Decorating classrooms has become somewhat expected these days. Teachers are expected to have bulletin boards that are coordinated with the season or a theme from the lesson plans. The start of the school year will often find classrooms decked out with apple trees, school buses, colorful piles of leaves, or stacks of books. Most minor holidays such as St. Patrick’s Day, Valentine’s Day, and even Halloween are expected to play a role in the décor of a classroom. It isn’t until December arrives that people become hypersensitive to holiday decorations.
Why is this? There are numerous holidays in December: Hanukkah, Christmas, and Winter Solstice to name just a few. While these are, admittedly, religious celebrations, most of the other holidays that are gladly accepted in the classroom are also religious in nature. I think the real difference is that these other holidays have been secularized to the point of homogenization while these December holidays still hold a bit of their religious origins. However, as an educator, it is the duty of all teachers to teach about the diversity that makes this nation so great.
The role of holiday decorations in education should not be simply to change the décor of a classroom, create crafts to keep children busy, or to celebrate the beliefs of the teacher. Decorating a classroom is an excellent opportunity to teach about tolerance, history, and freedom of expression. By all means, decorate a classroom, even an entire school, with the theme of a celebration(s) that occurs in any given month but do so equitably. Be sure to celebrate Ramadan, Christmas, Yom Kippur, Shivarathri, and other religious holidays throughout the year – and tie it into the importance of freedom of religion in our country and how the principles of the Constitution allow for people of all faiths to worship as they wish. Include non-religious holidays such as Memorial Day, Earth Day, Labor Day, President’s Day, Cinco de Mayo, Father’s Day, Arbor Day, and even something like Leif Erikson Day to discuss the importance of what individual days celebrate.
By widening the scope of holiday decorations to encompass more than just those holidays that are widely commercialized, educators will be able to broaden the scope of understanding of the students whose minds they are supposed to be engaging. They will also be able to include the holidays of some of their minority students who may otherwise feel left out during the more mainstream holidays. By encouraging students to share what holidays are important to their families and celebrating those days in the classroom or school, educators will be taking advantage of what is often referred to as a teachable moment. Which brings us to the role of holiday decorations: they should be used to encourage teachable moments.
What holidays do you decorate for and how do you use those decorations to open the minds of your students?