Maryann “Mar.” Harman, MA Education
Founder Music with Mar., Inc.
I have always been a proponent of multiculturalism. It is one of the things about the US that I hold so dear - the mixture (and welcoming) of all kinds of people. Ever since I was a little girl growing up in Newark, NJ, I was fascinated by the homes of my friends who came from different countries. It was so interesting to hear their names, listen to their languages and share their food. I embraced all their traditions and enjoyed sometimes being invited to share in them. It was reciprocal. My friends enjoyed learning the US traditions as their families became citizens.
In recent years, the holidays that I grew up with and hold so dear have been questioned and sometimes even eliminated from schools. This is wrong. Although we should never cram our religious beliefs onto anyone else, we should still be allowed to celebrate ours - and openly - WITHOUT GUILT. It is possible to respect and acknowledge other holidays and still celebrate ours. If we respect others' rights to celebrate, then in turn, others should be happy to have us do the same.
During this season, I always try to assess a person before saying "Merry Christmas". Many times, if I am not sure, I say "Merry Christmas - or whatever is it you celebrate!" It has become a season, a season that everyone celebrates whether just for the traditions (lighting a tree, giving money to a Santa to help others or singing traditional songs) or for the religious aspect. Everyone takes from it the part they feel attached to. I even recorded a song – “Everybody Loves Christmas Time”. Just recently, a woman from another culture said to me, “Don’t be silly. We all enjoy taking part in the season.”
How sad that we aren't supposed to say "Santa Claus" or "Christmas" in school. When a child comes into class and asks, "Who is that man outside in the red suit ringing a bell?”, is the response "I'm not allowed to tell you."? Shouldn't we be teaching children about everyone and ask "What do you celebrate in your home?" Instead of a useful teaching tool, we are eliminating anything that may insult someone. By doing this, we are insulting all of those who have been freely celebrating their traditions for years. Instead of educating our children, we remove the things we believe may be offensive and miss a great opportunity to teach valuable lessons.
At one school in which I taught, the holidays lined up one year, being all near the end of Nov into Dec. At morning assembly, each morning we had a different group of children come up and tell about their holiday without getting religious. Indian children spoke of Diwali. Muslims about Ramadan and Eid. Jewish children talked about Hanukah and then some of the parents cooked latkes in the classrooms. Last, we spoke about Christmas. A mom from Egypt kissed me in the hallway and said "Thank you. No teacher has ever acknowledged our Muslim holidays before." As a music teacher, to me, it was the natural thing to do. The children absolutely loved sharing their traditions and the other children found it very interesting. That is what education is – expanding minds. (A side note: Ramadan is not always the same time every year. It is based on the Muslim year. It is the same with Hanukah.) Diwali is usually in October or November.
A good resource for learning about different holidays is "Celebrations Around the World" by Carole S. Angell.
Remember to share your traditions and celebrate them proudly. You can do that and respect other's traditions as well.
Next month's blog will be all about "The Reindeer Dance" and an updated version of the "Twelve Days of Christmas". Be sure to check November 25!
Maryann "Mar." Harman
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