When should we teach our kids about other cultures and holidays? We are Jewish which makes it a bit complicated this season. We are often wished Merry Christmas in stores (seems natural as most people in America celebrate Christmas in some form). We are surrounded by Christmas lights (one of my favorite parts of the season). My kids know that different people celebrate different holidays and that is great and we need to respect everyone's holidays. My kids are 7, 4, 3, and almost 2.

When is it appropriate to start explaining other peoples religions in terms of things like what Christmas means? What Channukah means? What Kwanza means(Which every religions are not your own)?

  • I have modified the title to make it a bit more descriptive. However, if you feel that my change doesn't help, or if it doesn't really match your intent, please feel free to roll back the change.
    – user420
    Dec 19, 2011 at 14:37
  • I argue that teaching world cultures and religions (ie, tolerance and understanding of others) should be a major part of every child's upbringing. But, at least in the US, we don't do that at all. So, I guess it really comes down to how you feel as a parent.
    – DA01
    Dec 19, 2011 at 16:36
  • @DA01 I teach tolerance and acceptance from the beginning, as explained in the question, I am wondering about when to teach the details of the holidays. Dec 19, 2011 at 17:30
  • Great! As for the details, I don't think there is a 'this is when to do it' answer. It's really up to you.
    – DA01
    Dec 19, 2011 at 18:51

3 Answers 3


The appropriate time to explain the religious beliefs depends entirely upon the level of exposure your children have to adherents of those particular faiths.

Quite honestly, I still do not fully understand the religious significance of Ramadan, apart from it being a period of fasting (thanks, Wikipedia!). Also note that Kwanzaa is, to my understanding, more of a cultural celebration than religious.

I understood Christmas from an early age simply because the vast majority of the people around me were Christian.

By contrast, most Christians I know today have only the faintest of concepts of what Channukah is about (most seem to assume that it is one of Judaism's most important celebrations, and that the gift giving is symbolic of something; in reality, Channukah's biggest claim to fame is that it happens to fall at roughly the same time as Christmas, and the gift giving is solely a concession to the gift giving component to Christmas).

You can start out with a thumbnail sketch of each holiday as soon as they become aware of the holiday, and then fill in more details as your child asks more questions. Let your children's curiosity be the driving factor in determining how much detail you provide. Just be aware that the more exposure they have to a holiday (e.g. seeing Christmas trees on sale everywhere, lights decorating houses, friends talking about what presents they asked for/received, friends saying they can't eat because of the holiday, etc.), the more questions they are likely to ask.

  • To be honest, most of the Christians around me ALSO have only the faintest of concepts of what Christmas is about (It's that sort of locale in USA). Ditto for most Russians - Christmas is now in vogue there but I severely doubt most of the people would know the deep religious details.
    – user3143
    Dec 21, 2011 at 0:17
  • Based on what people have explained to me. Ramadan is about teaching those well off about what how the poor feel.
    – Karlson
    Feb 19, 2012 at 18:11
  • @DVK Considering that Christmas has the beginning of its traditions in the Winter Solstice festivals, do we really know the actual meaning of Christmas?
    – Karlson
    Feb 19, 2012 at 18:17

The answer to your question becomes very easy if you take the events out of the religious context and into historic stories. These can be taught from very early age. They can be later expanded and deepened as the children grow older.

For example, Jesus Christ is a person that had a life story that can be told to very young children. Because he was a great person, a lot of people celebrate his birthday. Avoid talking about theology until children are older. This way we are talking about history not religion. History, in the form of stories, is much easier to understand by all ages. This same example applies to Moses, Mohamed, and all other prophets.

Rituals practiced by different people are historic and cultural. When you talk to a very young child, use expressions like "long time ago" and "in far land". Kids are fascinated with these stories.

When children understand the concept of calendar, we can explain why there are more than one New Year. We can explain to them that older events are celebrated according to older calendars. Also some events follow solar calendar while others follow lunar calendar. Again all this in the context of historic stories.

The same concept of historic stories should be used to explain the history of our own family. This is important for the children to understand why we have practices different from our neighbors.

  • 1
    I don't always believe that the reason behind the holidays of other religious is historically accurate, so this will not work. Dec 20, 2011 at 15:56

At least in the state of Michigan, culture is a component of the first grade curriculum. It is seen as a developmentally appropriate time to start understanding other cultures. I know the first grade teachers and I work diligently to find resources to help teach first grade students about cultures and holidays. Most public libraries in the US have a section that address this topic - ask your children's librarian if they have books at the right level to share them with your children, in a Dewey classified library you will be looking in the 390s. I know we not only focus on different holidays but also how different cultures celebrate the same holiday - Christmas for a Catholic is not the same as the secular Christmas in the US, etc. I am always impressed by the teachers at my school because they search out people who belong to different cultures to come in and share some things with the students. Another great place to start with your children is fairy tales and folk lore as well as picture books - Patricia Polacco comes to mind for exploring Jewish culture in a Christian heavy environment, she is an author and illustrator who writes realistic fiction often based on her own life.

I know many public libraries have programs throughout the year that address different cultures and holidays that are geared to children - we are going to a Winter Solstice Celebration for children at our library tomorrow because we believe it is never too early to begin exposing our daughter to different holidays and cultures.

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