As a teacher in both public school and Hebrew school, I have noticed there is much more Christmas in school than in a usual year. I have seen this with my coworkers and have heard this from my Hebrew school students. I get that the teachers are trying to bring much needed cheer during such a hard time for all, and I have no problem with acknowledging and learning about religious holidays, but this often leads to non-Jews thinking Chanukah is super important, which can also be uncomfortable.
What can I do, both for my fellow teachers and Hebrew school students, to help everyone understand the issues going on and to help everyone get through this month?
Home for the Holidays
The first day back at virtual school after Thanksgiving, nearly every little box in my son’s second grade class had a Christmas tree in the background. Much of the conversation that morning centered on those trees and the impending Christmas celebrations. I told my son to go do a puzzle and wait until the lesson started and kids stopped their open sharing time. Then we moved on. Similar scenes have repeated many days in December.
The nice thing about virtual school, if I can say anything nice about it, is that kids can just walk away from the screen. Christmas songs in music class? Go get a drink of water. Christmas workout video in virtual gym? Mute it and just follow along with the moves. Kids talking about their trees nonstop? Just walk away, and come back a few minutes later. There may be more talk of Christmas overall, but I think it’s ultimately easier to tune out than when school is in person.
When you hear your fellow teachers bringing Christmas into their classrooms, please remind them that not all of their students celebrate Christmas. If you feel like pushing it further, tell them it’s simply not appropriate content for public school.
I agree with you that trying to “even things out” with a Chanukah song or story is pointless and gives incomplete and often misguided information about Judaism. Further, these activities often make Jewish kids uncomfortable and even further, they leave out kids who are neither Christian nor Jewish.
If the parents of your Hebrew school students are looking to you for suggestions, you can help them think through leading a virtual Chanukah activity for their kids’ class, but make sure they find out first if this is something their kids would enjoy.
You can also help these parents think through how to talk to their child’s teachers about limiting the Christmas content, whether through the curriculum, which is under their control, or through what’s happening during class sharing and conversations, which may be more difficult to control.
While you’re asking this from the teacher side, I have heard similar from a lot of Jewish parents, so here’s a message to them, too: I know that when your kids are feeling left out, you want to swoop in and fix the situation.
But you can’t fix Christmas. You can’t avoid it, but you can teach your kids how to handle it. This season provides vast opportunities to teach kids about selective listening, what it means to be part of a non-dominant culture and how to be proudly Jewish, even when it can’t be fully articulated through virtual school.
Be well, and happy Chanukah,