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Halloween Party vs. Harvest Festival. Christmas Celebration vs. Holiday Party. When you work with a diverse population of children and their families, inevitably there will come a time when your cultural values and religious beliefs will conflict. Just recently when planning an event with the main intention of teaching parents the importance of Halloween safety and “stranger danger” we found ourselves checking our political correctness since we didn’t want to offend anyone or make anyone not feel included who didn’t celebrate Halloween. I found myself wondering:

“Damn, all we want to do is give out candy, takes some pics of cute costumes and teach safety. No one is worshiping the devil, celebrating death or performing animal sacrifices.”

I’ve always wondered about the confusion and isolation some children may feel when witnessing their peers participate in activities that they cannot because of their parents’ beliefs. It’s understandable that parents hold certain spiritual beliefs, but is it fair to make children suffer because of them, and when does instilling those types of values go too far? This is an intense subject of debate when my partner and I discussed how we will approach the holidays with our own children. I come from a childhood filled with big Thanksgiving turkey dinners, trimming the tree in new holiday pajamas with my sisters, and trick-or-treating for the “good” Halloween candy in the nicer neighborhood that was at least a 20- minute walk away. My partner on the other hand doesn’t understand the fuss over holidays and instantly labels them as commercialized. He would prefer to teach our kids the importance of family togetherness, good will and fun all year long and not when “the man” says we should.

For families that regularly practice a certain religion it’s understandable that their faith determines their course of conduct in life and how they raise their children, but is it possible to still provide your children with spirituality without making them sit out of the celebration? I have a Muslim friend that refuses to send her children to school on days where there will be holiday or birthday parties. I respect her beliefs but find myself struggling with the thought of, “Is it that deep?”

I think for children, holidays are all about feeling special. A Wednesday isn’t just any other Wednesday when it’s Christmas Day. Holidays give children something to look forward to. You shouldn’t have to compromise your faith just so your children don’t feel left out, but it’s important for parents to create traditions and/or celebrations that give children a sense of culture, identity and something to believe in. Whether it’s Passover, Kwanzaa or Ramadan, to a child culture and religion defines what exactly makes them and their family special.

One thing we always stress to our parent clientele is that holidays and traditions are what you make them. The holidays don’t have to be about a fat guy in red delivering presents nor does Easter have to be about a bunny dyeing eggs. Take a moment to take stock of your own values and beliefs. Do you celebrate (or not celebrate) a certain way because it’s what you truly believe or simply because it was how you were raised? Do the religious and cultural values you are instilling in your children reflect what your personal belief system or are you participating in certain practices just because it’s what you’ve always done. The values you that were instilled in you were not necessarily wrong, but it’s important to choose traditions that work well for YOUR family and children should have a choice in what they choose to believe at some point and the right to know why they are allowed or not allowed to participate in certain festivities.

The one important thing my partner recalls about his childhood in reference to holidays is that he never felt left out because his parents always made an effort to spend time together and make sure he felt special even if there wasn’t a 6 foot evergreen in their living room or a birthday cake with candles. I guess making your children feel loved and included is what’s most important; if you’ve got that down it doesn’t matter if your child ever eats another classmate’s round of cupcakes again. In fact the pressure of stressing over money, time and tense family relations can actually make the holidays stressful, completely defeating their purpose. Whether it’s Thanksgiving at Grandma’s or “Wing Wednesday” between a single mother and her son, the point of holidays and other traditions is to strengthen family bonds and beliefs, stimulate compassion and togetherness and encourage family fun. And when I think of it I may not remember what winter wonderland theme we decorated our house with every December, but my happiest memories include the look on my father’s face when my sister excitedly opened the Michael Vick jersey he surprised her with last Christmas. Memories of laughter and love mean more than presents and candy any day and that’s something every child should have.

Words By: Toya Sharee
Toya Sharee is a program associate for a Philadelphia non-profit that focuses on parenting education and building healthy relationships between parents, children and co-parents. She also has a passion for helping young women build their self-esteem and make well-informed choices about their sexual health. She advocates for women’s reproductive rights and blogs about everything from beauty to love and relationships. Follow her on Twitter @TheTrueTSharee or visit her blog Bullets and Blessings .

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