Christmas? Holidays? Is The Name What Matters Most?

It’s December, which means that everyone is talking about the holidays. Whether at school, during my Leadership Course, or at home, I can’t help but get immersed in conversations around celebrations, presents, and upcoming plans. As many people know, I’m Jewish. My step-dad isn’t though, so for most of my life, I’ve celebrated both Christmas and Hanukkah.

  • Sometimes this involves lighting the menorah while opening presents around the Christmas tree.
  • Sometimes this involves a family dinner that includes both turkey and potato latkes.
  • And sometimes this involves a whole month of celebrations, when Hanukkah and Christmas dates don’t align.

I love the ability to celebrate a bit of everything, and in many ways, personalize the holidays. I’ve been to a Christmas Eve service at church, and I’ve also been to many Hanukkah parties. Both are special, and I’m thrilled that I’ve had both experiences.

Teaching at seven different schools over the years, I’ve observed and participated in many holiday experiences. I’ve seen,

  • carol sings,
  • hot chocolate parties,
  • Christmas lunches,
  • holiday songs,
  • Christmas songs,
  • Hanukkah songs,
  • and many plays of the same variety.

For me, the name doesn’t matter. Call it a “holiday assembly/song/play/lunch/party,” call it a “Christmas assembly/song/play/lunch/party,” or call it any combination of the two. With whatever we’re calling it though, let’s not forget about some small things that could make a big difference for everyone. For example, a few weeks ago, a teacher that I know (I didn’t ask her to include her name here, so I’ll keep it anonymous) mentioned having a Christmas lunch at her school. How wonderful is that?! It’s great, except for the fact the turkey is not Halal, so most of the kids and some of the staff couldn’t eat it. A small thing, but something that could make a HUGE difference for kids, adults, and their sense of belonging. This example reminded me of a few years ago when we had a hot chocolate party at school. The School Council made hot chocolate for everyone. A mom on the committee mentioned that marshmallows contain gelatin, so some of our families couldn’t have them. I told School Council members that they could purchase Kosher marshmallows (which would also be Halal) down at a nearby Fortino’s. They did this: allowing all students to enjoy marshmallows and hot chocolate. A small, but significant, decision. Sometimes it’s the smallest decisions, which can make the biggest impact. 

Recently, I was out with a good friend, and we were discussing this very topic. She said something which stuck with me. She mentioned how a Christmas tree is almost like a “Canadian tradition. It’s part of our culture.” I think that she might be right. The real story of Christmas doesn’t involve,

  • a tree,
  • reindeers,
  • elves,
  • or Santa Claus.

Have these instead become non-denominational symbols which tie us all together? As big a Grinch as I can be — and trust me, I’m one of the biggest there’s something about a decorated tree, some great Christmas songs (Step Into Christmas is my very favourite), and special times together, which are hard not to love. 

I know, understand, and support the importance of making sure that everyone feels included at this time of the year. Sometimes I wonder though if maybe this can be easier than we think. Maybe it’s in the little things that matter the most, and maybe there’s a part of all holidays that everyone can enjoy. For all the time that we can spend dissecting the wording of “Christmas” versus “holidays,” little of the same thinking seems to come into play when celebrating Easter in classrooms. Why is that? What if we saw the tree, reindeer, elves, and Santa Claus as just as non-denominational as the bunny, the baskets, and the chocolates? Would this change things? 

At times, I’ve wondered about not celebrating anything, but is this really the answer? Right now, our kids are eagerly discussing their Christmas trees, elves on the shelf, and holiday gatherings. One of our Kindergarten students even wrote a play for us to perform. We’re certainly celebrating Christmas, while also discussing other holidays/celebrations: trying to be responsive to kids, teach some new things, and not forget about the big and little elements, which could make a difference this holiday season. 

