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December 21, 2007

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Well, I have to say that I agree with you completely. I'd seriously be considering a Catholic school, too, were I in your position. It's one thing to try to teach cultural practices and connecting it to a holiday is a great way to make it concrete for children. But they take such a superficial approach as to make the whole attempt worse than worthless. It does a disservice to everyone. It would be better if they just ignored it altogether.

oh, cj, i hear ya. we live in an area where we have a high percentage of african-american population and we know of NO ONE who celebrates kwanzaa. i'm all for teaching about how different cultures celebrate their harvest but the inordinate attention to that particular holiday seems beyond pc to me. and i so totally hear you about muslim and hindu holidays! hardly mentioned here in the city of immigrants. so hard to understand it.

you have touched on a nerve with me and christmas, as well. maybe i'm getting old and cranky, maybe i'm just turning into a crazy catholic lady, but man, does it ever piss me off to hear what christmas "is"- (it's love! it's family! it's a spirit!- all with completely secular understandings, btw) and never hear about Jesus! and i won't even start on non-believers who "celebrate" christmas- the best part of me believes that the Spirit moves wherever the Spirit wants to in whatever way- maybe this is one of those ways, but i don't know. grinchy indeed.

i don't mind santa as a part of christmas, as long as he gets second billing to Jesus. i really believe he can be used as a great example of discipleship- unconditional love, teaching through example selfless giving, especially those who are less fortunate, love for your neighbor, no matter who they are, etc. but santa *only* comes because it is baby Jesus' birthday- to celebrate His birthday, to bring an idea of the love that was given to us that day once again in a small way, especially in a way our kids can understand. but to make christmas be santa-centered, that, that to me, is so sad and awful, and so *not* christmas. we don't take the religion out of hannukah, why must we for christmas?

If you have a good Catholic school nearby, I say go for it. I'm not normally the weepy type, but if I sit and really think about how grateful I am to be sending my kids to Catholic school, it totally makes me weepy. This morning at school Mass when my seven year old hefted the Big Book above her head in the processional, I almost lost it. She loves it. We love it. It's been such a gift to our family.

Santa's still around (in fact a third grader outed him today I overheard -- oops, that teacher sure had to think fast!) but he most definitely gets second billing. ;)

I totally hate to be the voice of dissent here, but you have to consider how we unbelievers feel about the 'winter holidays.' While I think it is totally, 100% OK and even good for you to celebrate Christmas as the symbolic birth of Christ, keep in mind that other people just don't. And some of those people may get fairly bent out of shape that the Christians felt the need to co-opt the Death and Rebirth of the sun for their own purposes.

Honsetly i would prefer no Christmas in school at all to Christmas = Jesus. I would be pretty upset if my son came home from public school having been indoctrinated by his teacher.

Just sayin'! (Seriously) No disrespect intended.

Hey, Lisa, good to hear from you. I am not suggesting at all that the schools should provide Christian religious education. I am grousing about the apparently random selection of practices chosen for study. The public schools taught the kids the story of Hanukkah; they taught the kids about the origin of Kwanzaa. Then they taught the kids that Christmas is about fireworks in Ghana and trees in Germany.

I do appreciate that you wouldn't want the Moosh to come home telling you that the angels sang glory to God when the baby Jesus was born. But would it bug you if the message was "Some families remember the birth of a baby"? It's the asymmetry that I'm complaining about: the message is that some families celebrate Hanukkah because a supply of oil lasted until it could be replenished, and some families celebrate Christmas because...because...because it's nice to give presents.

Don't worry about being the voice of dissent -- I'd like to hear your perspective.

I guess I am having a knee-jerk reaction to living in the Bible belt. Because I KNOW that there is no way on this green earth that a (likely Baptist, all other things being equal) teacher is going to be impartial regarding Christmas = Jesus. My third grade teacher REQUIRED us to pray before lunch. My fifth grade teacher told us that all non-Christians were going to hell. So I guess I don't trust that there would be equal time, but that may just be a reaction to where I live and my experiences in the local public schools.

Oh by the way, a very Merry Christmas to you and yours! :)

Coming in late to this discussion, I think that Christmas is so obvious and huge, it is inevitable that the public schools touch on it in some way. And I feel your pain about the public school staying so carefully on the secular side of the holiday. And I'll go out on a limb and say that putting Hanukkah in this mix is just wrong. What I would prefer is that the public school acknowledge the important Jewish holidays the same way they do Christmas and Easter. I'd like to see public school kids learning about the shofar and apples+honey in the fall, matzoh and slavery in the spring. That would be equal billing, and nothing about religion either. I'm sure there are equivalent cultural touchstones for Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists that our public schools could incorporate at the appropriate time, which is probably not late December!

