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Last week on #ELLchat, our topic was "December Holidays and ELLs". In ESL, we teach English language skills, but we also teach about culture in the U.S. While we don't expect anyone to leave behind their culture and traditions, it's certainly very appropriate to introduce them to traditions and holidays celebrated in the U.S. Many districts across the U.S. are so concerned about political correctness that they choose to ignore the December holidays altogether and acknowledge nothing more than the winter season. Although December brings a heightened awareness of the diversity of ethnicity and cultures that exist in this great nation, I believe that it is perfectly appropriate to teach ELLs about Christmas. Sure we can also teach them about Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and any other holidays that are celebrated, but we can't deny the effect that Christmas has on this country.
I'm thankful that I live in the great state of North Carolina-the heart of the Bible belt and we can get away with a little more than in other parts of this country. I'm thankful that the area where I live and teach is not so caught up in political correctness and I have the freedom to teach my students about the culture of their American peers. Make no mistake, I'm very aware of the separation of church and state and I know where to draw the line. I'm unapologetically Christian but my bible clearly teaches that faith (or the lack thereof) is a choice, a personal choice, and even if it was legal for me to teach bible lessons in a public school, I need to respect the beliefs of others.
However, I'm very concerned that perhaps we may have swung the pendulum too far the opposite direction. We don't have to leave Christmas (or any other religious holiday) out of the classroom. I personally believe that in not teaching about Christmas we are doing a disservice to our ESL students, especially newcomers and most especially those that are not Christian. There's a difference between teaching about a holiday and teaching religious beliefs related to the holiday.
I pride myself in validating all cultures and traditions. Every Friday, my beginners have Show & Tell and students are asked to speak about a topic that usually is related to their native country and/or culture in some way. Students bring in items or memorabilia, share personal stories, traditions, holidays and their presentations often include talk of their faith or religion. Nobody is out to convert anyone. Nobody invites others to their church or temple (at least not in my classroom) but we all learn interesting facts about one another and our culture. What I've found is that in sharing about each other, we learn that we are more similar than we are different. Just this week, one of my Asian students-a practicing Buddhist-asked if we can study Christmas carols next week. She finds the songs fun and interesting and would like to learn the lyrics. Even though she and her family don't celebrate the birth of Christ, she displays a photo of herself on her laptop standing next to the Christmas tree at work and has been out shopping for gifts for friends and family.
My point in all this is that it's okay to talk about Christmas or any religious holiday without proselytizing. It's one thing to share the salvation story and it's another to address the fact that many families recognize Christmas as the birth of Jesus Christ, while others just celebrate Santa Claus and all the gift giving. Some don't recognize the holiday at all and that's okay. It's their choice and that's what this country is based on - the freedom to choose.
Bottom line, Christmas is a joyful, cheerful season. A season of giving, sharing, partying and celebrating. Homes, businesses and streets are decorated with bright lights and colorful decorations. It's a season to be merry and I won't let political correctness dampen my spirit or dim my lights.
Let's focus on what we can all agree on because it's indeed the season to be jolly. Fa la la la la, la la la la