Should You Have a Holiday Party if All Girls Are Not Included?

How should leaders handle celebrating the December holidays if all girls cannot participate?

In a recent discussion in the Girl Scout Gab Facebook group (one of the most informative for leaders of all levels, IMO), a leader posed this situation.

Her entire troop celebrates Christmas except one girl who is a Muslim. What should she do? In her words, she wrote, “…did not want the majority of girls to miss out on fun stuff like Secret Santa etc… because of one person.

The responses, were, ahem, enlightening, to say the least.

I am Jewish. If you have read my blog for any length of time, you know I have shared my feelings about celebrating holidays and gift exchanges (this blog post from 2011). I have shared some fun winter party craft ideas and the importance of being INCLUSIVE with every girl in your troop.

I was not surprised that those who were against having a Christmas party were, for the most part, either Jewish or agnostic. Leaders shared how, as children,  they were left out of celebrations or made crafts that had no place in their home. This did not create a sisterhood for these girls, but a bad memory that lingers on as adults.

The thread got a bit nasty, as some accused others of “spoiling the fun” and “making the children suffer” over one child’s inability to celebrate Christmas at a troop meeting. When the heat of the debate is over and those passionate can think more clearly, is it true that  a child will “suffer” if a holiday is not celebrated for a 60 or 90 minute gathering?

Of course not.

Some leaders shared that they extended the invitation to go caroling or do other Christmas related activities to non-Christian girls and then called it “being inclusive”.  It is not. Those who are devout are unable to participate in the celebrating of others’ religions. It came as no surprise that these girls’ parents declined the invitation.

There were some excellent suggestions on what to do this time of year. Doing community service projects, celebrating the culture and religion of others during World Thinking Day and having a “Secret Scout” exchange or playing the “Left/Right” game at another time of year were discussed. You can have a cookie exchange during a less hectic time of year when the girls can bake a treat from their culture and share it with the others in the troop and then share the meaning behind it.

Girl Scouts is about inclusion. If an activity at a meeting cannot include all of the girls due to a fundamental religious difference, then that is a sign to you, as the leader, not do the activity. It is really very simple. Even if every girl in your troop celebrates Christmas, what happens if next year a child who does not celebrate the holiday joins your troop? Do you tell her she can participate if she wants to (knowing that she cannot) or do you do something different? Do you actively single out one or two children as the reason you cannot do something?

As a leader, you decide what is best for your troop. That means every child in your troop.

How have you handled the December holidays?



5 thoughts on “Should You Have a Holiday Party if All Girls Are Not Included?”

  1. Thanks for a great article and I really like your perspective. We have had atheist and Jewish girls in our troop. One of the first things that came up for the 2 atheists is the Promise. We re-wrote it so we could all say it together! What else could I do? So, this is not a once a year issue. The whole GS culture is steeped in Christianity. But we did our best to secularize it. However, they have no problem celebrating a secular Christmas. These days Christmas is for everyone. You have to talk to the parents and find out how they want to handle the holidays. You can have a Winter Holiday party with snowflakes and snowmen as a theme. Or a Winter Solstice party, stargaze and learn about the traditions that go back to prehistoric times. You can make decorated sugar cookies and drink hot chocolate and have fun at this time of year without talking about Jesus. I totally agree that you have to respect the parents wishes for their child. But find out what they are before you decide to scrap the Christmas party, lots of parents are doing a blend of traditions at home and would be totally fine with it. And then, use them to help plan a party that’s fun for everyone. They will definitely appreciate your effort to be respectful of their beliefs. And the girls will see that it’s possible to live in harmony.

    1. Katie, thank you for your comment and for your sensitivity to others. I have no issue with any kind of “winter” party; after all, it is a season, not a religion. What puts up the red flag for me is the original poster’s way of phrasing the question and then the large amount of responses that said go ahead and have the party, the girl “chooses” not to attend. It is not a choice…it conflicts with her religious beliefs. There were a lot of antagonistic responses from leaders, and for an inclusive organization like Girl Scouts, this was alarming. Perhaps these women do not know that the first three leaders were Jewish? BTW, Christmas is NOT for everyone. It is not a holiday that I celebrate. It has been secularized for the masses, but the bottom line is that this is not a holiday that Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, or any non-Christian celebrates. Are there some who participate in celebrating? Yes, but they are lapsed and do not care about their faith. That does not mean I cannot appreciate the cookies my friend bakes for me each year at Christmas or the lights that adorn the houses in my neighborhood. Thank you again for being such a caring and respectful leader to your girls. I wish more like you would have chimed in to the discussion!

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