Teacher asks: Where we draw the line with holiday sensitivity?

Long-time teacher and blog regular sent me this post a couple of weeks ago about holiday sensitivity in school. See what you think!

By Mother Jane Goose, Blog regular!

It’s that time of year again, when the holidays pop up one right after another: Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Easter.

Teachers who work with young children know that children are drawn to all of the seasonal excitement and many are creative enough to insert learning objectives into themes that involve pumpkins, cats, owls, pilgrims, foods, stockings, trees, hearts and love.  Some have their hands absolutely tied and cannot even color an orange pumpkin or black cat.  It has not always been this way.

For years, the holidays were simply a fact in the classroom:  celebrated and enjoyed with enthusiasm.  Nativity scenes were even a staple in public schools.  There was no concern of children donning angel costumes for the Christmas program and Santa art projects were as common as crayons in kindergarten.  No more.

With so many different cultures being represented in our public schools, we must be sensitive to those who are loyal to religions that may not embrace the same holidays and symbols as everyone else.  Respect for diversity is common and commendable.  At what cost?

While we toss out anything having to do with Christmas and simply call it a Winter Holiday, should we also eliminate Halloween?  I have been visiting with children and sharing stories each month for over a dozen years.  I have been in classrooms with children from Florida to Alaska.  It has become more common in the metro Atlanta area, not to allow many of the holiday celebrations that were a staple in the past including Halloween.  I am not talking about blood and gore but simply pumpkins, candy, owls and cats.  Is there something wrong with that?  Once, I was in New Jersey and sharing staff development with teachers.  I mentioned to the teachers, ” Do you celebrate Halloween?  I have some cute things I could share but do not want to offend anyone.”  Their reply, ” What is wrong with Halloween…did we miss something?”  It made me laugh.

Of course, a religious or private school is certainly able to discard any holiday celebration that conflicts with their beliefs.  That only makes sense. There are some parents ( in public school) who are asking for no celebration of birthdays or even sharing a Valentine.  Where do we draw the line?

Do you think schools should outlaw any holidays in favor of respecting the beliefs of every child in the school, when there could well be 1000 students?  Should it be based on the majority of the students and what they celebrate?  What major holidays should be left alone?  Should principals or school boards mandate what holidays are celebrated or should they ALL be eliminated?  What holidays irk you?  What holidays do you look forward to, with fond memories about them from you childhood?  Did you trick or treat and do you allow your kids to celebrate Halloween?  How can we be sensitive to everyone…CAN WE?

38 comments Add your comment


October 27th, 2011
12:23 pm


If you get offended, that is your problem NOT MINE. I don’t live my life worrying about offending other people……


October 27th, 2011
12:46 pm

As long as the celebrations are inclusive in nature, I personally see no problem. I am not a religious person, and come from a non-christian background, I am not offended by Halloween, Thanksgiving or Christmas. I honor the spirit of these celebrations and participate in them along with my family.
The only thing I am bothered by is complete ignorance of other cultural celebrations. If there is a student in your class that is celebrating their own traditional/religious event, why not acknowledge it. But sometimes it feels like unless it is a Jewish festival or Chinese New Year, there is no mention of other events.
I would love to celebrate or give my best wishes to the group that is celebrating. Festivals are an excellent way to learn about different cultures.


October 27th, 2011
1:01 pm

Murdock ES is having “COWOLEEN” today and for a $1 (cohereced charitable contribution) you can wear a funny hat tomorrow….but no Halloween fun.

At Creekview ES they will likely do pumpkin math, as they have in years past. They too have the $1 hat deal. They will not have any goblin fun though.

As to Santa and his friends…..the Supreme Court ruled that secular items of the winter season included Santa, his raindeer, candy canes etc. were not religious in intent and thus not Christian per se. They can be legally used on pubic property to promote the winter season just like a snow man.

I am just not a fan of Halloween, though I get why kids like the silliness of it.

