Christmas with a difference


Christmas means different things to different people. As Ireland changes, celebration of the dominant Christian festival is changing too. Sylvia Thompson went to Lucan Educate Together National School, Dublin, tofind out how

With Christmas Day just over a week away, excitement is mounting in homes across the State as children eagerly look forward to presents and holidays from school.

As many families sit down to festive meals and celebrate the birth of Jesus in their local church next Thursday, there will be some adults and children who won't partake in these celebrations at all. There will be others who will celebrate somewhat differently, either because they don't share the same religious beliefs or because they don't have the same cultural traditions.

So what is Christmas in Ireland like for these families? Do they blend in and go with the flow or do they stick to their own customs, avoiding the turkey and ham and rich Christmas pudding? Do they give and receive presents at this time of year or are there other times of the year when they celebrate more fervently?

Last week, we visited a school in the Dublin suburb of Lucan where children from almost every continent are in class together.

The group of 10 and 11-year-olds from fifth and sixth class of the Lucan Educate Together National School had plenty to say about the different traditions and beliefs around the world.

Rachel (11) says: "I celebrate Christmas with my family and we exchange gifts, but I lived in Malaysia for a year and they don't celebrate Christmas there. We were the only ones with a Christmas tree up."

Stephen (10) says that every second year, he spends Christmas in Sweden and the big difference is that gifts are exchanged on Christmas Eve rather than on Christmas Day.

Rashmi (9), who grew up in India, doesn't celebrate Christmas. The big celebration during the Hindu year is Diwali, the festival of lights. During Diwali this year, Rashmi wore traditional dress into school and brought in a Hindu dessert for her classmates to taste. "During this festival we draw flowers on the floor with coloured powder, make special food and decorate our homes," says Rashmi.

Simone (10) says she doesn't celebrate Christmas either. "I'm from the Jehovah Witnesses and we don't believe Jesus was born in December. We believe he was born in October. We don't get or give presents at Christmas, but my Dad gives me money at Christmas time."

Siobhan (12) moved to Ireland last year from South Africa. The big difference, she says, is that in South Africa, the Christmas feast is at night-time because it is too hot to eat during the day. "We'd go swimming during the day and have salads and barbecues in the evening, so you get to stay up late." Since she moved to Ireland, Siobhan says the thing she misses most in the hot weather at Christmas time.

Corina (11) is from Moldovia and she says her family celebrates Christmas on December 24th, 25th, 31st and January 6th. "And we don't eat until midnight, which means we have more time to play," she smiles.

Charles (11) moved to Ireland from Nigeria last year. He says: "We celebrate Christmas the same way in Nigeria and decorate our houses. In Ireland, we give and receive money as presents and we go to our friends house. I miss my friends [from Nigeria] at this time of the year."

Conor (11) says he goes to Scotland for Christmas where "celebrations are more or less the same except we get to stay up late on Christmas Eve and give presents at midnight".

Another classmate, Junaid (10), is already back home in Pakistan for the holiday season. A Muslim, Junaid had a day off school recently for the Islamic festival of Eid, the celebrations at the end of the month-long fast of Ramadan.

According to Yvonne Mangan, the class teacher, "the children are aware that there are so many different cultures in their school, which offers them a great opportunity to see that we are all very similar but we have our differences and we can celebrate these differences.

"Earlier this month, we celebrated Global Awareness Fortnight and we set up stalls such as a market with clothes, music and food from different cultures. The children discuss religions in an open and honest way. They have their opinions, but they listen to those of others as well."

Helena Murphy, the principal of the Lucan Educate Together primary school, says that they make a conscious effort not to have an overemphasis on Christmas inside the school, even though it is going on all around outside.

"We would discuss the religious aspects of what Christmas means to Christians in equal proportions to what Diwali means to the Hindu people and what Hanukkah means to Jewish people.

"We would never have a Nativity play, but we would watch videos and read stories about Christmas. The children who don't celebrate Christmas feel comfortable about that. They have so many different things on that they don't feel left out."