The Sensitivity Around a Christmas-Themed Class

With the holidays right around the corner, it’s time to start planning our Christmas-themed class, right? Aren’t all indoor cycling instructors spending the next few weeks listening to their favorite carols to decide which ones to use in class? Perhaps we’ve already begun mixing our favorite Christmas-themed playlists. Aren’t we all thinking about how we’re going to decorate the cycling room to create holiday cheer in our December classes?

Whether we’re doing any of these activities certainly depends on our circumstances, our clientele, and the policies of the club or studio. In our increasingly multicultural society, we need to be sensitive to the possibility that our clients may not celebrate Christmas or even be Christian. I’m not; I’m Jewish. I have regulars who are Christian, Hindi, Jewish, and Muslim. And there are probably some agnostics and atheists pedaling right alongside them.

Like politics, religion is something that needs to be handled delicately when you’ve got a wide variety of participants. Does that mean that you shouldn’t even acknowledge the holidays in your classes? No, as long as you’re sensitive about it. Depending on your audience, you can use this as an opportunity to celebrate. The celebration could be the festive holiday season, the friendships that you’ve developed with your members, or even a thank you for a great year of participation. It shouldn’t be a celebration of anything overtly religious, like the birth of Christ. That’s best done in church, not the cycling room. (Unless you happen to work at a Christian facility, as I know some do.)

I’ve traditionally done a ride incorporating some of the secular aspects of the holidays at the end of each year. My “Ridin’ for Rudolph and the Reindeer Holiday Profile” was published by ICA a few years ago. It includes the non-religious customs associated with the holidays, such as Santa, reindeer, and gifts. I use it to allow me to give gifts to my riders as a token of my appreciation for their support during the previous 12 months. Selfishly, it also is an opportunity for my riders to give me an end-of-year gift, which many have graciously done over the years.  As with all of my rides, there is a purpose, a profile which fits the purpose, and a playlist which complements the profile. In this case, the playlist consists of holiday songs, which are all non-religious (and non-traditional, since that’s my style).

One of the enjoyable things about the holiday season is the music. There are so many songs that rejoice in the spirit without touching on religion. And I’m not talking about Christmas carols. Many popular artists have released holiday songs that are well suited for indoor cycling playlists, including Ariana Grande, The Beatles, Bruce Springsteen, and Mariah Carey. My tastes tend toward indie and alternative rock, so I’ve used songs by The Killers, Sufjan Stevens, and Julian Casablancas from The Strokes. All of these artists offer festive and fun songs that don’t mention Jesus, the manger, Bethlehem, or any other religious items.

If you’re thinking that it would be all right to play religious songs as long as you’re inclusive and include everyone’s religion, you should give that further consideration. What do you know about other religions? For example, did you know that Hanukkah is a minor Jewish holiday, made more important in western society because it coincides with Christmas? If you’re considering playing that insipid Adam Sandler Hanukkah song, don’t. It’s terrible and I’d probably walk out of your class if I heard it. I might even punch you in the face for it on my way out. Since I know very little about the holiday of Diwali, it would be disingenuous (and probably insulting) if I played Bollywood music as part of my holiday playlist to placate my Hindi riders.

If you’ve come to the conclusion after reading this article that Bill the Grinch has stolen your Christmas, that’s not the case. Ultimately, your name is on the schedule and it’s your class. If you want to do a Christmas-themed class to end the year, go ahead and do it. If you know your demographics and feel that it won’t be offensive to anyone to have a religious bent to your class, do it. Just be sensitive about it.

In my case, two of my locations are at gyms with mixed demographics. So, I will be providing my “Ridin’ for Rudolph and the Reindeer Holiday Profile” for my riders. However, I start a new gig at the local Jewish Community Center in December. Although I don’t yet know any of the members, I can assume that some of them may not appreciate even a secular holiday-themed ride, so I won’t be doing “Ridin’ for Rudolph…” there. Plus, it doesn’t make sense for me to show my appreciation for the past year of support from riders that will only have ridden with me for a couple of weeks. I’m not sure what I’ll do with my class at the JCC when I’m doing my secular holiday-themed ride with my other classes. I know one thing that I won’t be doing. I won’t be playing that stupid Adam Sandler Hannukah song. If I did, I’d end up walking out of my own class and punching myself in the face.

Happy Holidays!

 chirstmas=temed ride

8 Responses to “The Sensitivity Around a Christmas-Themed Class”

  1. Bill Pierce says:

    Showing my insensitivity regarding religious holidays, I wrote about considering Bollywood music to be inclusive to Hindus celebrating Diwali in the article. Although the date changes yearly since it’s based on the lunar calendar, this year it fell in mid-October. Hanukkah starts on December 12th and ends on December 20th this year, but it remains a minor Jewish holiday and there has yet to be a good song written which celebrates Hanukkah. As a warning to anyone considering playing that stupid Adam Sandler song, I will be traveling over the holidays and may be taking your class. I can’t be held responsible for what might happen if I’m in your class when you play that song. 😉

  2. Carmen says:

    This is surely aplicable to other holidays, such as Halloween, or even birthday celebrations.d

    • Bill Pierce says:

      Being sensitive to your riders is applicable to all classes, not just holidays. However, we really need to be aware of others’ feelings surrounding classes based on religious holidays because not everyone is the same religion or feels the same way about religious holidays.

  3. Yes! All the way yes. I couldn’t agree more. I think being respectful and aware of where our students are coming from is so important. Over 50% of the residents of one of the communities I teach to identifies as Puerto Rican which has made for some great learning experiences for me around language and music. Hopefully what I’ve learned translates to a really enjoyable class for all my students.

    • Bill Pierce says:

      While I don’t have any Puerto Rican regulars that I’m aware of, I have a very diverse population in my classes. As a result, I am consciously inclusive in my messages and music.
      I have an interesting story related to this. One time when I was doing my Chase Across the Europe and the Middle East class (https://www.indoorcyclingassociation.com/chase-across-europe-and-middle-east/), I jokingly said that anyone who knew the words to the Syrian song (Wenu Wenu) that I played as we rode through the bombed out cities of Homs and Aleppo should sing them out loud. One gentleman did. He was from Syria and spoke fluent Syrian. Too bad that Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson wasn’t in my class.

  4. Bill Pierce says:

    The link to the Julian Casablancas tracks above in the article is from the original version, which was featured on SNL. The Strokes’ lead singer did a much cooler version, found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bAzxdW5SAxc, and on Spotify titled as ‘Christmas Treat.’ This song was in a car commercial and is now incorporated into my Ridin’ for Rudolph profile.

  5. Cyclequeen says:

    You are on the pulse of us Bill. I did not play my usual Veteran’s Day ride when you posted that some riders in your class had difficulty. I made a new CD and told my riders we are all fighting some battle. I’m all for a spirit ride. Thank you for your awareness. Ride on.

    • Bill Pierce says:

      It sounds like you did what was right for your class on Veterans Day. Similarly, we should think about doing the appropriate thing for Christmas, which will vary depending on the circumstances.

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