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After discussing The Elf on the Shelf this morning, Mya decided to make a little elf book for her elf. She first wrote “I love you,” with this first sound in each word. Then she started to think of more complex sentences, and sounded out each word. Callum was excited to help her with this at the eating table. As she was cleaning up the paint today, she said to me, “Where is my elf book?” Where would the tiniest book be? I was worried, but she found it, and read it to me. She figured out most words, and even did a little sounding out. I want to keep building confidence in this strategy. Best of all though, as she was getting ready for home, Mya reflected on her book last year versus this year. She’s seeing her growth as a learner. ❤️❤️❤️ SWIPE ⬅️ FOR MORE. #ctinquiry #iteachk #teachersofinstagram

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Assembling this stick Christmas tree was no small feat. Tommy helped figure out where the branches belonged. He kept measuring the branches during the process to determine the size of the one that needed to come next. The wire was hard to use though, and it was frustrating when someone walked nearby and caused it to break. Joshua really persevered with the wire. He learned how to wrap it around and cut it. Then Cohen and Brooke came along to help. Joshua supported them. I love how careful they’re being even as they climb up and down on the chair. Joshua was excited to feel comfortable enough to work from this height this year. Brooke then began to hang the pine needle pieces. Do we need to collect more tomorrow? There was also a big discussion on the star. Could we tape it? Use wire? What would we make it out of? Joshua thought paper, and he merged his idea with Tommy’s. This tree isn’t done yet … SWIPE ⬅️ FOR MORE. #ctinquiry #iteachk #teachersofinstagram #cti_celebrationsandtraditions

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How do you address the holidays at school? How do we ensure that everyone belongs? I think it’s the feelings of belonging and love, which may matter most of all.  What do you think?


4 thoughts on “Christmas? Holidays? Is The Name What Matters Most?

  1. Very well said Aviva. I believe Christmas or Xmas is about a whole lot more than Christ. We have a tree, stockings and an elf on the shelf. I love holiday baking, singing carols and watching the grinch. I often get funny looks when my friends find out we still celebrate Xmas despite being Muslim. For me the holidays are a magical time of year, filled with memories and traditions. Waking up early with my big brother, wondering if Santa had come, dragging my parents downstairs before sunrise. Christmas was never about religion growing up, it was about family and Santa. So when people wish me Merry Christmas I don’t mind one bit, I’ll even say it in return. One thing I don’t particularly love though is “Christ is the reason for the season” buttons, I wonder sometimes what might get said if I wore my own “Santa is the reason for the season” but then again to each their own.

    • Thank you so much for your comment, Stacey! Your comment makes me even happier with choosing to write this post. I think that sometimes we assume that certain people do not celebrate Christmas, or would not want us to engage in certain celebrations, but they do and have their own Christmas experiences to share. It’s why, if nothing else, we (being educators, parents, and community members) need to talk more. These discussions may change some of our thinking. Your experiences mimic many of my own (and ones from my past), and definitely speak to how I see Christmas. Thanks for chiming in on this post!


  2. I think that a lot of confusion/wondering what to do could be alleviated if people would acknowledge the roots of so many “Christmas” traditions that are actually secular. There is a distinction between religious Christianity/CHRISTmas (i.e. biblical beliefs & traditions) and what has been explained to me as “cultural Christianity”. In Denmark for example, Lutheran is the “state religion” but many acknowledge that they are simply “cultural Christians” who celebrate the secular traditions (which might even include going to church for fellowship, music, etc).

    Traditions like decorating with greenery, gift giving, feasting have secular roots that pre-date Christianity such as Jul/Yule in Nordic culture, which even has the “Jul Man” or “Juleman” who comes down the chimney to bring gifts. The ancient Roman festival Saturnalia is quite a partying type of celebration, from Dec.17-23 — the date/time period that Christians co-opted for Christmas. Likewise, bunnies & eggs are secular aspects of a celebration of new life that occurred on the first Sunday after the first Full Moon (occurring on or after the vernal equinox….all very science-y). This pre-dated organized religion and the date (and bunnies & eggs) were co-opted by Christianity for Easter….even the name Easter comes from Oestre or Ostara, the Germanic goddess of spring.

    My point being that there are all kinds of secular traditions that secularism can re-claim and they could be easily celebrated in public school classroos the same way we celebrate the New Year or Hallowe’en. Easy peasy.

    • Thanks for your comment, Michelle! You actually taught me a lot in here that I didn’t know. I think that there’s something to be said for looking at these secular traditions, and seeing what can be celebrated in schools. For me, it’s not necessarily about the celebration, but the great relationships and connections that come from them. I don’t want to leave people out here, and I think that it’s wonderful to learn about different traditions, and ensure that everyone feels included in the classroom community. Maybe even having these conversations with parents is a good way to find out what different people think, and how we can ensure that everyone is happy. Sometimes I think that we inadvertently make assumptions about what others may be thinking, and until we start the dialogue, we really don’t know for sure.


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