If you feel that public schools should be talking about baby Jesus, then I think your kids need to be in a religious school. That was the choice I made.

Lisa, in an earlier version of my comment (which I revised and re-revised and re-re-revised because I so do not want to be the entitled-sounding jerk in this conversation), I mused that there might be some regional differences between your schools and our schools. Here the schools are very, very careful about keeping it neutral: it's all "Warm Winter Wishes" and "Happy Holidays" on the things they bring home, and "Jingle Bells" is as Christmas-y as it gets in music class.

The schools I attended as a kid were full of teachers who regarded the classroom as a mission field, so I hear where you're coming from. It's a pretty different climate here.

Karen, great point about missing the boat re: Jewish holidays. I think holidays can provide a wonderful window into a culture -- it's an approach we used when we were homeschooling. Point taken, too, about public schools. Just to clarify, I'm really not expecting the public schools to teach my children all about the baby Jesus, complete with cherubim and seraphim and pictures of the Church of the Nativity. But to say "Christmas is about Santa Claus and gift-giving" is its own kind of indoctrination, and it still doesn't sit quite right with me.

Happy Boxing Day to all! No one gets offended by Boxing Day, right? :-)

Fascinating discussion. I totally agree with what you're saying about Santa Claus -- he has no place in our home. However, as a Christian who has problems with Christmas particularly because of what Lisa C. said at the end of the first paragraph of her first comment -- that this was a "holiday" celebrated before Christians chose it to celebrate the birth of Jesus (which clearly didn't happen at this time of the year)-- I find this discussion quite interesting and I like to hear opinions of people like Lisa C.

My son is in a tiny religious school, not in public school, BTW...

I had the thought a week or so ago that Christmas without Advent is sort of like sex without romance. Lots of people apparently enjoy it, but to me it seems a little pointless.

Now that I'm the only person around who still thinks it's Christmas, I feel a little mellower.

lisa c, i think it's an excellent point that in many parts of this country it would be challenging to have world religions taught from a factual, and *not* indoctrination point-of-view.

however, i do think that our public schools could do a much better job in the primary-level years of teaching our kids the facts about different major religions without having it turn into religious eduction. that's what religious ed programs at your local parish, church, synagogue or mosque are for (not to mention your family). but i really believe that at this point in our nations history it could really benefit our children to have a much more comprehensive understanding of what peoples around the world believe, at least the basic facts.

there is a significant difference between learning that Christians believe that Jesus=God (or fill in other religion) and learning that "if you believe that Jesus=God you are 'saved'" etc. it's my understanding that this is how religion is taught in public schools in britain.


with all due respect, i'm surprised that the "problem" with christmas is that is is celebrated in december 25th, with other winter holidays. it's pretty common knowledge that Jesus of Nazareth wasn't born in december. and to be bothered that early christians appropriated the solstice celebrations of hope and rebirth of the sun with the Son- well, that sort of disregards the nearly 2000 years of tradition surrounding the holiday since then, and the millions of people who have believed and celebrated. i mean, christmas does= the birth of Jesus. Christmas does not= solstice. solstice=solstice. and the nearly 2000 years of history that people have had celebrating the birth of Jesus since it happened is an important thing in it's own right.

I am always taken a tiny bit aback by the complete and absolute disappearance of all things Christmas sometime in the early hours of December 26th. The music started here on the radios on November 3rd (maybe it was earlier, that's just when I stumbled upon one of those 24-hour stations and went fleeing in agony back toward NPR), the decorations were up on November 1st, but on the SECOND DAY OF CHRISTMAS it was as if the whole thing had disappeared into the ether. Very bizarre, really.

I long for the old Northern European habit of putting up the trees on December 24th, and feasting and carousing right through Epiphany, partly to continue the pagan practices of putting light into the darkness, and partly to celebrate a remarkable birth. But it ain't going to happen in this country, not now, not ever. Ah well....

I tend to think that almost every cultural discussion we have these days about Christianity is so profoundly distasteful, no matter who starts the conversation (remember last year, when all the big evangelical churches skipped Christmas services so everyone could stay home with their families? Ack) that I've decided just not to care. I know my kids are getting a message about Advent and Christmas that works for our family, and if the schools want to do something completely secular, I guess I'm okay with that after all.

I don't think, btw, that my kids understand the Hanukkah story any better than non-Christians would come out of school understanding the Christmas story. It's all about dreidels and shamis candles in their minds, and what oil and miracles have to do with it, they couldn't tell you.

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