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Welcoming the holiday season at our schools

In December, Toronto stores are filled with music, bright lights decorate homes, and our schools welcome the holiday season…Christmas, Kwanzaa, and Hanukkah. We get ready to bid goodbye to 2017 and greet 2018.

The TDSB embraces children from around the world, and although our school board is a secular system, it is open to teaching about different religions and ways of life. When I went to school we didn’t recognize the customs and beliefs of new immigrants; we primarily celebrated Christian holidays. Today is a different world. We want to prepare our youth for their reality.

According to the 2016 census, 7.5 million foreign-born people came to Canada through the immigration process. They represent more than one in five persons in Canada. They have brought their hopes and dreams along with great food, tremendous optimism, interesting customs and energy to build a good life for their families. They come as Muslims, Catholics, Buddhists, Sikhs, Protestants, Hindus, Jews, Mormons, and members of the Baha’i faith, to name a few. Every student, regardless of faith – including those who do not adhere to any specific religion – should enjoy a sense of belonging. Our schools attempt to honour holidays in December and throughout the year, such as Diwali, Chinese New Year and Eid.

For example, Bennington Heights and Northlea will feature holiday concerts with songs from around the world, and as many faiths encourage, children will learn the concept of charity. At Bennington there will be a bazaar where donated items are recycled and sold as family gifts by student purchasers. Money raised will go to the Flemingdon Community Food Bank. Classes at Northlea will prepare hampers for families in partnership with the YWCA and the YWCA Arise women’s shelter.

One thing is certain. The past is not the present and we will not be returning to a system where only one religion is glorified and celebrated. Does that mean there will be no mention of Christmas in our schools? Of course not. It does mean, however, that we no longer treat that wonderful holiday as if it’s the only occasion to be celebrated. That’s not political correctness but rather part of the concept of preparing our young people to be global citizens. Happy Hanukkah, Healthy Kwanzaa and Merry Christmas, everyone!

Gerri Gershon is the Trustee, Don Valley West, for the Toronto District School Board.