It’s Time To Stop Celebrating Christmas in Public Schools

A while back I was thinking about whether I should write a post about Christmas. I didn’t know what I would say, or if it was relevant. So, I started thinking about the impact of celebrating Christmas in public schools. Then, I saw an Instagram post from @teachandtransform about de-centering Christmas. De-centering Christmas? What’s that? That question led me into a wormhole. So here we are.

As I thought about it, it became obvious that this is a social justice issue

I’ve taught in the Northeast most of my career. And it has shaped my views on celebrating Christmas in public schools. I first taught in NYC and holidays weren’t allowed at all. No Halloween, No Christmas. And guess what? Everyone survived and went along with their day.

Then, I moved to Tennessee. I taught in a suburb of Nashville. The school was part of Metro Nashville Public Schools district. One day in December, I walked into the cafeteria, and there it was:

A Christmas tree.

We need to stop celebrating Christmas in public schools.

I was shocked. But then I remembered I was in the Bible Belt. So I shouldn’t have been all that surprised. Teachers even had Christmas trees in their classrooms.

At first, I was conflicted. If most people think celebrating Christmas in public schools is ok, then what’s the big deal?

Then, I had to check myself.

As a social justice educator, I had to look at this through a social justice lens. I also considered equity, cultural responsiveness, diversity, and inclusion.

That’s when I decided:

Christmas has no place in public schools.

I know. You’re freaking out because I said that. Maybe your blood is tingling a little. Maybe you have an incredulous look on your face.

I’m going to ask you to take a breath and think about why that was your initial reaction.

  • Was it because you remember enjoying celebrating Christmas at school when you were a kid?
  • Are you upset about changing traditions?
  • Do you think celebrating Christmas in school isn’t a big deal?
  • Are you tired of political correctness?
  • Do you have emotions tied to Christmas? Are they influencing your thoughts about celebrating Christmas in public school?

That’s all fine. You’re entitled to your opinion.

All I ask is that you hear me out.

Here are 7 reasons why Christmas shouldn’t be celebrated in public schools:

1. Many students face challenges this time of year

For many of us, Christmas conjures up images of hot chocolate, snow, and Christmas trees. It also makes us think of family, friends, and togetherness. Unfortunately, this isn’t the reality for many of our students.

Holidays can be challenging for our students, but imagine what it’s like in December. Everywhere they look, they are reminded of loss and financial instability. Many students are living in poverty, and Santa won’t be visiting them this year. Often, students rely on gifts from charities or their schools. Every year my school runs a Giving Tree.

Celebrating Christmas in public school overlooks these challenges

While I love the intention and donate every year, it should make us pause.

We must consider that Christmas isn’t the happiest time of the year for many of our students.

2. It may be legal to celebrate Christmas in public schools. That doesn’t mean we should.

One argument that I came across in several articles is that it’s legal to celebrate Christmas at school. So there’s no reason not to celebrate.

So what? Because something is legal doesn’t make it right. It doesn’t mean that we should continue doing it.

One article states,

“Ironically, the most targeted religious holiday for exclusion is also the most popular in American culture. Are American schoolchildren to be forbidden from learning about one of the most culturally significant events because it has spiritual overtones?”

This is fearmongering at its finest.

Children are not forbidden from learning about Christmas. What shouldn’t happen is spending a whole month celebrating Christmas in public schools. If parents want their children to learn the ins and outs of Christmas, they can teach them that at home. Or send them to parochial school. That’s not the role of a public school.

This article goes on to explain when it’s appropriate to discuss religion. I agree that art, music, and drama classes are appropriate places for this.

As long as what is being taught isn’t used for proselytizing purposes.

I read the Bible in AP Literature during my senior year of high school, and it was fine. Teachers used it to teach literary concepts, and a letter was sent to parents to let them know.

The real problem comes when we only study Christianity. Or when it gets more time than other religions.

3. Celebrating Christmas in public schools promotes Christian privilege

This one shook me. I talk about privilege a lot in my classes, but I’ve overlooked Christian privilege. That could be for a few reasons:

  • I never considered it
  • I’m nervous about discussing religion in my classes. Not because of the students but because of their parents. (I’m sure you can relate).

So what is Christian privilege? According to Ellen Kate of,

“Christian privilege is the idea that Christians are afforded unearned benefits in our society that other religious groups and atheists do not receive”.

The assumption that it’s ok to celebrate Christmas in a public school is Christian privilege.