Like DB I am not sure why Chinese New Year is ok but others things not. Mine are always ready to yell Lassez les Bon Temps Roulez and then tell people why (along with tokens of appreciation to their classmates)….and call it a culture thing!


October 27th, 2011
1:50 pm

Hi all…sorry for the grammar issues in the article above. I wrote it, on the fly, weeks ago.
I am in the throws of Halloween fun and still see those who raise an eyebrow when I mention Halloween. Having been all over the country, I find it to be more commonly poo pooed in the South.
Not sure what that is all about, as I am not originally from here. I simply do not understand why a PUBLIC school could not celebrate Halloween iN FUN. I can understand staying away from gore but PUMPKINS, OWLS AND CATS? Perhaps someone here can explain it to me. I thought Halloween has been an American tradition for years but maybe I need to be enlightened!


October 27th, 2011
2:10 pm

MJG, in my little south GA town, there were a few families that felt celebrating Halloween encouraged devil worship and/or worshipping of saints, which they also believed was wrong. I think their objections were why we never celebrated at school, but no one seemed to care too much — plenty of fun to be had that night, no need for a school party. Some churches had parties the Sunday before Halloween, but asked kids to come dressed as Bible characters instead of vampires and ghosts, so they didn’t want to ban Halloween, but didn’t seem quite ok with it as typically celebrated either. We also usually moved trick-or-treating to Saturday if Halloween landed on Sunday so that it wouldn’t conflict with Sunday evening activities and services that most families in town attended. Of course, we also moved trick or treating from Friday to Saturday if the high school had a home football game that week, so religion wasn’t the only thing prioritized over the holiday.


October 27th, 2011
2:21 pm

@ HB…thanks for the comments. I have been in education for almost 30 years. I am seeing this more in the past 5 years or so. Are things still the same in your small town of late?

I saw a pubic school yesterday, near Lake Lanier, that had a NO SCHOOL on October 31 on their sign. That was something I have not seen before.

I am not certain it is mainly a religious conflict but it could be!


October 27th, 2011
2:32 pm

I find it ironic that schools in the south often don’t celebrate Halloween for “religious” reasons and yet every church sponsors a “fall festival”. Personally I love Halloween, always have but my husband’s parents always said it was “of the devil” and he and his siblings never got to trick or treat. I see absolutely nothing wrong with kids dressing up and having some fun. He has since changed his mind as an adult and dresses up every year as well.

I can remember having a Halloween Costume parade every year in elementary school – that day was right up there with field day in being the best “school days”!


October 27th, 2011
2:45 pm

I don’t know if more families in my hometown are anti-Halloween now or not (I really only keep up with my own family there now). Most objections I’ve heard over the years were from fundamentalist protestants, who seem have higher numbers in the South than other areas, so that could explain why Halloween hasn’t been an issue for schools in other parts of the country that you’ve visited.

As for the Lake Lanier school — I wonder if that’s Halloween related or just a teacher workday or something.


October 27th, 2011
2:47 pm

I agree with DB. We celebrate Holidays as a family who is not necessarily religious. We practice thanks, giving, and joy during these times and I also started teaching the kids about how different cultures celebrate Christmas (Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, ect.) I definitely think this time of year is perfect to teach kids about how other cultures celebrate, like a class project and giving a presentation on what each child’s family does between Oct and Feb every year.

That being said, I don’t think that suppressing everything is the answer. If you are a Jehovah Witness and don’t celebrate Christmas you and your family will still see signs of this everywhere, not just in school. I don’t think that depriving the kids of a “winter party” is going to convince your child that they shouldn’t partake in Christmas. Faith is a funny thing and has to come from you and what you believe. Trying to suppress everything around you that doesn’t line up with those beliefs you are partaking in, just so that your way is the only way, is not going to make believing for you any easier. I think what is hard for kids and sucks the most, is how religion can interfere with compatibility. My daughter’s first friend in our neighborhood was a little girl that turned out to be a Jehovah Witness (we didn’t know until about 2 months after they were hanging out). They loved playing together, but my daughter started to get bummed out when she couldn’t go trick-or-treating with her friend, or invite her to her bday party, or have her over during the Christmas holidays to play. Needless to say… to my daughter’s dismay, they didn’t remain friends very long.


