Holiday Time in the Library

It’s the holiday season, and Santa Claus is comin’ to town…

Unless he’s not. For many people in my community, Santa doesn’t stop to visit their families. There’s a wide range of religious and personal beliefs about Christmas (even some Christian sects don’t celebrate it as a religious holiday).  Yet no matter where one looks in our community it would seem that everyone is celebrating.

If you’re a librarian, should it matter to you that Christmas isn’t celebrated by some your patrons or students? Some in our profession say that Christmas is an American holiday, so decorating for it or emphasizing it in libraries is not a big deal. Others are comfortable with book displays, but nothing beyond that.

When I was a public librarian, I did a few programs for teens that were holiday-related, like Gingerbread House Construction (really just an excuse to eat candy!) and Holiday Cookie Decorating (another excuse to eat candy). We also featured books on display that had to do with Christmas cooking, decorating, and fiction. There usually wasn’t any coordinated effort to decorate the branch for Christmas.  Occasionally a patron or staff member would bring by a poinsettia plant and it would sit on the reference desk.

At my new job as a school librarian this school year, I put up a display of Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa books.  Right next to that I had a full display of snow and winter books. If I was asked to read books to classes for storytimes, I emphasized the snow and winter books. I did have students who specifically asked me for Christmas books to check-out.  I chose not to decorate the library at all.

Ultimately, my goal for the library is that it fulfills the all the needs of all of our students, and I think I accomplished that this December without making anyone feel unwelcome or “other” for not celebrating Christmas.

Are you interested in reading more tween-related posts? The YALSA Blog and the ALSC Blog both offer information of interest to librarians who work with tweens.

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2 Responses to Holiday Time in the Library

  1. Viktoria says:

    This is comforting to hear! I celebrate Christmas and grew up with Santa, but a lot of my students do not. This is my third year as a school librarian, but my first year in my current school. A few of my teachers were upset that I wasn’t doing anything with Elf on a Shelf and seemed kind of baffled when I said that I didn’t want to isolate any of the students. While I did set up Christmas, Kwanzaa, and Hanukah books and I did read a Christmas book to a few of my classes (where I knew that there wasn’t a problem with it), I held out from doing anything else and kept Christmas where I knew it would be enjoyed the most– my home!

  2. Susan Ostroff says:

    Hi Viktoria. In the past, I have worked as a Media Specialist and as a first grade teacher. I work in Youth Services in a public library now. The school can be challenging around the holidays because of so many unique differences as well as variations in how everyone celebrates or observes their holidays and traditions. I still remember my first introduction to my students who were Jehovah’s Witnesses. They were not allowed to celebrate anything. That was hard for me, but I always respected the parents’ wishes. In my public library, we set up some books that the parents could look through that included Kwanzaa, Christmas (secular and non-secular) general Winter themed books and Hanukkah. We did set up a gingerbread house that several of us had fun putting together. I also did a display of some paperback book dolls that represented Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and a Santa for Christmas and a dreidel paper chain! I’m Jewish and it was always important to me to teach my own kids about tolerance of other’s beliefs as well as encourage them to learn about their friends’ religions and traditions. We’ve had their friends come to Passover seders at home and my daughters have gone to mass with friends to see what it was about. It was my daughter that asked me if we were doing “Elf on a Shelf” at the library. I had to look that up. This was a new one for me. :) Ultimately, I like showing books that encourage us learning more about each other. For me, it comes down to encouraging respect and tolerance. I’ve always enjoyed this aspect of the holidays. I hope by not being afraid to offer a variety of reading choices that reflect many heritages and religious beliefs that we will encourage more open-mindedness and acceptance toward each other.

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