Do Cultural Holidays Belong in Your Child Care?

by Katie Brazerol

As the holidays approach, many child care providers struggle with the question, “Which holidays should I include in my setting?” The U.S. contains a wonderful mix of races, ethnicities, and cultures. Because of this, we are learning about more and more holiday traditions and customs beyond Santa and his eight reindeer. Many providers wonder how much cultural diversity they should provide in their settings, and how much is too much. In addition, many providers may wonder how they can provide accurate integration of culture into a setting without seeming to take a tourist approach (when you know nothing about a culture so you read about a specific tradition or holiday and then inadvertently teach about it as if there is only one way to celebrate it.)Group of happy Christmas kids in Santa hat lying down. White bacHolidays can be tricky because of the various ways to celebrate them. Take Christmas, for instance. What are your traditions surrounding the holiday? Do you exchange gifts? Do you attend religious services? Do you warn your kids that Santa is watching them? Do you celebrate at all? Christmas is a widely popular holiday, yet it can be celebrated in many different ways and for many different reasons.

NAEYC shares a few practical points from the book Anti-Bias Education for Young Children and Ourselves, by Louise Derman-Sparks and Julie Olsen Edwards, when considering what to celebrate in your setting:

  • Find out which holidays the families in your setting celebrate. Create a survey at the beginning of the year to find out which holidays have meaning to the families. Don’t assume that families celebrating culturescelebrate certain holidays because of their skin color or religious background. By asking directly, you can gain insight into which holidays have meaning.
  • Ask if families are willing to share their traditions with your classroom. Holiday celebrations can be diverse. Hearing how other families celebrate the same holiday in a variety of ways can be fascinating, especially if all of the children in your setting are of the same ethnicity!
  • Make a plan or policy regarding how you will celebrate holidays in your setting. Will you focus on just the holidays relevant to the children in your child care or will you branch out and explore holidays that the children would otherwise never experience? Explain to the families at the beginning of the year what your policies are. This will help them understand that your goal is to teach children that families celebrate holidays in different ways. (And it will hopefully help you avoid angry calls from parents who are shocked that their child is focusing on a holiday they don’t even celebrate!)
  • Research and inquire directly from the source. If you choose to introduce a holiday that isn’t normally celebrated by the families in your setting, try to interview someone who actually observes the holiday. Ask him to share his customs, beliefs, and traditions surrounding thecelebrating cultures 2 holiday with the children in your setting. (Remind him, of course, that he will be talking to preschoolers in hopes of keeping the information age-appropriate!)
  • Introduce culture year-round. Don’t just talk about Africa during Kwanzaa or Sweden on St. Lucia Day. Keep a world map handy in your setting and try to incorporate other countries throughout the year. Focus on geography, music, art, and foods locally grown in the area. Culture is so much more than just holidays!

Asian Chinese family wishing you a happy Chinese New YearThe bottom line is that you must decide what works best for the families in your setting. If you have a policy regarding diverse cultures and holidays set in place, families will know what to expect. Dig deeper than just the first web site that mentions specific holiday highlights, and if possible, find a person who can give a first-hand account of how they celebrate the holiday. Remember to explain to the children that even though we are different and we may celebrate differently, we all enjoy the feelings of comfort and joy that holidays usually bring!

Do you have special ways of incorporating culture in your setting? How do you decide which holidays to celebrate? We’d love to hear from you!

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