October 27th, 2011
2:49 pm

@techmom ~ I agree. Halloween is about letting the kids get dressed up, having fun, and getting some free candy!! :-) We LOVED dressing up in elementary school. By the time we got to middle school though those days were done.


October 27th, 2011
2:51 pm

@DB ~ Off topic, but could you email me the OT you used for your son? We had parent-teacher conference on Monday and the school counselor sat in and she actually mentioned the SID to me before I even said anything!! I already gave me info to Theresa. Thanks!!


October 27th, 2011
3:28 pm

mjg @2:21

There was no uproar about a “pubic” school in Georgia? (I know it was inadvertent, but you owe me a keyboard, as I spit my Coke Zero all over mine)


October 27th, 2011
3:40 pm

I think it’s all a crock of crap — Celebrate whatever you wish and allow me to do the same.
Let’s make a deal – I won’t be offended by your beliefs and you won’t be offended by mine. That actually sounds simple enough but, obviously, is extremely difficult to place into practical application.

good one

October 27th, 2011
3:41 pm



October 27th, 2011
4:00 pm

BINGO…Glad to give someone a laugh today! As I tell my clients, “You should hire me for my speaking skills…not my typing skills…those are worth less than 50 cents per hour!”

@ me…you would NOT believe what some of the parents come in to school to complain about. It seems many are offended by every little thing and I would not be a principal for love nor money!


October 27th, 2011
4:59 pm

Most people have no idea about the origins of Halloween, so saying “it’s the devil’s birthday” or some other silliness is just absurd. I hear this as a teacher all the time. Just as kids tell me that you are supposed to celebrate Christmas because it’s in the bible. If parents educated themselves on the origins of these holidays, maybe they wouldn’t even celebrate them. I say this as a Christian that celebrates Christmas as the day of recognition of the birth of Jesus and Resurrection Day as the day Christ arose. I teach my children the history of the holidays, including who St. Nicholas really was, although my daughter’s Catholic school did a great job explaining that one to the kids.

We have become a society that is so touchy-feely that any and everyone is offended these days over the slightest thing. I say teach the children about the holidays and then celebrate each of them. I’m all for celebrating our differences. As for atheists, their kids can still learn some history and learn to respect those of various faiths. It can be done.


October 27th, 2011
5:46 pm

I think that parents are the ones who make a big deal of it. This football season I was really impressed when our coach invited the team to attend church with him and one of our players family is Muslim and they attended with us as well. It doesn’t have to be a big deal. When I was growing up in NY we were alot more open to other religions and cultures when I was in school.


October 27th, 2011
6:01 pm

@ ATL06…perhaps you hit the nail on the head! I grew up in Chicago and we had LOTS of different ethnicities represented. I was friends with children from different backgrounds. Perhaps native southerners are not used to it? I also remember when we moved to Arkansas and heard the term
“mixed bathing”… we never heard that in Chicago and had no idea!

I like to visit all sorts of different churches when I am out and about and see what is going on.
I have met wonderful people who do not see eye to eye with me but are interesting and fun to be with. I learn neat things too!

Last week, I sat next to a lady ( my age) on the airplane who is now living in Montana. She was employed with state lotteries in a upper level position. We chatted about all the different places we had each lived. She spent many years in Texas, even though she was not from Texas. She said to me, ” Texans are the most wonderful people…they are very friendly and genuine.” I could not agree more.

I am still trying to figure out if it is a southern thing and/or a more recent thing, as far as eliminating holidays in public schools. I am in schools every week and it saddens me that so many have to coddle EVERY parent’s whim and thus they are eliminating most any celebration to just avoid a problem.

Of course, there are so many who have to teach for the test ( fearing job security) that they cannot do anything fun at all. Too bad for the kids!

