December 16th 6:20 PM
Winds buffeted around me tugging at my calf length wool coat, as if some unseen phantom were helping me off with it. With great resolve I hiked my purse onto my shoulder and thrust my gloved hands deep into pockets. I waited for my husband as he closed the drivers side of our Ford expertly with his hip, and locked our car remotely. His head cocked to one side listening for the “chirp”, “chirp” of the alarm, letting us know all four doors were locked. The street lamp targeted my husband and I giggled at the weird figure he cut, more Gor Tex than man, he was like some large lumbering Eskimo. Wanting to take his arm as we walked into the building, but not wanting to release my right hand from the depths of it’s burrow, I just motioned with my head to hurry it along. I did not want to open my mouth either, for fear my teeth would freeze and shatter, falling onto the slick asphalt like dice in a crap game. We were no more than a few steps on our way, when both of us let out expletives, which rang out into the silent night. My husband trying to gain his balance like a surfer riding a wave, as one hand gripped onto the collar of my coat. I went down into a death spiral only a figure skater could repeat, spinning a full 360 degrees. In a second both of us were flat on our backs, gazing up into a black velvet sky with thousands of stars twinkling merrily. The big white disk of the moon seemed to be grinning at me, as if to say, “Saw that! 5.1 for that death spiral Judy!”
“I hate winter”, my husband groaned.
I was still determined not to let cold air in, so all I let out was, “mm mmm”, with a heavy accent on the last “mmm.”
My husband heaved himself up, then lifted me off the icy pavement by grabbing onto my coat and pulling me to my feet. I was also determined to keep my gloved hands in their nests. We trudged our way into the brightly lit foyer of our children’s school, leaving the Arctic temperature outside where it belonged.
Inside was a winter wonderland. Snow born from aerosol cans had been sprayed onto windows, tufts of batting plucked and picked to form great fluffy dunes of imitation snow drifts. More fluff was fixed onto murals depicting snowmen, snow women and snow children. Snowflakes hung from the high ceilings on fishing line, some had glitter causing metallic silvery rain to fall when ever the door opened, or the heat kicked on. I peeked into the auditorium hoping to see my children Peter and Natalie, before the concert began. On stage stood an enormous paper mache’ snow man, front and center. There was even more cottony fluff carpeting the stage, as deep and high as thick piled carpet; and of course, the ubiquitous snowflakes. For some reason I did not feel warmer even though I was inside a heated building.
Through the crowd of parkas, ear muffs, scarves and Ugg boots I spotted the face of my husband wearing a look of consternation. His two eyebrows meeting at at the center so that he resembled Bert from Sesame Sreet. I could tell there was something, or someone disturbing his otherwise peaceful countenance. I walked over, curious and a little amused to see him gripping a sheaf of folded paper in one hand and pointing profusely at it with the other. “Douglas what is the matter?” I quipped.
“I’ll tell you what is the matter Judy”, my husband said breathing hard like a bull ready to charge. “He opened his fist and shook out the papers which fell back into the shape of tonight’s printed program; the concert our own children would be performing in. “Not one Christmas song, not one Hanukkah song, not one Kwanzaa song, not one song about Rudolf, not one Feliz Navidad! Taking the program from my husband I inspected it while he went to look for the schools principal.
On the cover were a myriad of snow people, igloos and snowflakes. The snow people had instruments with notes floating out of their horns and flutes, which mingled with the winter landscape. Big block letters spelled out WINTER CONCERT. Then it hit me, what were we celebrating? Winter? We hated winter! I read the program, using my now un-gloved finger to guide me through every word….not one song that bespoke of the holidays that were less than two weeks away! Just then, my husband came through the crowd, his cheeks puffed out, his face red. I looked back at him wearing a miffed expression on my own face, my arms at right angles, palms turned up in an expression of, what?
What it is, happens to be a growing trend spreading across America; the banishment of the holiday season from our public schools. Christmas, Hannukah and even Kwanzaa are not even mentioned in some schools, and if this were to become the norm, it would be a catastrophic loss we as a nation might not ever recover from. On that note… there are communities that are now asking, what Scrooge did away with the spirit of the holiday season?
The same question was posed in an article titled, “Is a Spirit of Scrooge Limiting Your Child’s Holiday Season
The author Cindy Haley who writes for the Norfolk Grand Parenting Examiner explored the recent case of Byam Elementary School of Massachusetts. The school has put a ban on all holiday celebrations, relinquishing anything pertaining to Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. Haley writes, “How long has it been since the Christmas Break has been called the ‘Christmas Break’ in your grandchild’s school? No, in ‘fairness’ to all, it is now, and has been for years, just the ‘Winter Break’. Same with Easter. It all starts with a little spin on words…or just the omission of them.” (Haley) Haley reminds us that, “We are American, and asks if we remember our roots” (Haley) Over two hundred years ago we fought for freedom and won the right to celebrate our traditions and various religions without fear or retribution. If we are to omit all holidays what are we teaching the young people of America? One irate parent Haley quoted in her article stated, “Tolerance is about inclusion, not exclusion, a statement which I believe rings true.
There is hardly a place on earth where only one race of people occupy a particular space, or where only one religion is practiced. There are people of mixed races, and people who do not recognize religion at all, we are globally diverse. America is teaming with a population as different from one another, as snowflakes are to each other. A public schools community is created directly from the children, family and staff of the population the district services. