Decentering Christmas in the Spanish classroom

A journey and a work in process

“The mind, once stretched by a new idea, never returns to its original dimensions.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson


For the purpose of clarity La Navidad and all the important Christian based traditions from Spanish speaking countries such Día de reyes, Las Posadas, etc, are still part of my curriculum in different grade levels.

The difference is that these traditions are now part of a bigger picture instead of the center. Inclusivity is key to the creation of an anti-bias curriculum and since I want to offer my students a more diverse view of Spanish speaking countries, and the world, they are exposed to different perspectives and information. 

Amongst my students there are kids who celebrate Navidad, Janucá (or both) Winter Solstice, Secular Navidad or nothing at all.

In my school we honor everybody. We practice inclusion by not decorating our campus with any religious specific decor. 

My classes are history driven. I grew up with Christmas traditions and I’m super fond of the rituals (mostly originated from winter solstice pagan celebrations anyway) and it would be easier for me to just teach about t what I know most. Nevertheless, I firmly believe that building bridges of understanding contributes (even if it sounds clichè) to world peace.

Just because I’m Latinx it does not mean I’m Catholic or Christian. This is one of the stereotypes that has become one of my pet peeves, especially when people try to lure me back to the “buen camino”

quoting myself here

My students know that the way I connect to the divine has drifted from organized religion, and they also know that I’m an innate researcher and read about everything and everybody.

In my classes we respect and enjoy learning about different spiritualities. We look at the world with the curiosity of a historian or an anthropologist and always, always with an open mind and heart. 

How I got started?

Definition of decenter: to cause to lose or shift from an established center or focus

especiallyto disconnect from practical or theoretical assumptions of origin, priority, or essence – MERRIAM-WEBSTER

It has been quite an interesting journey working on decentering Christianity for my Spanish Program. As many of the conscious changes in my curriculum, it all started with a conversation. This time with one of my students granfathers’ who also happened to be a Rabbi. As you might already  know, I work at a Quaker School and I have a large group of students who identify as Jewish. This grandfather, who also happened to be of Shepardi origin, planted the seeds to start a personal research about the Jewish community in Spanish speaking countries (see  my Janucá post

It was amazing to see my Jewish students connecting with these units in such a meaningful way! 

Winter Solstice Celebrations

My next step was creating a historical unit about pre-christian winter solstice celebrations in Europe, especifically Saturnalia and Yule.  My former 4th graders, who are super informed and interested in science and mythology loved this unit (thank you Percy Jackson and so many other YA books) ⚡️🧜🏼‍♂️  and it was especially meaningful to those students who celebrate secular Christmas. 

We wore wreaths and Norse helmets. We cheered with apple cider, listened to Roman music  and compared/contrasted the old traditions with the new ones. This was a history lesson, and it included the etymology of the word Pagan because I wanted my students to reflect on the pejorative way of its origin (during Christianity) and see how the word has been reclaimed (and capitalized) by different spiritual movements of European origin and the reconstructors of pre-Christian European religions to identify themselves proudly. Most of  these communities practice earth-based spirituality and mágico-religious traditions nowadays. 

This unit was quite a language acquisition success, and also a delightful critical thinking activity, that I decided to teach it this year again. My current group of 4th graders are such history lovers and they screamed when I told them we would be learning about this in December. 

This is how we do it!

The goal is to develop an understanding of the multicultural, and interfaith correlation of ancient winter solstice celebrations and modern winter celebrations by facilitating classroom discussions about it. 

  • This unit  begins with a presentation I created with simplified but key information about the solstice from a scientific perspective (longest night, the return of light, hemispheres etc) and the ancient celebrations of Yule and Saturnalia.
  • The presentation contains information about the symbolism common in these ancient celebrations and modern ones (tree, candles, log, fruit cake, wreaths, hams, holly, mistletoe, etc) 
  • It includes strong visual support and cognates for understanding
  • After discussing the presentation, we then proceed to sit on a talking circle and compare and contrast using hula hoops (Venn Diagram) and place the key vocabulary flashcards collaboratively inside each field.
  • The students then record all the information in their own Venn diagrams and add emojis for understanding. 

One of the most entertaining discussions we had was around the character of Santa. There were so many evident similarities between Saturn, The Holly King, Odin, and Santa – but their absolute favorite was definitely the Norse goat who delivers presents. 

Que tengan un feliz solsticio de invierno, colegas.

Food for thought

  • How are you decentering Christmas in your classroom?
  • How inclusive are your classroom activities this month of Decemeber?
  • Are you letting your bias run your curriculum?
  • How capitalistic is your Navidad celebration?
  • Do you take into consideration your students’ current economical status? (Talks about Santa and gifts might feel excluding)
  • Are you respectful of all spiritualities in your school community?

PS:  You can find the Winter Solstice Venn Diagram plus 16 vocabulary flashcards about Yule and Saturnalia in my TpT store. The Christmas related flashcards featured in my pictures are from Mundo de Pepita and Ole edu.

You can also find my Janucá set with 26 flashcards to storytell the exile of the Jewish community from Spain and the song 8 Kandelikas 

Also Julie from Mundo de Pepita has a great Winter Solstice tree activity for little ones in her store 

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