A principal, I know, told me that she had a 4th grade teacher with a parent who asked that death NEVER be mentioned in the classroom. What? They study wars! What if a child’s pet died?
I am amazed at some of the things parents come up with these days!

DB (the "regular" one!)

October 27th, 2011
6:48 pm

I see that another “DB” posted earlier — ironically, as a non-religious person. Which is fine, I respect that completely. However, most of those who have “talked” to me on this blog know that that is not the case in my own life, to the point where I supported my kids attending a private Christian school for over 15 years, and we are active in our church. :-) I just wanted to put that out there, in case there was some confusion over my previously stated views on religion and the views expressed by the poster above. Consistency is important :-)

As to the question: I must admit that I am getting almighty tired of political correctness. People seem to delight in being offended, and trying to shape the world to fit their own, often narrow, frame of reference. If one’s faith is so tenuous that coloring a black cat or learning a Hanukkah song would jeopardize it, then your problem is bigger than the Easter bunny’s ears! At this point, I pretty much want tell people, “You’re offended? Well, that sounds like a personal problem.”

I once had someone, a non-Christian, tell me that, since I was Christian, I had to forgive them for something that they had done.I cannot tell you how much I dislike having the tenets of my religion used as a free pass to bludgeon me to get away with highly questionable behavior. (I told them that I never said I was a good Christian . . . :-) )

Basically, I think it just comes down to the fact that most school boards don’t want to deal with the time, hassle and expense of potential lawsuits brought by parents declaring the infringement on their right to worship, whatever. It’s much easier to just say, “No celebrations, period” than it is to tell someone “Sorry you feel that way — grow a thicker skin.” How are kids supposed to grow up with an appreciation and understanding of different views/faiths/beliefs if they are never exposed to them, for fear of offending someone?


October 27th, 2011
6:54 pm

I think part of the reason that schools may be quick to give in to pressure to not celebrate Halloween is there’s not much of a reason to celebrate it at school. It’s not an important cultural holiday that kids are unfamiliar with but should learn about. There’s no great academic benefit to it. If principals have to pick their battles, I can see where they might let this go and fight instead to keep Harry Potter in the library.


October 27th, 2011
7:00 pm

Our school “celebrates” Halloween by having Storybook Character Day. You’d be surprised how many of our nonreaders must “read” really scary stuff! We don’t seem to get a lot of grief about our fairly relaxed take on it. The very conservative parents send their kids to the two very small private Baptist schools. Or they did, before the downturn.

My granddaughter goes to a Catholic preschool (which she loves very much!) and they had a BIG Halloween celebration today! I was a bit surprised, but I am not worried. My family has never been too big on Halloween–I wouldn’t let them have candy, and out in the country there is not much trick or treating. It’s been at least a decade since I have seen anyone, and probably had less than a dozen in 30 years.


October 27th, 2011
7:03 pm

I have taught a few Witness kids and their parents usually kept them out of school at holiday time. I always had alternative activities ready for them if they came.


October 27th, 2011
7:45 pm

@catlady…I have been to 2 Catholic Schools this week, for my Halloween show and they are great with it. We have about 150-200 kids here and I sit outside and visit with them on Halloween night, if the weather is good. They are adorable. Our driveway is kind of steep and I try to make it easier on the children and their parents too!


October 27th, 2011
9:13 pm

Awww…one of my favorite things each December when I was in elementary school was learning about Hanukkah! We usually played the dreidel game and were given chocolate gelt. I loved learning about Hanukkah.

Fortunately, when I was still teaching, it was at a private (non-religious) school, so virtually all holidays were celebrated or recognized in some way. It was a great learning experience for the kids!

My husband was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness. He left the faith when he was 13. It’s been fun during our years together to share with him my family’s holiday and birthday traditions. That man can guess a wrapped present like you wouldn’t believe! Pretty good for someone who spent the first 25 yrs of his life never having opened a present!

