At almost two weeks into November, we are closing in on Thanksgiving, the second holiday in the trifecta of holidays–Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. For Halloween, we focus on fall elements and pull horror/supernatural books for display. We don’t have anything stating the word “Halloween,” but it’s definitely implied through the décor.
Recently, we collaborated with a Spanish teacher, and students decorated sugars skulls and made paper nicho art (shadow boxes) in the spirit of Dia De Los Muertos or the Day of the Dead. We presented a lesson emphasizing history, geography, and contemporary components of the holiday. A student in one of the last classes declined to work on the nichos project because she felt it contradicted her religious beliefs. I told her that was fine, and I asked her if she felt uncomfortable and she said “no,” but I’m not sure if she would’ve told me the truth. Not wanting attention, being singled out, declaring yourself as different–any of these reasons could prevent someone from sharing his/her true feelings.
I wondered if we’d get an email or a phone call, but nothing ever came of that moment other than examining holiday policies in our library and school. For example, around this time every year, a Christmas tree goes up in the hallway. Is this okay, or is this imposing religious belief on students and staff?
Once Thanksgiving decorations come down in the library, we have displays for Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and Christmas. We’ve always had the idea that as long as we are representing several different belief systems, we are probably not infringing on any religious rights. However, we aren’t part of any marginalized/under-represented religions, nor are we part of any belief system that discourages or prohibits holiday celebrations, so it might be harder for us to have an unbiased perspective on this issue. It took me a while to understand that even though holiday trees and Santa Claus posters are secular aspects of Christmas, those types of things are still tied to a specific Christian-based holiday.
Are there students or staff who feel uncomfortable or invalidated by our library decorations? Does it matter if the holiday is secular, like Thanksgiving? What about Halloween? It’s not really affiliated with a religion, but there is some historical grey area with Halloween being associated with Samhain. We realized we had more questions about including holidays in the school library than we had any specific policies about holidays in the school library. To fix this, we came up with the following guidelines:
- Provide opportunities for learning about holidays instead of just holding a holiday party.
- Plan activities a week or so before the holiday, which helps to differentiate between a learning experience and a holiday celebration.
- Focus on cultural, geographic, and historical aspects of holidays.
- Talk about cultural appropriation with students.
- Ask students about their ideas and what holidays they might like to learn about in the library.
At this point we are planning decorations for several seasonal holidays and a Hanukkah display inspired by Sharon Jones and the Dap King’s song 8 Days of Hanukkah. While looking forward to the holidays, we wonder if anyone has had any issues with religions or holidays in the library. How do other school libraries handle holidays, and what policies are in place to encourage diversity while supporting freedom of religion?
8 Days of Hanukkah. (October 30, 2015). [Recorded by Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings]. On It’s a holiday soul party. Daptone Records. New York.
Author: Mica Johnson
I’m a school librarian at Farragut Middle. I like the lib to be loud, messy, and full of student activity. I love tech stuff as much as I love books, and I’m part of an awesome rotating maker space.