The Guide to a Politically Correct Holiday Classroom Party

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The Guide to a Politically Correct Holiday Classroom Party
Santa, Christmas trees, and even candy canes may not be appropriate for your child's classroom holiday party. Use this guide to ensure that classroom decor is appropriate for this winter's classroom celebration.
You'd better watch out for the offensive classroom Christmas tree. You'd better not pout about prohibiting reindeer images in class. You'd better not cry about banning candy canes for your students - and we'll tell you why. Santa Claus is no longer...politically correct.   
Over the past several years, the public has been divided over whether words and images related to religious holidays, such as nativity scenes, Santa, candy canes, and menorahs, are appropriate in public schools. The debate shows no sign of stopping, and recent events in Connecticut and Oregon underscore the fact that emotions can run high when it comes to discussions about politically correct winter celebrations.
Christmas Party Changed to "Celebration of Winter" in Connecticut
In Waterbury, Connecticut, an elementary school principal drew fire from school board members when he replaced the school's annual Christmas party with a "celebration of winter," according to Connecticut's Hartford Courant. The principal defended his choice to remove Christmas from the winter celebration, stating that he runs a public school and that he has to "do things that include every child."
However, two members of the district's school board took offense to the politically correct winter celebration. One of them complained that "there seems to be a war specifically targeted against those of the Christian faith," with the implication that the removal of Christmas words and images from the winter party constituted another battle wound in this war.
Oregon Elementary School Removes Christmas Tree
Meanwhile, an Oregon-based news station reports that in Ashland, Oregon, a Christmas tree in an elementary school's lobby was removed by the principal after a family complained, stating that the tree was offensive and made their students uncomfortable. The tree had originally been set up as a place for students to place gifts for needy families.
Although the tree's presence caused distress to at least one family, the tree's absence has also sparked unrest in the school community. Readers commenting on the news station's report of the tree's removal have been largely critical of what is viewed as an excessive move towards political correctness. One commenter writes that "The Constitution offers freedom OF religion but not freedom FROM religion," and others voice their support of this idea, saying that students who do not celebrate Christmas will need to learn to deal with Christmas-based imagery if they want to be able to function in American culture.
Regardless of which side of the debate you fall on, if you are a parent helping to plan a winter party for a public school classroom, it pays to go into the endeavor with your eyes wide open.
Holiday Images and Decorations that May Cause Offense
  • Tree ornaments. Theresa Walsh Giarusso, who writes the motherhood-focused blog Momania, notes that having students create their own ornaments could be seen as Christmas-centric if the ornaments are clearly designed only for the purpose of hanging on trees. A safer alternative would be to have students make a craft that could serve as an ornament, but would also work as a decoration for a desk or mantelpiece for those families who do not have Christmas trees.
  • Santa or reindeer images. Giarusso also writes that as a parent who does not want to offend, she is concerned about bringing Santa- or reindeer-themed crafts or decorations to a classroom party, as some might see these as too closely affiliated to the Christmas holiday.
  • Candy canes. Some say that their shape is meant to represent a shepherd's crook.
  • Nativity scenes. As these relate specifically the Christian holiday than Santa or reindeers, they are even more likely to cause offense.
  • Green and red cups, plates, and napkins. Because green and red are traditionally seen as Christmas colors, some schools have instituted policies against using these colors for holiday parties. Safer alternatives may include white or silver. 
Images and Decorations that Are Probably Safe
  • Snowflakes, snow globes, and snowmen.  These are a safe alternative to religious imagery. Many schools and workplaces have used the "winter wonderland" theme as a way of avoiding seeming to favor one religious holiday over another.
  • Gingerbread, sugar cookies, apple cider, and hot cocoa.  These holiday treats are unlikely to be accused of carrying offensive religious connotations. 
  • Holiday dcor from all religions. Many schools try to address the political correctness issue by including images and decorations from winter holidays of various religions, thereby trying to avoid the charge that they are promoting one religious holiday over any other.
Some schools have developed their own policies for handling the holiday season, and you should check with your PTA to see if your school can offer specific guidelines.  If it doesn't, you will need to use your own judgment and understanding of your school's culture as you make decisions about what to include and what to omit from a classroom holiday party.

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