#140 – Recognizing and Honoring Holiday Traditions: Listening to Their Voices

Unpacking Education December 14, 2022 53 min

The winter holidays can be an amazing time of year for many of our students, and for some, it can also be a confusing or difficult time. Within our diverse classrooms, students bring with them a wide range of holiday traditions and beliefs. Some students may feel left out of certain mainstream celebrations or possibly misunderstood because their family traditions differ from their classmates. As we celebrate with our students during the winter holiday season, it’s important to be mindful of these differences and strive for inclusivity.

In this episode, we have an opportunity to hear from several students and educators as they share their unique holiday traditions. Even within our small sampling, there is significant diversity. The podcast team then reflects on what has been shared and offers some of our own stories. As you listen, we encourage you to think about your own traditions and those of the students and staff within your school community.

Paul Beckermann
PreK–12 Digital Learning Specialist
Rena Clark
STEM Facilitator and Digital Learning Specialist
Dr. Winston Benjamin
Social Studies and English Language Arts Facilitator

I am convinced that men hate each other because they fear each other. They fear each other because they don’t know each other, and they don’t know each other because they don’t communicate with each other, and they don’t communicate with each other because they are separated from each other.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., American Baptist minister and social activist

Diversity of Tradition

Unpacking Education would like to thank the teachers and students who contributed to this episode. This conversation would not have been nearly as meaningful without your input and willingness to share your stories. Our sincerest thanks to Dr. Gonzalo Guzmán, Yuko Larson, the middle school students of ISD 728, Amy Schultz, and Dr. Kay Beckermann.

As we reached out, we asked each virtual guest to share their traditions and reflect on what they wished their teachers and classmates had known about them. Here are a few highlights from this episode:

  • Dr. Gonzalo Guzmán: Gonzalo talks about two important traditions in his family culture: Christmas Eve and Memorial Day. As he reflects on holiday traditions in schools, he says, “We don’t just have to celebrate things that are on the school calendar. We can create our own celebrations and acknowledge many ways to celebrate life, history, and ancestry. And that’s something that I hope all teachers, educators, and all students know that we are all worthy of celebrating…”
  • Middle School Students: A wide range of holiday traditions were celebrated, even within this small sampling of middle school students. Holidays mentioned include Christmas, Thanksgiving, Liberian Independence Day, Day of the Dead, Three Kings Day, Halloween, birthdays, New Year’s Eve and Day, Chinese New Year, and Kwanzaa. The students talk about their traditions and what they wish others knew about them.
  • Yuko Larson: Yuko describes her Japanese holiday traditions. She explains how the New Year’s celebration is a big event in Japan, filled with specific traditions to celebrate the coming of a new year. She describes some of these traditions, saying, “We deep clean our house before the New Year’s Day to welcome New Year’s God to our house. We don’t want our New Year’s God to go away, so we clean our house. We eat noodles before midnight on New Year’s Eve for long life and go to Shinto Shrine to pray for New Year’s health and happiness.”
  • Amy Schultz: Amy talks about her Scandinavian background and how her family celebrated holidays with “a Swedish twist.” She also talks about how these traditions evolved over time as her family dynamics changed. Her personal experiences have made her even more mindful of her students’ experiences. She says, “I have had to change my expectations. I have had to change some of my traditions, and some things are just as good as the other way. And I am just very mindful of students who are going through a life change themselves.”
  • Dr. Kay Beckermann: Kay also discusses her Scandinavian heritage and holiday traditions. Much like members of any culture, some of her traditions are similar to Amy’s, and some are unique. She, too, talks about how her family traditions evolved as she grew older and how she has passed those along to her own children. She says, “I hope that they will continue this tradition as we get older and as they start their own families. It’s just the one thing that keeps us connected to that Scandinavian heritage.”
  • Intracultural Differences: One theme that emerges during the conversation is that there are differences between cultures as well as within them.
  • Takeaways: Each host shares a takeaway or two from the episode. Among them are the value of asking questions, realizing what we might not know, and acknowledging that we are all worthy of celebration.

Guiding Questions

If you are listening to the podcast with your instructional team or would like to explore this topic more deeply, here are guiding questions to prompt your reflection:

  • What traditions shared in this episode were new to you?
  • What testimony from the virtual guests stood out to you?
  • What are your own winter holiday traditions?
  • How are your traditions similar to or different from those shared in the episode?
  • What can you do to make your students and colleagues feel recognized and celebrated during the holidays?