Off to go finish planning our special Halloween dinner for the kids…so far we’re having bandaged monster toes, witches fingers, eye of newt and swamp juice…


October 27th, 2011
9:28 pm

I grew up in a religion that did not celebrate any of the usual Christian holidays or birthdays. Most teachers were understanding but the ones that still make me cringe were the ones that made fun of my religion. My second grade teacher made me stand in front of the class while she announced that since I did not believe in Jesus (which was a lie and she knew it) that I would be going to to office while the class had their Christmas party. That was a hell of a year for me. In high school I had an amazing teacher for world history. Mr Seigel asked the parents of his students that were from different cultures and countries to come in to the class and talk to us. He made being different something to be proud of and expanded his student’s understanding of the world. I have no problem with celebrating any holiday in school but do have a problem with homogenizing the holidays to mean nothing or ignoring them. If you want to foster understanding and acceptance, you must allow celebrations and explanations of other’s holidays and celebrations.

Conal Cochran

October 27th, 2011
9:31 pm

These killjoys who don’t like Samhain should be forced to wear a Silver Shamrock mask.


October 27th, 2011
9:44 pm

I really don’t care what holidays are discussed or ‘celebrated’ in school (my dad says he grew up singing christmas carols, and it didn’t harm him at all).
What REALLY pisses me off is when teachers/schools try to be ‘inclusive’ and start teaching about something they know NOTHING about. They try to teach about other religions and they do a LOUSY job of it. Which pisses me off…if you know nothing about the jewish holidays, either ask me to come in a read a book and talk about it, or don’t do it at all. I’ll teach my kids my religion, thank you, and if you can’t do it, don’t worry about it. I don’t care.
My kids’ school has a halloween carnival TONS of fun. They do stuff for ‘winter’ season…and pretty much it’s christmas stuff. I don’t care in the least. My son doesn’t like doing the ‘christmasy’ stuff, so he makes it all about hanukkah…or doesn’t do the craft, or whatever, but that’s all him, nothing to do with his parents.
In fact, hanukkah isn’t even a big deal, so making it a big deal and equating it with christmas is a horrible thing. You only care about jewish holidays when it lines up with *your* important holidays? what about the ‘high holy days’ that we just finished up…those are nowhere to be found in the public schools where they have christmas celebrations…why is that? if you’re only teaching about other holidays to make yourself feel good, I don’t need it.


October 27th, 2011
9:50 pm

oh, and NO where I grew up we didn’t celebrate ANY holidays in school at all. no, no nativity scenes, and none of the ‘diversity’ stuff. Religion classes existed, but there weren’t all these parties, etc and no religion was mentioned.


October 27th, 2011
10:38 pm

When I taught, I was never told we couldn’t celebrate any holiday. I had several Jehovah Witness students through the years and not a single one of their parents ever tried to stop the rest of the class from celebration holidays and birthdays. They would usually keep their children home that day or check them out early. We also called it Christmas Break instead of Winter Break. People are too worried about the things that don’t matter. And if someone says something about Halloween being a pagan holiday, ask them if they have a Christmas tree they put up each year. That is straight up a pagan tradition that early Christians “stole”. :)

DB (the "regular" one!)

October 27th, 2011
10:39 pm

@HB: One thing that always befuddled me: A neighbor when my children were young was of the “uber-religious” bent — did not believe in Halloween, thought Harry Potter was the work of the devil, etc., etc. We had pumpkins, spooky music, decorations, planned costumes for weeks. They had a dark house — because they went to church on Halloween, so that their kids (who wore costumes) could have games at church where they would win candy . . . umm — what?! Never did figure that one out. (They tried to convince me that Harry Potter was the work of the devil by photocopying several ultra-religious diatribes on the books and trying to give them to me. I told them that I would be happy to discuss the books — and I had read every one, with pleasure and delight — AFTER they had read them and were able to discuss them intelligently, instead of second-hand grandstanding.)


October 27th, 2011
11:51 pm

Not sure about it being a southern thing. Maybe a recent southern thing. I grew up in DeKalb county in the ’70s. Our elementary school had a Halloween Carnival each year. I am pretty sure that is what we called it. There was always a “spook house.” My class started the tradition of the 6th graders making and running the “spook house.” It was a lot of fun.


