Skip to content

EDITORIAL: Should holidays be celebrated in New Jersey public schools?

Children should be educated about holidays, not prohibited from celebrating them

New Jersey’s South Orange-Maplewood school district banned Halloween celebrations in school, attracting negative attention from Gov. Phil Murphy (D-N.J.) himself. – Photo by ZanyShani / Flickr

Maplewood, New Jersey, has officially banned all Halloween celebrations during school hours, inciting both outrage and praise from parents and administrators alike.

Superintendent Ronald Taylor issued a letter to parents stating that the decision to ban "may make some uncomfortable and elicit some challenges across our community."

"However, in the end, I feel these recommendations align with (South Orange-Maplewood School District's) commitment to building equity, fostering inclusion and building a sense of belonging throughout our schools," Taylor said.

The effort to be inclusive stems from the desire to respect families who do not celebrate the holiday for religious reasons. Some parents agreed with the proclamation, citing the inconvenience of dressing their children in costume as a reason for their support.

But this sentiment was not shared by all.

When Gov. Phil Murphy (D-N.J.) heard the news on October 24, he voiced his frustration with the decision.

"Seriously? We can't let kids celebrate Halloween? Give me a break," Murphy shared in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter. The post immediately sparked attention from the media and heated debates ensued.

While this decision reflects a sensitivity to diverse religious beliefs, it prompts the question of whether other holidays might also be deemed offensive and warrant similar exclusion. The push for equity and inclusion is growing, and the religious implications behind holidays such as Halloween, Christmas and Easter are becoming more and more controversial.

With Halloween in the rearview mirror and Thanksgiving quickly approaching, it is important to consider this debate as it highlights the importance of fostering inclusivity in education.

Rather than eliminating holidays, schools should aim to celebrate diversity, promote understanding and provide a well-rounded education that prepares students for a globalized world. By rethinking the way we approach holiday celebrations, we can create a more inclusive and culturally aware educational environment.

Approximately 72.4 million children under the age of 18 celebrate Halloween each year. Rather than banning this practice from public schools, schools should teach children about the religious and cultural implications of a holiday rather than sweeping it under the rug.

Similarly, Thanksgiving, a widely celebrated holiday, carries its own set of problematic elements. The traditional narrative surrounding the holiday often overlooks the harsh realities of colonial history and its impact on the Indigenous population in the country.

Rather than outright banning Thanksgiving, there is a growing call to educate students about the accurate historical context behind the holiday and introduce alternatives like "Indigenous Remembrance Day" to foster understanding and empathy.

Instead of teaching children in elementary school a white-washed, inaccurate tale of peaceful coexistence or having them participate in offensive reenactments of pilgrims and Indigenous people, they can be taught to see Thanksgiving as a time to bring family and friends together while remembering the Indigenous lives lost to colonialism.

Additionally, Christmas has become a beloved holiday for many as the commercialization of the holiday has significantly diminished its exclusively religious connotations. But the question still stands: Should Christmas be celebrated in public schools if it is technically religious in nature?

While the concern to maintain secularity in public schools makes sense, these largely debated holidays serve as an important learning opportunity. Banning the holiday altogether may be the easier answer, yet it is not only a disservice to learning but also a disservice to childlike enjoyment.

Children can be taught that while some celebrate Christmas due to its significance for Christianity, others choose to participate in holiday traditions, like waiting for Santa Claus, for fun. They also can learn about other cultural celebrations, such as Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, and their significance to their respective communities.

This also begs the question of whether schools need to give days off for students who practice non-Christian or multicultural holidays. In 2022, 23 New Jersey public schools added Diwali to their days off.

Though some claim that this has gone "too far," it is important to recognize that the number of Christians in the U.S. has gone down from approximately 90 percent in the 1990s to only approximately 66 percent as of 2022. At the same time, the percentage of people who practice other religions has increased to 7 percent, and those who are not religiously affiliated have risen to 29 percent.

With changing demographics, it is important for school districts to move away from a Christian-centric style of learning and take the opportunity to respect other religious and cultural celebrations, such as Eid and Rosh Hashana. There are alternatives to giving the entire district time off for a minority holiday: Schools can allow excused absences for those who celebrate.

Although you may not personally celebrate these holidays or any at all, it is vital to be educated about the community around you, not just your own background and beliefs. And school is the place to conduct learning outside your own breadth of knowledge and that of your household.

Instead of saying "no" to all holiday celebrations, let us say "yes" to an opportunity to learn more about the world around us.

The Daily Targum's editorials represent the views of the majority of the 155th editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

Related Articles

Join our newsletterSubscribe