Cultural sensitivity for ALTs giving Christmas lessons

By Liam Carrigan

In today’s uncertain world, one of the few things many can agree on is that Christmas is the most nostalgic and family-oriented time of the year. So for the ALT in Japan, preparing a fun and entertaining Christmas lesson should be the proverbial piece of cake. However, Japan — like many other countries — has its own way of doing Christmas festivities.

As a teacher, you need to be aware of local cultural ideas in all of your lesson planning, but this is especially relevant when planning a Christmas lesson. Classes about festivals and celebrations that have faith-based origins can be problematic in a country where teaching religious doctrine is officially banned in public schools. This is perhaps why Easter has never really caught on here in the same way Christmas and Halloween have in recent times.

So, with this in mind, here are five common pitfalls to Christmas lesson planning and how to avoid them.

1. Santa is still real for many of your students


This is an important point that you really need to remember. Most of us foreigners probably learned the truth about Santa Claus when we were in grade three or four of elementary school (spoiler alert: he’s not real!). However, in Japan, this happens later — and in some cases much later.

In my current job, I teach English mostly to elementary school fifth and sixth grade students (10-12 years old) and a lot of them still believe in Santa. Just today, as I was doing a Christmas lesson of my own, one student, a fifth grader, asked me: “Sensei (teacher), is the santa who delivers presents in Scotland the same Santa who delivers my presents here?”

Sometimes kids here say the most adorable things. Of course, this means that we need to tread carefully when discussing that jolly man in the red suit.

A friend of mine got into hot water with his school a few years ago for not realizing this. He was showing the students some pictures of his family’s Christmas in the U.S. He explained: “And here you see the presents under the tree. We usually buy presents a week or two before Christmas and put them under the tree until Christmas Day.”

One student innocently raised their hand and asked: “But sensei, what about the presents from Santa?”

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This is the really daft thing about Christmas. We had Christmas before the christian church took it over and called it Jesus' birthday. Christmas has lost its religious significance in recent years, thankfully, and is now more of a family celebration. I will never refer to it as 'Happy Holidays', which is absolutely absurd in Japan because there are no holidays. It is Merry Christmas! If 'Merry Christmas' is offensive to those with different religious faiths, their religious holidays should be changed as well. Hanuka, Ramadan, etc.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Maybe the kids are just yanking teachers chain.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Merry Christmas to all at JT


2 ( +2 / -0 )

ALTs will be replaced by robots in the near future. "Issues" like this might be a big part of the reason they will be replaced.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

No. 2 on the list says "keep Jesus out of it."


That's like discussing the Emperor's Birthday, but keeping the Emperor out of it.

If you're going to "keep Jesus out of it," then just don't mention or discuss Christmas at all.

And no, this is not an act of "teaching doctrine in public schools." To simply tell someone that Christmas is when Jesus' birth is celebrated is not an act of proselytizing -- any more than reading about Buddha's birthday on Japan Today's website means that JT is trying to convert readers to Buddhism.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Keep Jesus out of it? How, by lying abou the origins of Christmas? Ridiculous.

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Santa isn't real?

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