The Grinch Needs to Steal Christmas Back from Schools

Buckle up, because I’m about to say something really unpopular among educators in this country: I don’t think Christmas has any place in our schools.

Look, I’ve heard all of the arguments.

“It’s no big deal, we talk about other holidays throughout the year.”

“It’s harmless. They want to celebrate it.”

“We’re not really celebrating it in class.”

“I just have some Christmas books and activities.”

“The concert isn’t a Christmas concert.”

I disagree with all of them. Bringing Christmas into the classroom isn’t harmless. It is a big deal.

Let’s break some of these arguments down.

 

“We talk about other holidays throughout the year.”

This is one of the biggest lies schools and educators tell themselves to make everyone feel like they’re being inclusive and dismantling oppression and white supremacy. No, readers, we really don’t talk about other holidays throughout the year – we engage in tokenism. 

When, other than December, do we see our entire society transform virtually overnight to collectively embrace a common theme? In December, you can’t go anywhere without noticing Christmas. Schools, workplaces, stores, radio stations, TV shows, even the streetlamps and city-owned trees all scream Christmas. It’s everywhere – and it’s deafening.

But we aren’t ready to get rid of this, clearly, so to convince ourselves that we aren’t upholding our oppressive structures, we make sure to send out some impersonal e-mails about non-Christian holidays throughout the year.

It’s important to acknowledge the lives, interests, and cultures of our students. The problem is, when your entire society turns into Christmastown for the month of December, the 2-sentence announcement over the school PA about Eid sounds… hollow. Meaningless. Shallow. Like we said it just because we knew we should say something.

 

“The concert isn’t a Christmas concert.”

If your school has any kind of concert in the month of December, I challenge you to reflect on these questions: Who is this concert for? Why is it in December? What kinds of songs, costumes, art are showcased at this concert? What do the decorations look like?

I have news for you: your December “winter showcase” is a Christmas concert.

 

“We’re not really celebrating it in class.”

Are your students doing a Secret Santa exchange? Are you making pastel LED light strings in Visual Arts? Do you have an Elf on the Shelf in your classroom? Do you have books about reindeer or elves? Are there candy cane or pine tree decorations in your classroom? Are your students writing letters to Santa? Do you call it “Christmas break”? Do you give your students cards on the last day of school before winter break? Have an “ugly sweater” theme day?

If you answered yes to any of those questions, you’re celebrating Christmas in class.

 

“I just have some Christmas books and activities. It’s no big deal.”

It is a big deal. You’re participating in an oppressive power structure that is designed to force assimilation and perpetuate white supremacy.

That sounds extreme, I know. It’s just some books on your bookshelf, right? That’s not… that’s not white supremacy.

Except it is. And I’m not saying you’re a white supremacist, I’m not saying you’re a bad person, but we’re never going to effect real change if we’re scared to confront what’s really going on.

Our entire society screams “CHRISTMAS!” for all of December every single year. The clear message is that it’s expected and typical to celebrate Christmas in Canada. Navigating a world full of Christmas decorations, music, discussions, and celebrations is extremely othering for students and families who don’t.

So why participate in that? Why not just collectively decide that there’s enough Christmas in the world without bringing it into our schools?

 

If this post is making you upset, if you’re starting to feel a bit defensive or feel that you need to justify your past choices, I want you to sit with that for a minute. Why are you upset about it? Why does the idea of not having Christmas in schools bother you? Why are you feeling threatened?

Take a pause. Reflect. Are you supporting a culture of oppression in your school community?

It’s hard to have these conversations with your colleagues. I’ve been called a grinch for not participating in the holiday concert.

Well, maybe it’s time for the Grinch to steal Christmas again.

 

(And while we’re at it, let’s get rid of St. Patrick’s Day, too.)

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Updated: April 30, 2021 — 9:29 pm

The Author

Shawna Rothgeb-Bird

Grade 4/5 Middle French Immersion teacher from Ottawa. Passionate about teaching (naturally!), board games, video games, music, and TTRPGs. Former member of the ETFO New Members provincial standing committee. Current member of the OCETFO Collective Bargaining Committee, among approximately one thousand other things that I am always doing. No, I do not actually have spare time, I am just perpetually putting off things that I *should* be doing. @rollforlearning on Twitter.

2 Comments

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  1. Meaghan Burden says:

    Thank you for this Shawna. In my years teaching many times I have heard arguments like this for St. Patrick’s day, Valentine’s day, Easter. Some have even argued Thanksgiving portrayals of pilgrims and “Indians” were valuable to all students. Many of us don’t consider the impact of things they think are harmless because the students don’t know the words to explain how they feel yet. However, the harm is still done.

  2. Katherine says:

    Thank you for posting this. I have felt like I was the only educator with this opinion during many conversations with colleagues. Christmas celebrations and traditions should be done at home. Singing about Santa bringing gifts to good kids could make any kids who do not get gifts feel they have been bad, and these things therefore exclude kids of other faiths or kids from low income families. It is not a good use of time at school and does not meet the needs of students in most Ontario public schools. Teaching literacy and math through Christmas activities seems out-of-context and difficult to understand.

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