Monday, December 06, 2004

Christmas Excluding Christ

Today One Man's Thoughts links to this story about a holiday celebration in a McHenry school. Apparently, the celebration mentioned several traditions, but completely left out any mention of the Christian reasons for Christmas:
When children who attend the McHenry County school gathered in the gym last week to brighten friends and parents with holiday cheer, they sang of lighting candles for Hanukkah, gave their rendition of a Jamaican folk song and even did their lists for Santa.

But their songs never mentioned Christ or the Christmas story--an omission that drew swift criticism from Christian groups pushing public schools to remember the meaning of Christmas.
According to the article, the administrators did not mean to exclude Christmas - they were trying to be inclusive. OneMan makes the following point:
I am not asking for a church service or for anything like that, but could we at least pretend my tradition exists as well without living in fear of a lawsuit?
Now, I believe very strongly in the separation of church and state - both for the sake of religion and for the sake of the state. And I tend to be somewhat suspicious when religious groups start harping that the godless ACLU is anti-religion (they aren't - they have defended the right of students to express religion in public schools. See this position paper for more).

That said, I pretty much agree with OneMan on this. A (public) school program that focused exclusively on the Christian Christmas story to the exclusion of all other traditions would certainly be wrong and unfair to those of other religions. A program that focuses on other religious traditions to the complete exclusion of Christianity is equally wrong. Why does this seem so simple and straightforward to me?

Christmas is a very strange holiday when you get right down to it - especially compared to other religious holidays. You generally don't see non-Jews celebrating Hanukkah, the High Holy Days, or Passover. You don't see non-Muslims practicing Ramadan. Yet many, many, many non-Christians celebrate Christmas every year.

This post over at Hugo's blog describes the non-Christian Christmas celebrations he grew up with:
"My mother bequeathed to me a passion for all things Christmas. My mother is also a firm non-believer. (She read Bertrand Russell in college and that did it.) For us, Christmas was about lights, about carols, about gifts, about chocolate, and of course, the tree. I was raised to be passionate about Christmas trees. I still am passionate about Christmas trees."
This struck a cord with me, as my upbringing was very similar. My parents are not believers. As a child, we only went to church when we "had" to - that is, when Grandma and Grandpa visited on a Sunday. They did not approve of their son's decision to abandon the faith of his childhood, and they pushed religion at us at every opportunity. (As a completely off-topic aside, this is where I must point out that of their three children, my atheist father was the only one who managed to hold his marriage together. The other two, the ones who kept the faith and looked down on us heathens, they ended up divorced. Not that there is anything wrong with that of course, but you would think it might make them a bit less judgmental and a bit more humble. You would, alas, be wrong).

Anyway, we were not a believing family. And yet, Christmas was a huge day in our home - not just Dec. 25, but they entire month of December. My mom starts decorating shortly after Thanksgiving and sometimes isn't done yet by Christmas day...there have been many years when Laura and I went to their house on Christmas Eve and helped decorate the tree. Besides the Christmas tree, my mom also has an enormous collection of Deptartment 56 Snow Village pieces, and she sets up elaborate Christmas villages all over the house.

There was a very brief time when I was a teenager and in my Christian Fundamentalist phase (that's a story for another day) when I thought it very strange to see my non-believing mother arranging a manger scene complete with angels in the living room. I suppose this doesn't strike me as odd any longer, now that I am the mostly-non-believing one walking around with the words to O Holy Night echoing around in my head in December. That, incidentally, is one of my favorite Christmas songs, and it is hardly one you could call secular. I highly recommend the instrumental version performed by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

It just seems that there is enough room in the "holiday season" for everyone.

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