It’s St. Patrick’s Day this week. The feast of the male patron saint of Ireland. We commemorate the man from Wales (or was it France?) who drove the snakes out of Ireland. I’m not sure where shamrock came into it, but we see lots of cards, bunting, drawings, paintings and colouring in sheets that feature LOTS of shamrock.
It’s a public holiday, and how lovely to have it on a Friday! It’s all good fun, and it’s wonderful to have parades and celebrations back to normal, after the past few years when COVID-19 hindered the festivities.
I think though we need to be mindful that many of the children and families attending our settings may not feel it is their National Holiday. It is, of course, important to mark it and celebrate Irish traditions, culture, and language. It is part of who we are and part of how we support children and families who have come to Ireland from other countries to feel welcome and valued as new residents and possibly future citizens of the country. But, as Dr Francesca La Morgia, from Mother Tongues, pointed out in her recent episode of Early Childhood Ireland’s podcast, 20% of children in Ireland are growing up in a household speaking more than one language, according to the 2016 census of Ireland, and there are 72 different languages listed as being spoken in the country. And it is anticipated that these figures will have grown when the full data from the 2022 census is released. Many of these children were probably born in Ireland, but their families speak their native language at home. Again, as Francesca pointed out, it is important that they do. Continuing to use one’s mother tongue is key to so many aspects of development: wellbeing, identity, oral language development and maintaining relationships with family abroad.
How we mark St Patrick’s Day needs to reflect this diversity and richness but also, we need to factor in the celebration of various national festival and significant days into our entire year. How do we go about finding out what national days and celebrations each family marks? I think it is important to ask families, rather than rely solely on an internet search of national holidays for a particular country. It may be the case that yes, there is a holiday listed for that country, but the family in your setting this year may not actually mark that festival. But maybe there’s a local patron saint or god whose feast day is of more significance for them. Of course, not every feast day and cultural celebration will be celebrated with the same gusto as St Patrick’s Day but knowing the key days, talking to children about what they do at home to mark the event will help them feel that their culture is valued, visible and respected.
- Is there a special meal?
- Is there a family gathering, in person or virtually?
- Are gifts exchanged?
- Is there a religious celebration?
- Are other rituals performed/observed?
If families are happy to have their special days acknowledged and celebrated by the crèche or preschool community give some thought on how these traditions could be shared with your setting and the children and families? Marking these significant events with the children and families will help ensure your setting is inclusive and welcoming for all families.
The Literature Review to support the updating of Aistear (2023) speaks about the right children have ‘to an education that recognises and respects their cultural identity, values, and language’. It also says (p 133) ‘Early childhood settings reflect the social and cultural context of children, and the transition to early childhood settings has been described as the first “step into society” that presents children with a “mirror” reflecting how society views and values them’ citing Vandenbroeck, (2015. p.109).
Children need the reflections in that mirror to be positive, respectful, welcoming and truly inclusive. We’d love to hear from you about how you mark significant celebrations for the children and families in your setting.