October 28th, 2011
1:02 am

Nothing wrong with celebrating holidays in public schools but they need to be traditional American holidays. We don’t need to start substituting other cultural holidays and beliefs for ours. I know there are a lot of different cultural backgrounds in our schools but this is still America and we have our own culture. Those who come here need to learn to adapt or at least understand the cultural norms in our society. Holidays and the things we celebrate are a part of that.


October 28th, 2011
7:07 am

@ atlmom…I enjoyed my first latke in Missouri when I was student teaching. That was in 1982 and a parent came in to share. I think having parents in to talk about their customs is wonderful but many parents are WAY too busy…not just with work.

I was in both of my kid’s classrooms as often as I could be and their Dad was is there too…which you do not see very often. He always went to one parent/teacher conference alone. I have mentioned this before. I wanted the teacher to get to know him by himself.

@ Gail…yes I find it to be more recent…in the last 5-10 years.


October 28th, 2011
9:18 am

I think secular holiday icons and celebrations should be allowed and encouraged! I also think it’s fine to mention which religious beliefs certain celebrations are aligned with or attached to -but leave it there. Halloween pumpkins, cats and superhero costumes are not Christian or anti-Christian; Christmas Trees and stockings really have nothing to do with the birth of Jesus and neither do Easter Eggs. I have no issue with discussions and celebrations or art projects focusing on Ramadan festivals, Buddhist and Hindu festivals and celebrations or Jewish celebrations and icons (like a menorah). There are secular aspects to all of these and celebration, gift-giving, etc. You can definitely play up the non-religious aspects while educating children on what culture and religion the ideas spring from. In my opinion if one or two parents have a problem with it -tough. They can home school, private school, keep their kids home that day, etc. There should be a majority rule regarding these things and just because one or two nut-job super Christians or Jehovah’s Witnesses get rankled -it shouldn’t matter. They are not the majority and they shouldn’t be allowed to carry the weight of a majority.


October 28th, 2011
10:57 am

Halloween has always been a favorite “holiday” of mine, since I was a kid…This is MY FAVORITE time of year. My house is decorated, spider webs abound all over the front yard. A bunch of us decorated another neighbor’s yard for her, since she didn’t have time…..we are all carving pumpkins in the driveway Sunday, since the Falcons aren’t on…..we are making “Harvest Mac & Cheese” from Rachael Ray’s 30 minute Meals, and a HUGE pork roast with plenty of sides…..It’s gonna be a little chilly on Sunday, and we’ll pull the tables out into the driveway, put newspapers down, get the Pumpkin Masters out and have a blast Sunday afternoon!!!!! I can’t wait…my daughter is coming down too with her roommates……another JJ tradition!!!


October 28th, 2011
11:35 am

JJ…can we come over over…just teasin’ you but it sounds like fun!

Did your daughter decide to go back to school or is she working for a while? I am going to Athens today, with my sister to see my daughter’s apartment. She is working this weekend as everyone there is on the way to FL…haha!


October 28th, 2011
11:48 am

MJG – sure the more the merrier!!!! BYOP….(Pumpkin)…LOL…

Daughter’s not in school at this point, but plans on going back. She moved into an apartment in Athens, and is working full time. Very proud!!!


October 28th, 2011
12:16 pm

I love the idea of learning about all holidays – not just celebrating them, but truly learning about them. I was raised in a small town with NO diversity – everyone was white and Baptist. When I moved to DC then to Atlanta, I loved that everyone was different. I do think society has become too sensitive. Because you dress up or eat a witch hat shapped cookie, you are not going to hell. Surely, God put us here to have some good clean fun (except for the Westboro Baptist folks). the kids in k-3 get to walk to the pumpkin patch near our school but other than that, there isn’t any halloween parties. School is a place for learniing, but why can’t it include culture and society lessons too??