The Christmas Conundrum: Planning for celebrations that reflect and respect diversity

Girl with Christmas decoration

Almost without fail, year on year, six weeks out from Christmas a debate will kick off.

Some commentators call this debate “the war on Christmas” with strong and emotional arguments on both sides, both in favour of, and against “traditional” celebrations. 

These debates can be challenging for those working in early childhood settings – after all, celebrations are important markers on our calendars, and families, staff and children will often all have their own ideas about how they should be acknowledged. 

How can childcare services make sure that all children, families, and staff feel respected?

How can services make sure children and families join in with celebrations in a way which respects the diversity of families? 

One size does not fit all
Some educators and leaders will remember an experience from their childhood of eating dinner, or spending the night at a friend’s house. In those moments, many of us remember the mind-blowing feeling when you realised that not everyone eats dinner with a knife and fork, that some families let their dogs sleep on the bed, or that in some houses, shoes are not to be worn inside. 

What those moments teach is that all families, and all homes, have their own little differences. The same is true for celebrations – not all people celebrate or acknowledge all holidays, and few do it in the same way. 

In most settings, because of different beliefs, biases and experiences, some negotiation will need to happen in relation to special celebrations and holidays. Even within groups that all acknowledge the same holiday, such as Christmas, how individual families celebrate will reflect both similarities and differences. 

For holidays such as mothers and Father’s Day, which families are included, and which are excluded? How could this practice be made more inclusive? 

What’s the why?
Each community is composed of members of many different cultures, backgrounds and beliefs. Knowing the origins and the meaning behind each holiday may support your service in making decisions about what, and how, to celebrate. 

The Early Years Learning Framework encourages educators to think about how they authentically embed culture into environments, practices and programs, describing cultural competence as being “much more than awareness of differences. It is the ability to understand, communicate with, and effectively interact with people across cultures.”

When educators look at how they work with children and families, as guided by the Early Childhood Australia Code of Ethics, they are guided to learn about, respect and respond to the uniqueness of each family, their circumstances, culture, family structure, customs, language, beliefs and kinship systems. 

Honouring this uniqueness also means recognising that each group has a right to their traditions, and that the program should not favour one group of families over another. 

Key ideas for celebrating the holidays… fairly

  • Learning, not celebrating: celebrating a holiday makes children active participants in a culture or tradition, and assumes that all families believe in the premise behind it. Switching that thinking to learning about a holiday means teaching children about what it means to some, and how some choose to participate in it, emphasising the uniqueness of all traditions. 
  • Power of language: choosing to use words that focus on the history of celebrations, and which highlight the range of beliefs, can support a diversity of beliefs in a service. Avoiding phrases such as “but EVERYONE here…” as this may or may not be the case. 
  • Start something new: a unique celebration for a group of children, or a setting, may have more meaning to children and families, and includes everyone, building connections with families and communities. In this piece, the team from KU Ourimbah share a reflection on how they moved from ‘graduation’ to a celebration of learning, led by the children.
  • Support children in understanding why: If a child or family chooses not to participate in a celebration, work with the other children to understand why, explaining that all families have different ways of acting, and that this is not consistent in every home. 

Further resources: 
Celebrate!: An Anti-Bias Guide to Including Holidays in Early Childhood Programs

Holidays and Anti Bias Education 

The Anti Bias Approach in Early Childhood

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