Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Multicultural Holiday Lessons from Childhood

Imagine a gymnasium full of elementary school-aged children singing Hanukkah songs like “I Have A Little Dreidel” and “Hanukkah, O Hanukkah” right along with traditional Christmas carols.  This was the scene in December at my public elementary school in Lincolnwood, Todd Hall.  One of the ways that I learned about Hanukkah, the Jewish eight-day festival of lights celebrated sometime in November or December, was through songs.  In middle school, my friends and I attended bar and bat mitzvahs, Jewish coming of age rituals.  I was extremely fortunate to have grown up in a diverse neighborhood. 

I also remember that around the holiday season or sometimes before it, there was a boy who would stay inside for indoor recess for a few weeks.  His family was Muslim, and he was fasting for the month of Ramadan.  During Ramadan, practicing Muslim families fast between sunrise and sunset.  Although I did not appreciate this as much as I do now, by choosing to support this child’s family’s religious practices by providing him with a safe space, my school was teaching me cultural competency.  Sharing the same classrooms and playgrounds with children from diverse religious and cultural backgrounds was one of the most valuable experiences I could have been given as a child.

During this holiday season, I encourage you to embrace the diversity in your own neighborhoods.  Whether this diversity stems from differences in culture, religion, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, gender expression, special needs, or some other way we are different, we can find small and large ways to learn from and connect with each other and our shared humanity.  Check out this multicultural holiday calendar.

This blog post was written by Alissa Catiis, Staff Therapist and Yoga Teacher at Womencare Counseling Center.

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