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Just Paint Santa Blue & White…Why Cultural Competence During the Holidays Is Important

Growing up Jewish, I have always noticed how underrepresented Judaism is nationally, especially during the winter season. I remember having to make-do with birthday candles because I could not find any candles for my menorah. Having a supervisor say that it was “weird” that I was fasting for Yom Kippur. Being the first Jewish person someone had ever met – and they were already an adult! I do understand why many of those experiences occurred. Jewish people in the United States make up only 2% of the population, while Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and those of other religions make up less than 1% each. My experiences as a holiday outsider has opened my eyes to how cultures and religious beliefs are often overlooked. As a therapist, it is imperative that my clients feel understood and supported, which means taking an active role in understanding them and their beliefs.

A few years ago, I sat in on a national training on play and art activities during the holiday season. The trainers had years of experience in their field, however I found the training lacking one major ingredient – cultural competency. As the trainers led us in activities the themes stayed strongly Christian-centric. Santas, snowflakes, Christmas trees, stockings, gnomes – pretty much the entire Christmas pageant but not one reference to other winter holidays. I asked the trainers how they would incorporate themes for their Jewish clients. The response was that they provided blue and white materials. What startled me was a complete inability to understand that none of the basic themes for the activities were at all appropriate for Jewish clients, let alone those who celebrate other holidays.


When we talk about the “holiday season” we often think Christmas, with Chanukah a distant second. Sometimes people also remember to add Kwanzaa, but there are so many more holidays during the winter months that our clients, families and communities may be celebrating. Kwanzaa, Bodhi Day, Pancha Ganapati or one of the Lunar holidays that may fall in winter – Ramadan, Eid or Chinese New Year. And while over 70% of the nation celebrates some denomination of Christianity, there are also sects that do not observe holidays, as well as those who are atheists, agnostics, pagans and Wiccans.


This year, remember to remain open to the vast number of beliefs, traditions and celebrations that our community and families experience.


If you would like to learn more about Culturally Competent Play Therapy During the Holidays, register now today to attend on December 11th from 12:00-2:00pm Eastern Time. https://www.bergercounselingservices.com/events/culturally-competent-play-therapy-during-the-holidays


Information from the Religious Landscape Study, The RLS surveys more than 35,000 Americans from all 50 states about their religious affiliations, beliefs and practices, and social and political views. https://www.pewforum.org/religious-landscape-study/

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