I agree with Errol Laborde on many things – although notably NOT shrimp, which I hate and he loves – and he is one of my favorite humans. And I know Errol loves Christmas, traditions, and especially Christmas traditions.
All that said, though, I respectfully disagree with his blog post from yesterday about how Christmas should be celebrated in America’s public schools.
His point is that Christmas is cultural, which I concede to an extent (according to the Pew Research Center, only 46 percent of people who celebrate Christmas do so as a religious observance, with an increasingly number of millennials saying they celebrate Christmas only culturally). But it’s also clearly religious. It is a holiday to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.
I work at a public school, and we do have many cultures represented here. Our students have a Black Culture Club, Middle Eastern Culture Club, Jewish Culture Club, Chinese Culture Club, and a Christian youth club, among many others.
All of these clubs and their members are welcome to celebrate holidays in any way they’d like. We haven’t kept religion out of the school; students are allowed to pray. The difference between a public school – one of the many differences, I guess – and a religious school is that we don’t require anyone to pray to a certain God or pray at all. We don’t endorse any particular religion because there is no one religion we all observe. Therefore, having a “Christmas concert” would be needlessly exclusionary when it hurts no one to call it a “winter concert.”
When I was in eighth grade, my friend and I planned to host a Christmas party at her house. As we were preparing to Xerox our invitations at Kinko’s, which tells you how long ago this was, I suddenly turned to her and said, “What about Jackie?”
Her eyes got wide. “And Adam!” she said.
It occurred to us, two self-centered 13-year-olds, more than 25 years ago, that calling our party a “Christmas party” was going to exclude two of our friends who were Jewish.
We went over to the little workstation, used about half a bottle of Liquid Paper, waited for it to dry, and inked the word “holiday” where the word “Christmas” had been.
Did we have to do it? Would our Jewish friends still have come, just so as not to have been left out entirely?
No and yes, almost certainly. But it was a small gesture, one that cost us nothing and hopefully made our friends feel more included and welcome.
No American is unaware that Christmas is the dominant holiday this time of year; more than 90 percent of Americans celebrate it, and the 10 percent who don’t can’t ignore it.
I’m not offended if someone wishes me a merry Christmas; I’m also not offended if someone wishes me a happy Hanukkah (particularly not if the wish comes with latkes!); and I’m also not offended if someone tells me to have a happy holiday season. These are all kind greetings, given from the heart!
But it’s not just the “overly PC” people who get offended this time of year. The people who castigate Starbucks for not having an overtly religious message on coffee cups when they’re not attempting to be a religious organization or anything more than a retailer of overpriced coffee really seem like they’re making a huge reach to me. And I think the same thing about being upset that public schools aren’t forcing Christmas on all of their students, Christian or not.
In his column, Errol worries about all children being denied the excitement of Christmas, including non-Christian children. I understand that Errol wants that joy for everyone – I get the goodness in his heart – but as a Christian, I don’t want Christmas to be nothing but presents and Santa Claus, and if I were a member of another faith, I wouldn’t want my child being whipped into a frenzy of excitement about a tradition I wasn’t planning to practice in my own home.
And trust me: My older daughter attended a public school when she was younger, and she was in no way denied the excitement of Christmas. At school, she had a holiday concert, a holiday party, a holiday bake sale, and then a two-week long winter vacation. At home, we had a Christmas tree and baked Christmas cookies and hung Christmas stockings and read Christmas stories and went to Christmas Mass and then opened Christmas presents.
What she learned from this was an important lesson: We are Christians. We celebrate Christmas. Not everyone is like us, and they matter too. Being kind and inclusive is a goal of mine year-round, and even more so at Christmas.