What does the festive season have to do with the UN’s Declaration of Human Rights? “Everything!” says children’s author Martin Thomas
Are you struggling to find a new angle or approach to the Advent or Christmas season? Same carols, same story? Same shepherds, same donkey?
This year the international media charity SAT-7 has teamed up with TV presenter Gemma Hunt to challenge schools to record a version of the popular Christmas carol ‘Silent Night’. There’s definitely a fun music and community element to this, but there’s also a strong educational component behind the message: namely that some Christians, especially in the Middle East, are not free to celebrate Advent or Christmas as we can.
“At a time of year when Christians in the Middle East can feel isolated, we hope that this special recording of ‘Silent Night’ will help everyone feel more connected together across the world. I’d love you to get involved and the top three most creative school videos will also get a FREE online visit from me to their school assembly or class. Thanks for raising your voice!”Gemma Hunt, TV presenter
Article 18 of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion”, yet this right is denied to many across the Middle East and North Africa, where Christians are silenced, just because of their faith.
Having worked in the international voluntary sector for 30 years, I’ve seen how our lives can be made all the richer through learning from the real stories of people from other parts of the world. Take Iran, for example – it’s been in the news a lot recently, but have you considered using stories from Iran in your classrooms this Christmas?
Here’s a short extract from an article by Omeed Jouyandé from SAT-7’s Persian channel, SAT-7 PARS, who starts by sharing a message from Keyvan, a viewer from Iran:
“We can’t openly celebrate Christmas and sing Christmas songs here in Iran because of terrible oppression. If we celebrate Christmas openly, the government will find out and they will cause problems for us. So we don’t have large gatherings and instead choose to keep in our family group.”
Many believers are in a similar position and those whose families are not tolerant or sympathetic feel especially isolated at this time of year. And yet, regardless of background or belief, ordinary Iranians love the Christmas lights and decorations that cheer up the darkest time of the year.
As it happens, Christmas comes on the heels of a much-loved traditional festival on 21 December, Yalda’s Eve, which celebrates light and the end of darkness. A SAT-7 PARS viewer, Hormoz, observes: “More or less all Iranians see Christmas as a symbol of beauty and love. Alongside the table they set for Yalda’s Eve, many also decorate a Christmas tree, adorn it with lights and lay out gifts.”
Ironically, while Iranians who are not Christian may openly enjoy the outward trappings and festivities of the season, for Muslim-background believers, celebrating Christmas involves significant risk. Any investigation by the authorities would soon reveal a believer’s Christian faith and almost certainly lead to persecution.
Mahnaz, a believer in Iran, wrote to share her experience of last Christmas: “I made friends with a young man called Alireza, who is a believer. We were able to celebrate Christmas and worship God together with few others. All we have is from the Lord and we are grateful to Him.”
If you’re as fascinated and challenged as I am by the above glimpse into a very different context, why not consider celebrating Advent at your school this year through the eyes and stories of Christians in places like Iran, Turkey, Algeria and Egypt? And whilst you do, why not get involved in a special international recording of ‘Silent Night’ at the same time?
Four ways to get involved
- MUSIC: record and film your own version of the ‘Silent Night’ Christmas carol.
- ENGLISH: challenge your class with a special ‘Silent Night’ poetry slam activity.
- GEOGRAPHY/CITIZENSHIP: learn key facts about four Middle Eastern countries and the different ways people celebrate Christmas.
- RELIGIOUS STUDIES: discover more about the worldwide Christian faith through Advent stories and reflections from people across the region.
Martin Thomas is a director at SAT-7 UK and a published children’s author. Find out more here or by calling 01249 765 86.