d suggest bringing together interested stakeholders from your community such as teachers from other levels, administrators, family members, older students, even board members, with the intent to learn more before creating a plan to implement a new approach.
By Tammy Oesting
Tammy Oesting has spent the last 25 years delivering professional development workshops, consulting schools, and educating new Montessori teachers. Her passions include issues of social justice, educating support staff, art education, neuroscience as applied to educational practices, and exploring the magnificence of the world. She is location independent and serves Montessori globally through her company ClassrooMechanics. AMS certified 3-6, 6-12