Alternative Narratives for Holidays

We all want to sit down to a feast with our extended families and celebrate what is good and beautiful in our lives, right? The mashed potatoes taste great, but the next thing you know, white supremacy’s dehumanizing, oppressive narratives come to life at your holiday table and nothing is sitting quite right. 

We on the SURJ Families team have been through this time and time again. Sometimes the messages of deeply ingrained systemic racism are coming at us from our children’s schools or from our family members, and sometimes we find that they have been hanging out in our own heads all along as internalized messages of privilege and superiority.

To support all of us in disrupting, confronting, and re-framing these damaging narratives, we’ve gathered up resources from all over the web. While Thanksgiving really stands out as a colonization superstar, problematic holiday observances are a year-round issue, so we’ve included some resources for many seasons, as well as some that provide an overview of the issues. This is not an exhaustive list, but should get you started and leave plenty of room for you to learn and explore.

Why Alternative Narratives?

Teaching Tolerance has excellent stuff for holidays year round:

Religious Holidays Supplement

Avoiding Holiday Balance Traps

School Holiday Calendar Exercise for Students

This piece from Paul Kivel is useful for framing the issues:

Christian Holiday Cycle 

Here’s a great piece addressing cultural misappropriation in general, regardless of affiliation with specific holidays: More Than a Night of Harmless Fun

Deep dive on these issues from the late Rev. Marjorie Bowens-Wheatley:


Resources to help educators rethink their approach to typical educational narratives:

Beyond Heroes and Holidays 

Resources for Specific Holidays and Seasons


Native American History Month

6 Ways to De-stereotype Native American Heritage Month

Native American Heritage Month: 6 Tips for Educators, Parents

Things Teachers Need to Know About Native American Heritage Month

Teaching Materials from the Zinn Education Project on Native American History


Lots of useful materials from the Zinn Education Project:

The Politics of Thanksgiving Day

Why Do Schools Still Teach an Oversimplified Thanksgiving Story?

From Indian Country Today Media Network:

Do American Indians Celebrate Thanksgiving?

Manning: Thanksgiving Myth Creates Fairytale of Land Theft, Betrayal, Genocide

Classroom tools from Teaching Tolerance:

Thanksgiving Mourning (for grades 6-12)

Teaching Thanksgiving in a Socially Responsible Way Packed with good stuff!

From Raising Race-Conscious Children:

Thanksgiving, Thanks-Taking, and Privilege

Decolonizing Thanksgiving Slideshow! A Canadian Perspective

Useful for keeping cool around the dinner table:

5 Ways to Face Race at the Thanksgiving Table and Not Choke

Why Black Out Friday?  Put your money where your mouth is: The movement to boycott Black Friday


Two short videos, one animated, the other more documentary style, by Indian people talking about the origin and meaning of Diwali.

The Story of Diwali

Diwali: The Festival of Lights


Very basic and not limited to Chanukah, but useful and relevant:

Cultural Appropriation vs. Appreciation: A Guide for Non-Jews


A white person’s blog post reflecting on issues of appropriation and mis-steps when sharing in Kwanzaa celebrations: Celebrating Kwanzaa


Many non-Muslim white folks only hear about Islam through sensationalized and Islamaphobic media. Ramadan is one of many times around the year that your family can learn about Islam as a model for community involvement, personal reflection, and personal devotion.

Read Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns: A Muslim Book of Colors and three additional books about Ramadan

New York schools now have two Muslim school holidays. See what you can do to support similar issues in your community

During the occupation of Iraq, many non-Muslim folks joined solidarity fasts during Ramadan. Consider doing a one day fast with older children. Use the time to reflect on Islamaphobia, or the Syrian refugee crisis.

Check to see if there are events in your community open to the public, particularly around Eid (the final day of Ramadan).

Black History Month

Black History Month is a fantastic time to lift up Black History and Activism. However, dominant narratives of Black History Month can often promote commercialism, watered down history, or promote the concept that we are “post racism” in America. Additionally, Black History Month is often under attack by the far right. Here are resources  

Zinn Education Project’s Black Abolitionists

Making Black History Month Memorable (resources to share with teachers)

Whether you are celebrating with your family or helping with events in your school, daycare, church, and community spaces, try to remember the following:

  • Black History didn’t end with the Civil Rights Movement. Talk about more recent history including Black Lives Matter.
  • Black History is not all celebration. Speak honestly about slavery, segregation, Jim Crow, and ongoing white supremacist violence.
  • Black History is not about white people. Often lessons will veer to talk about white people. While it is important to name the actions of white people (“White people led the KKK,” for example) this is not the time to focus on white people as abolitionists, advocates, or allies.

Valentine’s Day

Valentine's Day is often seen as one of the most superficial and commercial holidays. Here are some ways to subvert it!

Women’s History Month

Read Rad American Women A-Z

Cinco de Mayo

Rethinking Cinco de Mayo from the Zinn Education Project


Basic overview from Teaching Tolerance: Happy Juneteenth!

Columbus Day

More gold from the Zinn Education Project: Time to Abolish Columbus Day

Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years

This is a book, not an online resource, and it goes deep, and includes handouts and classroom activities:

Why rethink Christopher Columbus? Because the Columbus myth is a foundation of children's beliefs about society. Columbus is often a child's first lesson about encounters between different cultures and races. The murky legend of a brave adventurer tells children whose version of history to accept, and whose to ignore. It says nothing about the brutality of the European invasion of North America.

Digital archive presenting Tribal perspectives on our shared history

500 Years of Chicano History Book, Coloring Book & DVD

from South West Organizing Project (SWOP)


Liberate Halloween Toolkit from Conspire for Change

Dia de los Muertos                                                                  

Dear White People/Queridos Gringos: You Want Our Culture But You Don’t Want Us – Stop Colonizing The Day Of The Dead

The Wheel Of the Year

One of our jobs is to connect our children with cultural traditions that come from our history that can undo our attachment to white supremacist holiday narratives as well as fill the need for culture that often encourages white people to appropriate other traditions. One tool may be looking to pre-colonial European holidays. One set is the pagan Wheel of the Year that includes Solstice (Winter and Summer), Ostara (Spring Equinox), Mabon (Fall Equinox), Samhain (Halloween), and others. These celebrations are often rooted in a relationship to nature and have multi-gendered symbolism. They can be folded into existing celebrations as a way to break out of existing narratives, or to create an alternative celebration.

SURJ Families resources

SURJ Families action call: SURJ Families Alternative Narratives action call recording. (The call begins at the 18:50 mark of the recording).

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