Even if we discuss other holidays. Other holidays are taught superficially or not at all.

Another example of Christian privilege is crying politically correctness.  People who say we can’t say “Merry Christmas” anymore represent privilege. The people who claim yearly that there’s a “War on Christmas” are showing their privilege.

Let’s be real. You know who says that things are politically correct? People with privilege. In this case, Christian privilege.

No one’s taking Christmas away from you or your students. There’s a place celebrating holidays, and school isn’t that place.

Statistics show 74% of Americans think Christmas should be celebrated in public schools. Ok, well, 70% of Americans identify as Christian. So this makes sense.

But again, who cares? I bet if we take a poll, a large percentage of Americans would want us to teach a Eurocentric version of history. We know at least 70 million people probably would. That doesn’t make it right. This is an example of tyranny of the majority.

Celebrating Christmas in public schools isn’t only supporting Christian privilege. It’s also teaching students ethnocentrism.

Celebrating Christmas in public schools is a social justice issue. Doesn't support diversity, inclusiveness, or cultural responsiveness.

4. Teaching about world religions isn’t a valid argument for celebrating Christmas in public schools

People argue that it’s important to teach about holidays because Americans are uneducated about world religions. While this sentiment is true, December is not the right time to do it.

Teaching about World Religions isn’t an excuse for celebrating Christmas in your classroom.

First of all, Christmas is the main High Holiday celebrated in December. Jewish people celebrate their most important holidays at different times of the year. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are in the fall, while Passover is in the spring. (No one’s taking a month to teach and celebrate these holidays in school).

Hanukkah isn’t an important holiday in Judaism. And equating it with Christmas is wrong and inappropriate. Hanukkah is not “Jewish Christmas.”

Second, Muslims also don’t have a High Holiday in December. The most important time in Islam is Ramadan. And Ramadan changes every year.

It is much more appropriate to teach about World Religions throughout the school year or in its own unit. Most high school social studies curricula include a unit on World Religions. That’s when there should be a discussion about Christianity and Christmas.

Not in December, with a superficial attempt to include other holidays and religions.

5. You can’t celebrate Christmas in public school if you care about Social Justice, cultural responsiveness, and inclusiveness.

I Googled Christmas and social justice. All I found were sources discussing how Christmas represents social justice. Ughhh. That’s not what I mean. Maybe I used bad keywords. In reality, most people don’t consider celebrating Christmas in public school a social justice issue. It is.

Talking about Christmas’s relationship to social justice centers on Christianity. Celebrating Christmas in public schools is a social justice education issue. It’s inequitable.

Celebrating Christmas in public schools, it’s not culturally responsive or inclusive. Making it a social justice issue. It also continues to favor one religion over others.

When I searched “Christmas in social studies class,” I was disappointed. Links lesson plans on Teacherspayteachers and Teachervision were the top results. The resources for including Christmas far outnumbered articles and resources about excluding it.

Back to the statistic that 70.6% of Americans identify as Christian. That’s all well and good, but what about the other 30%? Many of those kids will be in your classes. It is inequitable to exclude them from activities. Let’s be real. Alternative assignments/experiences are never as good as the original.

This also begs the question. Are we ok with creating activities knowing some students can’t participate? This is exclusive when the goal is equity, inclusiveness, and cultural responsiveness.

I wrote a similar sentiment in my post about teaching Black history all year. Teaching certain topics only at specific times creates otherness. And it trivializes the issues. Making it seem as though they are less important than other, more mainstream subjects.

6. It’s impossible to meaningfully include all holidays

We all know that not all our students celebrate Christmas. Yet, we continue to overlook that factor and make it about us. Often teachers decorate their classrooms for Christmas because they want to. Not for the benefit of their students. As Captian Awesome from We Are Teachers puts it,

“Sure, I know it won’t hurt your Muslim or Jewish or atheist kids to look at a lovely evergreen tree. But those kids are already bombarded with Christmas decorations and advertising. They’re constantly reminded that their beliefs are not the culturally dominant ones in this country.”

Oh, and displaying one menorah for Hanukkah or a kinara for Kwanzaa ain’t gonna cut it. Doing that is another instance of tokenism. Plus, the kids will pick up that you’re doing that out of a feeling of obligation.

Also, what about the kids who don’t celebrate anything? Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example, don’t celebrate holidays not mentioned in the Bible. So Christmas is a no-go.

