Holidays are one of humanity's oldest educational tools. They're literally designed to teach, communicating information and values to people of every age & intellectual level.
And they do this by binding together a multitude of smaller tools — stories, music, games, rituals, and (most importantly!) DESSERTS!
Holidays work because they seize the reins of human joy for the purpose of teaching.
And we know they do work because they have worked — for decades, centuries, and even millennia. They're more proven than anything that graces the pages of Educational Leadership could ever hope for.
Holidays a perfect opportunity to lead kids into other cultures and societies.
But public schools largely steer clear of religious holidays, because of legal worries. "Christmas" becomes "winter break". "Easter" is hardly spoken of. And events like Yom Kippur (Jewish), Eid ul-Milad an Nabi (Muslim), Diwali (Hindu) are passed over entirely.
And many secular holidays are only superficially celebrated — the history of Valentine's Day, Labor Day, and Constitution Day is passed over.
Our basic plan:
Engage as many diverse holidays as possible. Tell stories, feast on foods, sing songs — whenever possible, actually celebrate the holidays.
Use them to learn and fall a little in love with the stories of the world.
Adults who aren't idiots about the rest of the world, and who have made pleasant memories of traditions that they themselves don't belong to.
If you walk into a classroom, you might see:
Kids celebrating the Buddha's Birthday by telling the story of Siddhartha and donating food to a local food bank. Kids celebrating the Chinese New Year by telling the story of the terrible Nian, and scaring it away with firecrackers. Kids celebrating Epiphany by telling the story of the Magi's visit to the infant Jesus and drinking some traditional (though non-alcoholic!) wassail. Kids celebrating Mawlid (the birth of Mohammed) by feasting, telling stories of Mohammed's life, and donating a goat to a family in the developing world.
And, perhaps best of all, the whole school community celebrating Holi, the Hindu festival commemorating the triumph of good over evil, by running around and splashing each other with paint.
What are the limits to engaging specifically religious holidays? What's the line, for example, between celebrating a holiday (be it Samhain or Christmas) and participating in a ceremony? Are there some holidays that we should just avoid, because of this?
How do these limits change if we're working in (1) private, (2) charter, or (3) public schools?
(This idea is currently in beta! If you've thoughts on how to make it better, join our Facebook group — a link's at the bottom of the page!)