A Muslim Teacher’s Take on Christmas in Public Schools

As the holidays approach, so too does a some tension about celebrating Christmas in public schools. Some feel that their ability to even use the word “Christmas” has been muted. Political correctness is cited as rendering people invisible.

In some areas, gone are the Christmas concerts and Christmas carols of the past. Instead, some feel that they can only say “Happy Holidays”, have “Winter Concerts” and put up “Holiday trees”. Increasingly there is a growing resentment to this perceived removal of Christmas from the dialogue in public schools.

We celebrate their holidays, why can’t we have Christmas any more?”

Is the removal of Christmas from the dialogue of public schools a goal of those seeking to make public schooling more equitable and inclusive? The answer is a resounding, “NO”. Christmas is a celebration observed by a significant portion of our communities.

Its spirit should be recognized and shared within the context of public schools. Christmas trees can be present and it is definitely not problematic to wish people who observe it, a “Merry Christmas”.

While no one wants to remove Christmas from the overarching narrative, there is an attempt to “de-center” it from being the dominant celebration of public schooling.

The demographics of our country are ever-changing. Christmas was once seen as the major Canadian celebration, but is now one of many Canadian celebrations. Still, this evolution is ignored in many public schools.

At Christmas time, there are often trees, lights, decorations and songs brought in and shared with schools and students. Usually since staff are not reflective of the wider diversity of the communities they serve. The majority celebrate Christmas and bring its spirit to school with them for weeks ahead.

While there is no problem with this spirit, it is often the silence and lack of acknowledgement of the many other celebrations in a similar manner that is problematic. It is hurtful even.

Joy is for Everyone

Whenever there is recognition of other festivals/cultures/celebrations, it is usually by way of a presentation in a small setting. Often asking its observers to wear their traditional “costumes” and bring in some of their “traditional food”.  If recognized, these are often never given the same level of recognition as Christmas.

The move to “Winter Concerts” is in no way meant to devalue Christmas but instead situate it within the context of the wider reality. We now live in a diverse world that is accessible at the touch of a button on a keyboard.

The sense of “invisibility,” which some feel has happened to Christmas, is what has routinely happened to many groups of people and cultures in our system.

As we strive to develop an inclusive Canadian society, we need to equally recognize and meaningfully celebrate with all. Diwali, Chanukah, `Eid, Kwanzaa, Chinese New Year, Kushali and many other beautiful celebrations that are now truly Canadian.

This means not reducing it to a “samosa and sari” (dress up and bring your food) day but allowing these celebrations a similar space as Christmas. It is not about replacing Christmas. It’s about recognizing that we are a part of a cosmopolitan society.

We have many diverse celebrations. In a public school system, one celebration should not be seen as more important than another.

Working together we can ensure that ours is a truly inclusive society, including being able to say “Merry Christmas” and acknowledge it as ONE of the many celebrations that we are privileged to share in Canada.

This article is from our archive, originally published at an earlier date, and now republished for its importance.
About Jeewan Chanicka
Jeewan Chanicka is from Toronto, Canada, and has been involved in working with youth, education, and social services issues since 1993. He graduated with a bachelor's degree with honors in individualized studies at York University with a focus on conflict resolution and culturally appropriate forms of mediation. He has done much work with both youth and adults, especially around parenting, teenage and youth issues, and bridging the gap between generations.