It’s impossible to effectively teach all the holidays that happen in December. Also, that would mean you’d need to teach about holidays all year round. I’m not sure that holidays should be the main focus of any public school curriculum.

Again, there is a time and place to discuss religion. December isn’t that time. Plus, it’s impossible to give equal weight to all holidays. So don’t celebrate at all.

I read the @teachandtransform post about de-centering Christmas in the classroom. Then, I checked out the comments section. It was filled with non-Christian people recounting negative experiences at school in December.

As trivial as we might think, decorating our classrooms for Christmas, it’s not.

Neither is having alternative activities for students. The impact follows people well into adulthood.

7. Secular aspects of Christmas are still religious

Another argument is the idea that there are secular aspects of Christmas. There aren’t.

“Despite its nonreligious trappings, Christmas remains a religious holiday that is not usually celebrated by those of other faiths.”

People say that things like Christmas Trees are not religious. That they’re secular symbols. So, it’s ok to decorate their classroom with them. Yeah, but Christians are the ones who put up Christmas Trees. Also, Christmas trees are used on a Christian holiday. So, no matter how much people want to argue that it’s a secular symbol. It’s not. It’s a CHRISTMAS tree, a Christian symbol.

Let’s not forget it’s not only non-Christians who don’t celebrate the commercial aspects of Christmas. Many Christian denominations either don’t celebrate Christmas at all. Or only celebrate the religious aspects of the holiday.

Assuming that all students alike celebrate Christmas is another example of Christian privilege. And it’s problematic.

An article from Teaching Tolerance brings up another questionable assumption.

It’s the idea that Christmas is the most important event of childhood. It’s not.

Most of the world’s children don’t celebrate Christmas. And even if you’re American, many children don’t celebrate it, or it’s not a happy time for them.

Okay, you might have read this entire post and still disagree with me. That’s fine. I’m not going to win ‘em all.

Here are some ideas if you are dead set on talking about Christmas in your social studies classes. Note: all these still center Christmas.

1. Discuss the history of the holiday

  • Talk about Christianity in Rome and how the Roman Empire became Christian.
  • Discuss the ways Christians adopted and adapted Pagan traditions. Be sure to consider why.
  • Talk about how the Church gained power in the Middle Ages.

2. Compare and contrast Christmas to High Holidays in other religions

  • As stated before, this will be challenging, but it is much more feasible if this is your only focus. It’s a way that you can give equal weight to other traditions.

3. Analyze the Christmas song “Do They Know It’s Christmas by Bandaid

  • This is an activity that I do when I have time. We teach about imperialism right before December Break. This is an engaging activity the day before we leave for break.
  • An English teacher at my school turned me on to this activity. I had no idea how horrible this song is. I guess I never paid attention to the lyrics. It’s the ultimate white savior song. It also negates that Christianity isn’t the only religion in Africa. I cringe every time I hear it now. But it’s a great song to analyze.
  • Click here to grab a copy of the lesson.

4. Have the students debate whether public schools should be allowed to celebrate Christmas.

  • This will teach them debate skills and different perspectives on this issue.

5. Analyze the school holiday calendar

  • My current school has done a good job scheduling days off for holidays that impact all our students.
  • Check out this lesson from Teaching Tolerance about analyzing the school holiday calendar.

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What do you think? Should Christmas be celebrated in public schools?

comments +

  1. Dave Davidson says:

    First off. There is something weird going on with the fonts on your website. Some of the headers are so huge. They are causing them to wrap and take up large amounts of space. Secondly, I apologize if this is blunt. But I think you should be aware of your ignorance by assuming a Christmas Tree suggests Christianity. In fact the Christmas tree is not Christian. It is a carry over from pagan festivals such as Yuletide.

    • Noelle Prignano says:

      Thank you for letting me know about the fonts. I just update them. I hope they are more readable and appealing to the eye now.

      Also, thank you for your comment about the Christmas Tree. I know that it didn’t originate with Christians and perhaps I didn’t make a strong enough argument in the post about why I think it’s a Christian symbol today. I’ll do that when I revise the post in the future.

      Thank you for visiting my site and leaving a comment!

  2. Tazz says:

    I came across your blog doing some research as I had a talk with my child who is learning some songs his class will be singing for the school’s holiday concert. He asked why they only do Christmas songs at his public school, as at his old private montessori school they did a medley of songs on Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and the New Year. Two out of 4 songs mention Christmas and the other 2 is more on the winter time appreciation line.

