There seems to be such unrest all around us these days and most of it stems from intolerance of what’s different. And, I believe we have to start really early with the children to make a difference and make a community more tolerant. There is nothing like a holiday celebration to try and create some new and meaningful memories! After all, a holiday celebration is the best time for good disposition, forgiveness, and togetherness!Here are my top 7 ways to make any holiday celebration special:1 – Start at home and find something to be thankful for. Make a game out of it and ask the kids to share what they’re thankful for. I’m sure as a family you’ll find something. Use this upcoming holiday to compare your life to another in a third world country. Ask the children to picture themselves living in that country and picture what their day would be like. Running water? Stove? Electricity? Food? School? Basic rights?2 – Use a holiday celebration to share and engageShare your joy in a small way or go all out and do it in a big way. Smile back at someone in the mall. Offer a hot cup of coffee or some food to a homeless person or go big and volunteer at a local shelter… better yet, help build one! A friend mentioned to me the other day that he was going to help build a house with Habitat! I made a mental note to check that out. You’ll be surprised at how many such projects are taking place in your own neighborhood. Ask the kids to go through their closets and toy chests and prepare a holiday donation so they can engage and contribute too. Their holiday will be more meaningful. Spend some time with them on the internet and show them a few different cultures. From climates, to scenery, to architectures, to lifestyles, to dress-styles, to foods… the drastic the difference with your own the better!3 – Use a holiday celebration to show your loved ones that you care about friends and family in distant places. This is a good way to explore differences and get the children to talk about them. Set some time as a family to ‘get in touch’ with someone in another state or another country.
A “Miss you and thinking of you,” email or text can go a long way. With the Internet and smartphones there are really no excuses. Skype with your loved ones, write a special note to someone (even in long hand, it’s such a dying art) or bake some holiday cookies for a helpful neighbor. I used to have a pen-pal as a child. She lived in France and I looked forward to hearing about her favorite activities, foods and places. That made me want to go visit France one day, see the sites and taste the food.4 – Pick a “Kindness Day” at your next favorite holiday and make a family outing out of it! A neighbor and her two daughters gave me this idea. They shovel snow in the winter and rake leaves in the summer, together as a family, and it is fun to watch. They sometimes have matching T-shirts, scarves and gloves. Why not pick a day this season and offer to shovel the snow for an elderly neighbor or to walk his dog. Why not pick a day as a family and go and help at a local soup kitchen. Isn’t this a good way to learn about differences? How about reading a book to a sick child? I remember few years back taking a coffee cake to my 85-year-old neighbors and they were so touched and shocked! I thought it was a simple gesture as they had been so helpful to me during the years. They would keep an eye on the house if I was away and pick up my mail.How about asking the kids to keep a watchful eye on your elderly neighbors? Wouldn’t they learn tolerance this way too?5 – Use an upcoming holiday and celebrate your own history. Make a fun game out of it. Let the kids experience traditions to your own culture. Blow up a few childhood photos and share them with everyone. Do you have any of your parents in traditional garb? Do you have some photos of them with their parents at the holidays? Nothing makes holiday celebrations more unique than unique stories. Share your own childhood memories! Ask everyone to share theirs. Grandparents love to share stories about the old ways! After you share your own special childhood memories, ask your loved ones to imagine and describe what their favorite holiday would be like.If your family is a melting pot, like mine is, your kids will truly enjoy a multicultural holiday. It’s all in the discovery! Think about how to include something about the different cultures that make up your own family. I’m sure there are many unique celebratory dishes that can be made, bought or sampled!6 – Embracing other cultures.With all the craziness out there stemming from intolerance, why not give a more meaningful purpose to all our holidays? Why not make them a tool to teach tolerance and a love of diversity? Aren’t they the perfect way to include cultures that are not native to our families? It might be fun to invite a friend who comes from a different culture and feature a dish at dinner that is unique to his/her country. If celebrating with kids, let’s widen the horizon a little! Children’s books that feature different holiday celebrations can be read out loud. I remember as a child being so mesmerized by a book that showed the different celebrations of Christmas around the world. I didn’t know kids welcomed Santa in so many different ways. Why not read a book about Hanukkah or Kwanzaa if you’re Christian and vice-versa?Why not ask the kids to research all the different symbols of Christmas around the world? From decorating with poinsettias to handing Christmas cards to the tree, to the star…It will be fun for kids to find out why Swedish children look forward to the 13th of December while German kids anticipate the 6th and the 6th of January is so special in Italy. Don’t forget the language and the music! Why not greet the guests in the themed culture’s native tongue. Let everyone practice a few phrases at the dinner table. Play music of the themed country in the background!7- Finally, I cannot talk about using holiday celebrations to teach a love of diversity without mentioning religion. Why not use a holiday celebration to have an open discussion about it? It’s another way to talk about the different beliefs out there. It’s a sensitive issue, I know! A few years back, there was even an outcry on whether or not wishing “Merry Christmas” was politically correct or not! Should TV ads really mention “Christmas” or simply a generic “Happy Holidays?” I really wish community interactions were much simpler and that we lived in a world where we didn’t have to worry about such things because we simply tolerate each others’ different beliefs! I decided to write a children’s book about that.
In the children’s book, The Boy Who Spoke To God, a young Greek boy, helps feuding tribes – Greek, Chinese, Indian, and Zulu – find peace via dreams of a perfect God. The Tribes are feuding because they cannot agree on when and how to celebrate the holidays because they all have their own beliefs and traditions! The story is structured as a fairy tale and doesn’t take sides, to offer parents and teachers a neutral and fun way to open-discussion about religion. I strongly believe that opening the minds of children to many beliefs triggers an early tolerance of differences. And, that to me is the key to a more harmonious world! However, by the mere mention of God, this book has generated a lot of debate. Using this book may not be for every family. Whether it’s used or not, I hope discussions about religious differences are launched at holiday celebrations and at many dinner tables. Maybe a festive atmosphere is a good way to open our hearts a little wider. Maybe more meaningful interactions will lead to more open-mindedness inclusivity, and not only tolerance will be instilled but a true appreciation of differences. I can only dream of how more meaningful of a holiday that would be!
More information about Randa Handler and her books here: amazon .com/author/randahandler