One world, many festivals
by Lyn Uhlmann
WITH tinsel, plum puddings and jingle bells creeping into Australian shopping centres over the past few weeks, the annual countdown to Christmas Down Under has begun. As the year turns the corner into late spring, classrooms around the nation will begin winding down for end-of-term activities and, in younger grades, cardboard, paint, glitter and glue will emerge for the making of Christmas cards to give loved ones. There are few Australian parents who don’t have a collection of such treasures.
Christmas is an exciting time of year for most children – family celebrations, a visit from Santa, and holidays filled with beaches, barbecues and backyard cricket are things many look forward to. What does a child do, however, when all the fun and festivity is unfolding around them, but their family is not Christian and therefore does not celebrate Christmas? What do they say when well-meaning adults ask what they hope to receive from Santa? How do they join in with peers when their friends proudly show their new Christmas trinkets, but they have nothing to show when all eyes turn to them?
Christmas is celebrated inAustralia, and this article does not suggest cancelling or hiding it, butAustraliais also one of the most multicultural countries in the world and has a large number of children who do not participate in Christian festivals. It is easy for such children to feel left out during religious festivals, such as Christmas or Easter, but this also presents educators with a golden opportunity to highlight a number of festivals from around the world throughout the school year.
A simple Internet search for “World Festivals” returns hundreds of thousands of websites with relevant information, while targeting the search to festivals from specific cultures delivers the same result. Some better-known festivals from other parts of the world are Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Chinese New Year, and Diwali. Even if only these four were included in a year’s teaching – that’s one festival per school term – by the time Christmas arrives, children, Anglo and otherwise, would better understand that not everybody celebrates the same things, and that it is ok not to. Simple additions, such as stories, music, art, and games from other cultures, wall hangings in different languages, gamelan music, sushi for lunch, a day of beautifying the classroom with Indian beads, and having students give a class presentation about festivals in their country of birth are all ways of helping children learn about other cultures through their festivals.
Christmas is certainly a major festival in Australia, as is Easter, and they deserve to be recognised in our schools and child care centres, but they also demonstrate that even home-grown festivals are not always what they at first appear to be. Christmas began as the Pagan festival of Yule, which is why people still sometimes offer “Yuletide” greetings at Christmas time. Easter also grew from a Pagan festival in which the Anglo Saxon goddess of spring and rebirth, Estra, was celebrated. Her pet rabbit was said to leave coloured eggs in the nests of lapwings, a type of plover, which is where the Easter rabbit and egg tradition grew from. When approached from a historical angle, even Australia’s own major festivals present opportunities to teach ‘culture’.
Embracing and teaching the history and traditions of festivals from a range of cultures, including one’s own, can be eye-opening to students. It helps them learn tolerance of other cultures, and the festivals inherent to them. It also helps them see that what may appear to be a strange festival to them is quite normal to others, and what they celebrate as normal may appear alien to somebody else. It teaches that while people around the world might celebrate different things, they all celebrate … and that everybody loves a good party!
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