    We are not Christians, and this is something I have to deal with almost evert year, and I am soooo over it.

    • Noelle Prignano says:

      That’s so disappointing to hear! I was in choir in high school, and we sang songs from various cultures and religions in our holiday concert. Some of my favorite songs were the ones not related to Christmas. Hopefully, your child’s school will diversify its selection in the future. Thanks for your comment!

  3. Sarah says:

    Currently dealing with this in Connecticut. Holidays are spoken about only during December. My daughter’s class is doing a month of “reindeer” stories filled with Santa. She said to me, “it’s fine they don’t do Chanukah because everyone in the school celebrates Christmas and Christmas is fun and the other kids wouldn’t understand Chanukah.” It’s so disappointing that this is the message she is receiving from the school. As a Jewish parent, l am asking for alternate assignments 🙄

    • Noelle Prignano says:

      I’m so sorry to hear this. I am also in CT and am fortunate that the district I teach in doesn’t allow these kinds of activities. We don’t celebrate holidays in our district, and it’s not a big deal that we don’t.

  4. Cathy says:

    Yes! Thank you! Christmas trees do not belong in classrooms of public schools. People in rural predominately Christian white schools seem to think that because they don’t have any religious diversity that it is okay. Seems like it teaches kids that their ways are the accepted/right ways which is scary to me. Well written piece I will be sharing with others.

    Well written piece.

  5. Doug D'Ault says:

    Thank you for your opinion, which is valued. I’m a high school teacher who loves to travel. When I travel to other countries, I go out of my way to leave my “American-ess” at home. I travel the world because I want to learn and celebrate my guest country’s culture, norms, religious observance, and, of course the awesome food. On that note, I believe the “holiday season” should be celebrated in public schools, appreciating the strength and wonder that is our diversity. That means expressing and appreciating all cultural and religious observances from all of our community members. This isn’t an issue of “converting”, as assumed, but rather a sharing of cultural norms for all to experience. Okay…a Christmas tree is a bit much, but if we truly want to express “inclusion”, then we need to “include” all perspectives, and to realize without our diversity, we are less of a community.

  6. J says:

    Christmas is a national holiday. Should we not celebrate the 4th of July? Should we not celebrate memorial Day? Let’s throw away Martin Luther King’s birthday too while we’re at it. And pride week is out because that’s really exclusionary. Christmas is about putting up a tree and giving presents and eating a lot of food. You don’t have to have any Jesus in it for it to be Christmas. It’s a big world and not everyone’s going to conform to everyone else’s ideals. Maybe if you don’t feel included in Christmas it’s because you’re working really hard to fight against it.

  7. […] she writes in her weblog, “It’s a means which you can give equal weight to different […]

  8. […] she writes in her blog, “It’s a way that you can give equal weight to other […]

  9. Moderate says:

    In 2024, it won’t be aging white working class males in rust belt states who’ve felt ostracized from the political system for 40 years, nor will it be the minority of affluent people who’s chief concern is keeping their capital gains taxes low either. No, this time, unlike 2020, it will be reactionary voting to the progressive left’s ideology that puts the GOP back in the White House. Anti-Christmas sentiment, pronoun inflation, AOC-style social justice campaigns, the neutering of the police, declining prosecution on those deemed to be victims in blue state urban centers etc etc, all of it. Now the GOP has already shown that they have no problem taking away your reproductive rights amongst other civil liberties, let alone what I can only imagine they would love to do next (maybe rescind same-same marriage?) so just remember that when it’s YOUR agenda that puts them right back in power.

  10. Karina says:

    As a former teacher, and as my daughter has been a teacher for 17 years, I really feel like I need to comment on this post. …I. and most all the teachers where I reside put up a Christmas tree in the classroom. the children love the lights and beauty of it …not all of the children believe in christ. But as they know you don’t have to believe to enjoy. …we had one jehovah .If we aren’t going to celebrate Christmas as a holiday even though school is on break during this time. Then we should not celebrate ANY holiday… No Thanksgiving, 4th of July, Martin Luther king, or any holiday………I am in my 60s . we always had a tree, however I didn’t get much for Christmas. I knew that others did. That’s the way of life.. some get a lot, some get a little, and some get 0…..some loose, …That’s Life!!!!! Why change this for a.few?? What about the one’s that want keep it ? …To make a few happy your going to make a LOT unhappy!!!

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