Inspired Ideas
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Inspired Ideas

How to Navigate the Holidays, Equitably

By Katie Novak, Educator and Consultant

This article was originally published on

Fun and Culturally Responsive Seasonal Ideas

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” You’ve likely heard this before — in song or otherwise — but what does it mean to you? For some, it will trigger sugarplum-coated childhood Christmas memories; for others, it will trigger a feeling of exclusion. When it comes to the December holidays, many find it hard not to get completely wrapped up and look for ways to integrate holiday themes into their curriculum and their activities. While in fact, celebrating Christmas in schools is a form of implicit bias and is problematic based on the Civil Rights Law. You may be asking how and why? Below we’ll tackle three forms of implicit bias:


For those groups who do not celebrate Christmas like children and families who are Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim, atheist, etc., it can create a feeling of invisibility and can, in turn, serve as a difficult time for those who are underrepresented.


By celebrating only one holiday that aligns with the dominant group, it perpetuates bias by representing an imbalance account. Selectivity restricts the knowledge of students regarding the varied perspectives that may apply to a range of holiday celebrations.


Many holiday celebrations present an unrealistic portrayal of our contemporary experiences. For example, Christmas celebrations often focus on the commercial aspect by asking “What do you want for Christmas?”, when in reality 1 out of 5 children in the US live in poverty. By discussing Santa and what gifts children may get, it could create a feeling of disappointment when expectations aren’t met.

By recognizing implicit bias, we can learn to honor the cultures around us while celebrating personal time-honored traditions.

In education, we aim to focus on universally designed, culturally relevant practices, that can help to create inclusive and honorable experiences for all this season, regardless of culture or background. Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is an educational framework that encourages educators to design learning experiences with many options and choices so all participants have different experiences while working toward the same goal. Culturally relevant practices help us better make connections to our own and each other’s lives. Together, these two frameworks provide a powerful recipe to improve the outcomes for all involved.

While we don’t want to bah-humbug all over your holiday spirit, there are several ways to embrace all kids, families, and colleagues this season — without making anyone feel left out in the cold. Below are some ideas on how you and those around you can celebrate this time of year.

Culturally Responsive Seasonal Activities

Use Recipes and Food

Baking is something that is universally loved and mixes in so many traditions across all cultures. There are many ways to put a modern (and safe) twist on this favorite holiday tradition. Here are some ideas below that you can do with your class or try with your friends and family!

  • Recipe Exchange: Ask each of your students to collect their favorite dessert recipe. For accessibility purposes, encourage learners to identify local stores where ingredients can be purchased. Collect all of the recipes and create a recipe book and distribute it to everyone in the class! Then, challenge everyone to make a recipe and plan a time where everyone can bake together via video so that each student can share their favorite recipe (and their memories) and has the opportunity to experience other families’ recipes and stories that come along with them.
  • Cookie Share: Another take on this is a “cookie share”. Have everyone bake their favorite recipes (if you are remote) and/or share about their favorite dessert and what it means to their family traditions and memories.

Make it All About Winter

Embrace the Winter Theme! One thing that we all experience? Winter. In some areas of the world, that oftentimes comes with shoveling and hunkering down on below-freezing days, in others, the weather may be warmer but the thought of the winter season triggers fond memories (i.e, hot cocoa!) and opportunities to create more (I mean, 68 degrees Fahrenheit is cooler in places like Florida!).

  • Get Outside: Take on the great outdoors with friends and colleagues with seasonally themed activities such as sledding, skiing, and hiking.
  • Winter Theme Day: Have a theme day where everyone can wear their favorite seasonal shirt, sweater, socks, or hat!
  • Winter Movie Day: Host a movie-watching party on Netflix or start a book club. Stream a movie live for everyone to chat and watch together or read independently and set up a time to discuss the book over Zoom. You could set up weekly optional meets, and each time someone else gets to choose the movie/book so that everyone can take turns sharing their interests and cultures, and dive into the cultures of others (this is a great guide for how to set this up on Netflix if you haven’t tried it before! Plenty of other services now offer this as well such as Prime or through Teleparty you can stream Netflix, HBO, Disney+, and Hulu).

Celebrate it All!

Celebrate Traditions: Being culturally responsive doesn’t mean stifling the things you love about your cultural traditions; it is about seeing other’s cultural differences as assets instead of deficits — things to be celebrated rather than squandered. Furthermore, it is an opportunity to examine our personal viewpoints and determine if our current actions are creating barriers to others having a sense of belonging and inclusive experience and if so — examining and acting on how we can bridge the gap.

  • Share Family Traditions: Have kids create a representation of their favorite traditions for this time of year. This can be done in a multitude of ways such as telling, writing, or recording a personal story, making a video, building a collage, or drawing a picture to name a few. It is a great opportunity to connect with your students by creating one and sharing yours too!
  • As a bonus — you can then try out different traditions as a way to share your traditions while exploring someone else’s, aka Windows & Mirrors. One day you could play spin the dreidel, while another day craft a class unity cup. Students get to drive the process and honor their own practices while sharing them with others!

No matter how you decide to celebrate this time of year, it is important to embrace variability and help to eliminate barriers that may hinder experiences for our fellow students and families. By providing options and opportunities for our kiddos to take the experience into their own hands, we are helping to build expert learners and happy, fulfilled kids!

Katie Novak, EdD, is an internationally renowned education consultant, author, graduate instructor at the University of Pennsylvania, and a former assistant superintendent of schools in Massachusetts. With 19 years of experience in teaching and administration, an earned doctorate in curriculum and teaching, and ten published books, Katie designs and presents workshops both nationally and internationally focusing on the implementation of inclusive practices, Universal Design for Learning (UDL), multi-tiered systems of support, and universally designed leadership.



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