Christmas celebrations show diversity at play

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 11 December, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 11 December, 2011, 12:00am


My daughter is learning carols and rehearsing a Christmas play at school. We did make the decision to send her to an international school but we don't celebrate Christmas in our family and I'm not sure that I want her to be involved.

By making the decision to place your daughter in an international setting you were opening her up to experiencing and learning about a wide range of other cultures, both their beliefs and ways of life, which may be different to your own.

In international schools, diversity is usually embraced and celebrated and the concept of inclusivity is seen as being vitally important. Learning about cultures goes far deeper than marking celebrations, but these set-piece events do form a central core and a strong community focus. Internationalism means more than the three Fs (flags, food and festivals) but they can be the gateway to a deeper understanding. Most schools make an effort to acknowledge and celebrate a rich variety of festivals brought in by the school community - most recently, for example, Diwali and Thanksgiving. This can take many different forms: assemblies, information in newsletters, parents and children sharing their celebrations with others through talks, dances, crafts and making special food. Some schools have special days for wearing cultural clothes, especially at Lunar New Year. Schools do try to avoid being tokenistic, although this can be difficult when some have 20 or more nationalities.

Your daughter will be included in all these experiences and may also initiate the sharing of her own culture and its related mores and conventions with the class. You as a parent could also support her with this and get involved on either a large or small scale.

Christmas is only one festival of many. But in some ways it could be said to be set apart from others in that it is celebrated in a very international way on two levels: most commonly on a fun level based around the prevalence of images of Santa in some unexpected and unusual places and the ever-present fact of consumerism, and with a smaller percentage of the population celebrating the meaning of Christmas in the Christian sense of the word.

You have not mentioned whether the school show has a religious theme or is simply looking at the fun side of Christmas. Music and drama teachers often have creative ideas around the latter, for example looking at Christmas around the world and the multitude of traditions and songs performed in different countries - an international approach to the subject. Some schools still like to perform the traditional Nativity, especially with the younger children, and this can be surprisingly successful and popular.

International schools aim to engender international mindedness. Learning about and witnessing elements of other cultures, and their festivals and beliefs, encourages tolerance and an open-minded attitude which children hopefully take with them through life. They come to realise that there is more than one perspective on life and they can build an understanding that celebrates both similarities and differences between people, making for a colourful and interesting world.

My advice would be to view this Christmas play as one experience among many and embrace it. Share your doubts with the teacher and get a clearer view of the aim of the exercise and what students should gain from it. Your daughter may thoroughly enjoy taking part. If you do decide to withdraw her, talk to her in a positive way about the situation to avoid any confusion or negativity. Be aware that she may feel left out and will likely face questions from her friends.

Julie McGuire teaches at an international school.