Celebrating Halloween and Christmas in the classroom represents a dilemma for many teachers. Some Christians view Halloween as a pagan, demonic holiday and will object to any notions of witches and black cats in a public school classroom. At the other end of the spectrum, critics see the celebration of Halloween as a promotion of Christian teachings that highlight good versus evil within a religious context. Christmas poses an even greater problem since most festivities involve the birth of Christ, which could violate the First Amendment guarantees of separation of church and state. But there are ways to celebrate these holidays with students.
Halloween as an Autumn Festival
Focusing on Halloween as an autumn festival without the traditional costumes and trappings of a pagan holiday will deflect any criticism from those who might be offended. Activities can include:
- an emphasis on crop harvesting that is tied to agricultural festivals such as the first Thanksgiving
- a lesson plan on how the change in seasons prepared people for the cold, winter months
- Trick or treating as a method of sharing with others that have less than other people
For old students in high school, particularly in history, English, or related classes, lesson plans can include:
- how modern Halloween evolved from a Medieval tradition
- the debate regarding the celebration of Halloween
- the commercial impact of Halloween
- global celebrations relating to harvest periods
- the survival of autumn-related superstitions in the contemporary world
The History Channel produced a video/DVD in 1997 called The Haunted History of Halloween. At 50 minutes, the video recounts the origins of Halloween and the impact of the holiday on modern America. Princeton Religion professor Elaine Pagels is one of several commentators offering insightful observations and explanations.
The focus on harvest can appropriately include pumpkins, scarecrows, and a horn-of-plenty. Halloween celebrations can also be linked to Thanksgiving themes.
Celebrating Christmas in the Classroom
Because American culture has historically been identified with Christianity, all of the traditional symbols tend to focus on the Christian celebration of the birth of Christ, even though the origins of Christmas are as pagan as Halloween.
December, however, can highlight the festivals of a variety of traditions, including
Although it falls earlier, even Ramadan can become a part of a global study of giving festivals. Ramadan ends with a feast and includes gift-giving, after a long period of fasting.
The symbolism of light is a common feature for festivals that occur in December and January (Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas later). It is even possible to include Chinese New Year, which will be on February 3. Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, ends in early November and could also be included. In Germany, St. Martin’s Day is celebrated on November 10. This celebration, associated with children, also focuses on light.
Halloween and Christmas Presented as Universal Festivals
Presenting Halloween and Christmas within the context of global festivals that represent many traditions and cultures will avoid any criticism of promoting one religious belief over another. Such activities also enhance student understanding of cultural diversity. By incorporating Halloween and Christmas into a global studies unit, students can better see concepts that are universal.