Diversity in December Holidays

The Diversity and Inclusion Committee of USD383 (the Manhattan/Ogden school district) issued a memo about inclusion during December that blew up on social media and brought a response from the Manhattan Mercury, including an editorial. This is my response to their editorial, published on the 17th:

To the editor:

In response to Dec. 12’s editorial, “take it easy on Christmas and include other holidays” is insufficient. For non-Christians, this season is difficult. Christmas dominates December. Specials and movies run on TV. Decorations deck our streets and shops. Vacation time coincides with Christmas.

Not everyone celebrates Christmas. Non-Christian adults can protect themselves and their families by focusing on their own traditions. However, public schools have a captive audience, too young to fully understand the differences around them or to complain about any discomfort.

Assignments like “write a letter to Santa” or “study how Christmas is celebrated in a different country” (real examples from USD 383 schools) are insensitive, at best. They communicate to children from non-Christian traditions that they don’t belong. On the other hand, symbols from other holidays may allow a child to feel more part of the school and the classroom.

Teachers need to think carefully about December activities. Inclusion requires thought and planning. Imagine the various children who may feel excluded by Christmas symbols: Jews, Muslims, Pagans, Jehovah’s Witnesses….. Imagine the children who may feel excluded because they don’t expect a visit from Santa, including many poor children. Staying within the legal lines by not celebrating a religious holiday is not enough.

The memo from the Inclusion and Diversity Committee was sound diversity education. Teaching about religions and religious holidays: fine. Celebrating: no. Adopting methods and imagery that communicates exclusion: also no. It’s a nuanced message, not a war on Christmas.

The Rev. Jonalu Johnstone

Unitarian Universalist

Fellowship of Manhattan

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