The great Christmas debate: how can we celebrate inclusively?

This blog was originally posted in 2014 and updated in August 2020.

Expressing joy, sharing and giving, these are evergreen qualities yet Christmas can look and feel different in different settings. This blog post is a timeless reflection on the end of the year: all that it brings us and all that we bring to it.

In Australia the end of the calendar year marks the educational year’s end, bringing many moments to review, reminisce, celebrate and reflect upon the year (or years) that have gone by. How do Christmas and other celebrations fit into this within your community?

For some it might feel as if the end of year becomes all about Christmas.

This feeling could be viewed as a positive or negative within the community. The question is not only whether families celebrate Christmas or not—the disparity between how families celebrate Christmas is also varied. Not all Christmases look and feel the same.

How we make time to grow understanding of significant cultural events, such as Hanukkah, Ramadan, Diwali or Eid, is an important way to acknowledge, understand and embed practices that promote and support the diversity that exists within your learning community.

Family traditions around these celebrations contribute to children’s sense of self, identity and belonging.  To ensure we support this development for all children we need to respond to diversity with respect and embrace the importance of these elements in a child’s life. As an educator, you care for and teach children and young people from different backgrounds and cultures by fostering belonging and inclusion.

On the other hand, the end of year does not have to be all about Christmas or other religious and cultural events either.

Strategies for the end of the year

What is the end of year really about for your early learning service? Is it really just about Christmas? Or is Christmas a vehicle commonly used to create opportunities to connect, belong, share, acknowledge achievements, farewell and ultimately show we care?

You might have a ceremony marking children’s transition to school and the end of an era in their lives. What about spending 15 minutes on the children’s final day, where their educator or a close friend could present them with their portfolio or workbook?

Yes, this kind of celebration could be seen as a ‘Graduation’.  Use this term with caution—just like Christmas, not all ‘Graduations’ are the same, and how we portray this needs to be given careful thought and consideration.

Six ways to make inclusive decisions about end-of-year celebrations

  • Seek input from families and educators. Read about the Be You Partner module.
  • Identify the purpose behind the celebration.
  • Remember who the event is for and understand your learning community’s demographics. Check out the Be You Include module.
  • Continue ‘being with’ children, regularly reviewing that plans reflect their voices and remain relevant and necessary for them.
  • Check for elements in plans that might exclude children or families from the celebration, e.g. financial requirements; purpose and relevance; event timing; methods used to invite families, then consider how to reduce obstacles.
  • Be flexible, adapting to your context and the diversity of children and families in your community.

Enhancing relationships through celebration

The arrival and departure of every person alters your community’s characteristics. The value placed on different celebrations, events and experiences will change with it.

Having calendar dates, policies and traditions firmly set in place could restrict the ability of your service to be flexible and responsive to the ever-changing community’s diversity in interests and needs.

It takes time to build partnerships and may take longer with some families and individuals than others. The building blocks to develop and enhance relationships through celebrations are:

  • Valuing family-centred practice
  • providing opportunity for communication
  • instilling empathy and understanding
  • and respecting diversity.

Explore further how relationships with families can be developed to help enhance and result in successful celebrations in your setting by exploring the Be You Professional Learning module Partner from the Family Partnership domain.

Other non-Christmas celebrations

One strategy that does not have to exclude ‘non-graduating’ children and families is the end of year party. These can be held during a session time or as a weekend or evening gathering—a time where children can share their early learning service with their family or their family with their service.

Some services utilise this time for children to be involved in a performance; others use fundraising money to purchase ‘entertainment’—singers or magicians; some create a themed picnic or disco, while others use it as a time for families to engage in activities and experiences that their child enjoys most. There are so many options to consider and adapt to your context and the needs and interests of the community’s current children and families.

Celebrations have a unique opportunity to connect and create strong relationships which are evidence-based characteristics of developing a mentally healthy community. Explore this further in the Be You Mentally Healthy Communities domain, Connect module. We hope that whatever you choose to do to celebrate the end of the year, it’s something that brings joy and reflection to all the children, families and staff in your service and creates good memories to draw on in the year to come.

What’s right for your service at the end of the year?

Be You provides educators with knowledge, resources and strategies for helping children and young people achieve their best possible mental health. This article was first published by KidsMatter (now known as Be You) in 2014.

Be You

Early Childhood Australia’s Be You team is a highly qualified and experienced multidisciplinary team of professionals committed to promoting and supporting positive mental health and wellbeing in the early years. Together, with Be You partners, Beyond Blue and headspace, the ECA team support educators in implementing the Be You Professional Learning and continuous improvement processes across early learning services and schools.

3 thoughts on “The great Christmas debate: how can we celebrate inclusively?”

    Lisa says:

    Thanks for this article. I love the focus on relationship and how that should influence decision making. We have recently looked at children’s agency in the context of our end of year events and they are now heavily influenced by what children want. It has been an empowering process for us, and for children and families.

    Stephanie Jackiewicz says:

    I work in a Catholic organisation and so celebrating Christmas is very important for the children and families in our services.
    We all belong in the Catholic community, however, the celebrations may look different for each family. The one thing we have in common is the Christ event, which is the true meaning of Christmas.
    In our services Christmas is a very special time when we all come together to celebrate. It is filled with joy, singing, sharing and celebrating. It is also a time to reflect on what we have and that others may have less than us. It is a time to share our good fortune with others and many services donate to needy families at this time.
    It is the choice of each individual how they choose to celebrate the miracle of Christ.

    Andrea says:

    I support this comment as Jesus is the reason for the season and it is the true CHRISTMAS story that children need to know.

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