But a debate over the politically correctness of some fancy dress choices has taken centre stage this year after a nursery in Hamburg spoke out against stereotypical costumes it saw as problematic.
At an Elbkinder Kita in the city’s Ottensen district, nursery teachers asked that children did not dress up as Native Americans, donning feather headdresses and face paint for example, or as mini-sheikhs during Carnival celebrations.
The news has created a storm in German media, with some people saying it’s about time that stereotypes were addressed, while others have questioned if it’s too politically correct.
'Costumes shouldn't serve stereotypes'
The nursery teachers in the Kita reached out to parents in the run up to the annual Karneval celebrations that take place across much of Germany.
“We would like to ask you, together with your children, to make sure when choosing the costume that it does not serve any stereotypes,” the Kita said to parents, reported Stern.
In short, the kindergarten wanted to celebrate without stereotypical costumes.
This includes, among other things, the popular “Indian” costume based on Native American traditional dress, as well as sheikh costumes.
The Kita advocates a “non-discriminatory and prejudice-conscious upbringing” and wanted to make children aware of how to deal with this topic.
Carnival costumes brought the topic to the spotlight, but nursery teachers want to educate youngsters about it in everyday life, the Elbkinder association, the largest kindergarten operator in Hamburg, said to Stern.
A worldwide debate
A wider debate about offensive costumes has surfaced worldwide in recent years. Lots of people find that wearing Native American-style clothes in a fancy-dress surrounding is cultural appropriation and disrespectful to an oppressed group that has been historically marginalized.
The Kita is one of 185 facilities run by the Elbkinder association, which states it is “fundamentally positive about the culturally sensitive handling” of different ethnic groups. This is one of the reasons why the Eulenstraße nursery school has adopted “prejudice-conscious pedagogy” as its motto.
This so-called inclusion project aims to help children understand and correctly classify prejudices and to raise awareness of them.
However, the Kita operator repeatedly emphasized to media that the “stereotype-free” carnival was not meant as a ban. They said parents had, on the whole, been positive about their ideas.
Other stereotypes also discouraged
The Kita relies not only on its own motto, but also on an article in a brochure called “Kids aktuell”, which is supported by the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth.
In it, the authors draw particular attention to the problem of so-called “Indian” costumes. Among other points, it says that “Indians” never existed as a homogeneous group.
In the course of the colonization of North and South America, the term had been imposed on the population of that time and was thus “connected with the brutal annihilation of large parts of this group of people”. Feather jewellery and face painting are therefore “disrespectful”.
The article also criticizes gender stereotypical disguises – such as girls dressed as princesses. According to the text, it is better to see girls dressed as pirates and boys dressed as mermaids.
The Hamburger Morgenpost reported that another nursery in the Hanseatic city had got rid of costumes for similar reasons. On Rosenmontag (Rose Monday), the children were to appear in white T-shirts, which were then colorfully painted in the kindergarten.