There’s nothing quite like a celebration of festivals throughout the year to punctuate proceedings at school with colour, creativity and culture. Whatever you celebrate, from Christmas to Divali, Eid ul-Fitr to Passover, Harvest Festival to Sukkot, the possibilities for learning about and from religions and cultures around the world, from the Early Years Foundation Stage to A levels and beyond are almost without limit.
In her RE Today curriculum book, RE Ideas: Celebration, Fiona Moss, RE Today Adviser and Editor, wrote: “Religious celebrations, high days, and holidays matter deeply to many people in this country and around the world. Religious and secular festivals are huge cultural events and family occasions that express shared belief, values, hopes and commitments and a sense of identity.”
There’s no doubt that in schools where international mindedness and community cohesion and understanding are valued and highly prioritised, the exploration of celebrations and festivals is extremely popular. While this sits most naturally in Religious Education, there are clear links with other curriculum areas such as art, drama, English and music to name just a few. The more the focus on celebrations embraces the whole school, the better.
Ideas to incorporate religious festivals
So how can we enhance the way in which we tackle festivals so that children and young people experience something they can both learn from and reflect on? Some ideas:
- If you’re keen to develop your offering of festivals and celebrations over the coming academic year, this complimentary resource from RE Ideas: Celebration (provided by RE Today Services © RE Today, 2017. All rights reserved) has some great ideas.
- Focusing on a festival without context can be confusing and hollow. Yet I cannot be alone in witnessing, for example, harvest festival assemblies that sit in isolation in the school week. Situate them in the context of believing communities. What comes before? What comes after? Are there links and connections that can be made with other faiths?
- Be sure to offer children the chance to reflect on the festival they have learned about. What might it mean to those of that faith? What do the themes and values of the festival mean to them?
- Get the whole school behind your celebrations. Use the communal spaces for displays and outside spaces too if possible.
- Add authenticity to the way in which celebrations are featured in your school by inviting local members of the faith concerned to talk about what the festival means to a believing community.
- Look at your locality. What new secular festival could be designed and celebrated? It’s not just about the language of the festival, but the feel of it too. Festivals offer the opportunity to go within and to celebrate.
- Naturally, it’s not going to be possible to launch headlong into a celebration of festivals throughout the year for all schools, but whenever they are a focus, helping to make meaning through reflection, and encounters with authentic experiences will undoubtedly help to deepen learning.
Find out more
You can get further ideas and resources by becoming a member of NATRE (the National Association of Teachers of RE), which works in partnership with RE Today. See the rest of the RE Ideas curriculum series here.
About the author
After graduating with a degree in Politics and International Relations from the University of Reading, Elizabeth Holmes completed her PGCE at the Institute of Education, University of London. She then taught humanities and social sciences in schools in London, Oxfordshire and West Sussex, where she ran the history department in a challenging comprehensive. Elizabeth specialises in education but also writes on many other issues and themes. As well as her regular blogs for Eteach and FEjobs, her books have been published by a variety of publishers and translated around the world.