At the front of the classroom, I do my best to pay homage to the December holidays. There is a small, artificial Christmas tree - a souvenir from my childhood, as well as an over-sized candy cane hanging from the bulletin board. My menorah is on display as well as a kinara for Kwanzaa.
That’s when the giggles start. Mrs. Kennar’s kinara. I explain to my students that the kinara is not named after me. And in fact, our family doesn’t celebrate Kwanzaa. Yet, I look at my classroom display and see my family represented. My African-American husband, my Jewish mother, my Baptist father.
This year, as my son and I lit the menorah on the first night of Chanukah, Ryan practiced singing “Feliz Navidad,” a song he is learning at preschool. On our table, were a Santa toy and a stuffed animal version of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
As a child, I grew up with the holidays all mushed-together. A Christmas ham and potato latkes for Christmas Eve dinner. One present for the first night of Chanukah, a surprise in our stocking, and several presents under the tree on Christmas morning.
It’s not as important to me that my students be able to spell Kwanzaa or menorah, but that they understand that different people celebrate, or don’t celebrate, differently. And whatever each family does, or doesn’t do, is okay. More than okay. However each family acknowledges the December holidays deserves to be respected. One way isn’t more right than another. One way isn’t better than another.
This year, I am also trying very hard to impress upon my students that this is the season of giving and sharing. We are having a cookie decorating party on our last day of school, with the stipulation that for every cookie each student decorates, he/she must give one to a member of our school staff as a way of saying thank you for their contribution to our school community.
At home, Ryan knows Santa will bring him presents if he behaves well. However, I have not, and will not, ask him what he wants. I have a fleeting window of opportunity to keep my son innocent about this time of year, and use it to teach him the joy that comes from giving to others instead of using this time as an “I want-I want” time. So, we sit on the floor, use more wrapping paper and tape than are actually required, and wrap presents for Grandma and Grandpa. We’re talking about the cool surprises we’ll have for Daddy.
We light the candles on the menorah that sits on the table, across the room from our Christmas tree. Those are our holidays.