Both Sarah and I hope to raise culturally aware, sensitive, and empathic children, and we've contemplated how we can best do this as parents. Celebrating mixed heritage? Going to church? Giving back? When I saw that our friend Melissa was teaching her son about different religious holidays this season, I was naturally curious about how her family was learning about various cultures and religions — especially in a way that resonates with a young child. Here's what she said:
My husband and I are not religious. We were both baptized and raised Lutheran, we learned Bible stories, we know the Lord’s Prayer, and we always celebrated Christmas. Neither of us has anything in particular against religion. We just aren’t that into it. Instead of going to church on Sundays, we just try to focus on being nice people and being good parents and watching football. We love hard. We have fun. We live. It’s all good…I think?
We have a four-year-old son and I second-guess my parenting constantly. I wonder if I’m hurting him by not taking him to church on Sunday mornings. At the very least, knowing Bible stories is important to understanding a variety of sayings used in every day conversation. But when you don’t go to church, how do you teach your child about religion? And when you live in a place where a 60-foot cross overlooks your city day and night, how do you teach your child that other cultures and religions exist, especially if you cannot afford to be world travelers? Diversity and inclusion are important to me, and I want Kiddo to be loving and kind to all people, no matter what they look like, where they are from, and or what they do or do not worship.
If I’m being totally honest, I also kind of felt like a fraud for celebrating Christmas without its religious aspects. I’m certainly not saying everyone who celebrates the secular aspects of Christmas is a fraud. This is purely my own inner struggle. And so, last year, in an attempt to make myself feel like less of a hypocrite, I came up with an insane Type-A personality idea that would teach inclusion, celebrate diversity, and serve as a conduit to teach Kiddo (and myself!) about other cultures and religions: CELEBRATE ALL THE HOLIDAYS!
It is not easy and just I might be a crazy person. It adds even more stress to an already stressful time of year. But regardless of my stress, Kiddo LOVES it. He loves the stories, he loves the art projects, he loves the candy, and he loves to be put somewhat in control of fire when lighting candles.
In the interest of full disclosure, I must tell you that I do not go 100% full out on all the holidays. I work full time and my husband is a full-time student. We only have time for foundational elements. So, we mostly learn about the fundamentals of the following celebrations (not all are religious): Diwali, Hanukkah, Bodhi Day, Winter Solstice, HumanLight, Festivus (this is purely for me, and mostly for laughs because I love Seinfeld and also because I truly believe that all humans have a deep-seeded need to air their grievances and engage in feats of strength), Christmas, Boxing Day, Kwanzaa, and Lunar New Year.
To introduce the different cultures, I found children’s books about many of the celebrations, especially a great one about world religions. I share the basic tenets of each with Kiddo, we read the prayers, we light the candles, we open the doors on the advent calendar, we do an occasional art project honoring the religion, he gets a few presents, and we try to make some of the traditional food. It’s not elaborate and only requires a little advanced planning, more than a few Google searches, some calendaring, and a credit card if you want to buy the books and necessary celebratory items. We hope that opening his eyes early and teaching him the value of respecting all people, no matter their backgrounds, will make a difference in the long run.
How do you embrace diversity and teach your children about other religions and cultures? Do you think it's important to start this dialogue with your little ones?
~ The Other Sarah