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Have a Merry and Inclusive Christmas

Ralph Chan, Vienna

Drawings by Adrian Wetzlmaier, 8 Austria*

and Chili Ada, 11 Philippines

Christmas is here, a time to gather with loved ones and to celebrate. A season that many of us are looking forward to, especially the children. Families go to the Christmas markets, parents drink a punch, the children bake vanilla crescents. Many people enjoy this season, but not all. For example, people who suffer from mental disorders such as social anxiety, depression, or panic attacks.

The Christmas season can be a real source of stress and worry for people with care responsibilities or mobility restrictions. At Christmas parties we often forget to pay attention to the needs of people with disabilities (PWD), mental health problems or addictions. How can we make the Christmas season but also Christmas celebrations for everyone inclusive?

This is a question that we Filipinos do not deal with, although we like to celebrate. Perhaps this is because having a disability or mental impairment is still taboo and, for some, even shameful. This article aims to shed some light on how to make the Christmas season and Christmas celebrations more inclusive for everyone.

Inclusion is a process

The term inclusion describes a state of diversity. It means creating an environment that is inclusive for all and where all people have equal rights. Inclusion means belongingness, i.e., society adapts to people's needs and not the other way around. This is often confused with the term integration, which is more popularly known and therefore more used. The difference is that integration is a process of growing together. Individuals or groups adapt to the majority. In contrast, inclusion responds positively to diversity and people's needs. All people are included and treated equally, regardless of religion, ethnicity, disability, culture, etc. Ultimately, the question of inclusion is about identifying and removing personal and social barriers in order to improve the presence and participation of all people in particular those at risk and marginalized.

For my painting, I applied a one-point perspective method and used an acrylic paint on acrylic paper as my medium. The place that inspired me to make this painting is Calle Crisologo in Vigan because my grandmother always tells us about old structures and places that are part of our cultural heritage, and my ancestors came from there. This is the place where I want to visit one day.

Chili Ada, 11 years old, Philippines

Inclusive Christmas for people with disabilities and mental health problems

How we interact in a more inclusive way? The first step is to be present and allow everyone to participate in social life. Physical barriers should be avoided as much as possible. Rooms and locations should be designed to be barrier-free and open. PWDs are meant to receive support, but without infantilizing them, i.e., helping in a needs-oriented manner.

For example, if a wheelchair-bound guest does not have enough freedom of movement at a Christmas party, he often stays in the same place and only talks to the person sitting next to him. It should therefore be ensured that a person in a wheelchair can comfortably fit under the table. This improves their experience and helps them to feel included in conversations.

With regard to a visit to the Christmas market, this means that PWDs should have the opportunity to visit it without worrying about built-in barriers and to take part in all activities. To do this, however, the activities must also be designed according to the needs. For people with physical disability who cannot move without aids, the organizers should find ways to enable them to participate. In this case, inclusion does not mean setting up an extra group or extra activities only for them, but rather that they can do the same things together with people without disabilities.

Some people struggle with mental health problems or addictions. At Christmas it becomes more evident that some suffer from social anxiety or drinking problem. They struggle with different anxieties and during the Christmas season it often gets worse when they realize they are alone. How can we help and include them in our Christmas parties and activities? When planning activities, we should tailor the plan to suit their needs. At the same time, it is important to understand that some simply do not want to or cannot participate for diverse reasons. Sometimes the impression arises that those who do not attend or cancel, are simply antisocial. As the organizer, you shouldn't take this personally. Some of them may just be overwhelmed by the Christmas stress.

How to be diverse and inclusive for everyone

Inclusion also means being open to the new and the unknown. Intolerances and misunderstandings often arise due to different religious beliefs and cultural traditions. Celebrations can be used as an occasion to bring everyone closer together to better understand each other. Diversity and inclusion can be celebrated by researching and highlighting the unique practices like traditions and their meanings. These can be celebrated with a variety of food, music and rituals that can be part of a modern and integrative Christmas party, for example.

Inclusion also means that attending a celebration should always be voluntary and never mandatory. Nobody should feel pressured to attend the celebration or feel guilty for not wanting to attend. The same goes for exchanging gifts. The exchange of gifts should be voluntary and without obligation. While celebrating holidays is fun for many, others choose not to join in celebrating because of their religious beliefs. We should be respectful to these people. For example, believers of Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) do not celebrate Christmas. Instead of wishing them a Merry Christmas, we should wish them Happy Holidays as a non-denominational greeting.

Inclusivity can be celebrated, for example, through the provision of different dishes at a Christmas party. Food is something we all enjoy, regardless of our origins or beliefs. Because of this, food is great for Christmas parties. A potluck can be held asking all guests to bring a favorite dish of their choice. This is a wonderful way to learn about different types of cuisines and other cultures in a fun and non-threatening way. In addition to the food, attention should also be paid to the choice of drinks. Alcohol plays a big role at Christmas parties. It's a good idea to plan a two-part party, one without alcohol and then in an after party where alcohol is available.

Like food, music is another fun way to make the Christmas party more inclusive and varied. You can hear Christmas music everywhere on the radio and in shops, but mostly the same. It is advisable to play festive music from other cultures as well. Classical music and jazz music would be a great option for the party playlist too. In many cultures, the family is at the center of Christmas. We should encourage each other to invite families to Christmas activities, create a family-friendly environment and involve everyone. Make Christmas pleasant for everyone!

Here's a CHECKLIST of what to look for to become more inclusive:

• Encourage sharing traditions with others

• A multicultural festival

• Gift exchange should be optional

• Make it possible not to come without judgment

• Enjoy a variety of dishes

• Choose a diverse music playlist

• Offer alcohol alternatives

• Bring families with you

My reflections and wishes for 2022

We live in a time characterized by diversity and inclusion. The message of this article is that we Filipinos should be more open about diversity and inclusion issues. We should also raise awareness about mental health and not downplay people who suffer from it. Especially during the Christmas season, we should be aware and respond to the needs of people with disabilities and mental health problems. Di ba ang Pasko ay para sa lahat? Andito tayo para sa isa't isa. Binabati ko ang lahat ng isang Maligayang Pasko, Happy Holidays at isang matagumpay na Bagong Taon 2022.

*The colourful Christmas Star of Manila is hanging on my door. The last time we visited our relatives in the Philippines in December 2019/January 2020. Most of them live in Manila. It was the first time I saw so many and so colourful Christmas lights.

Adrian Wetzlmaier, 8 years Austria


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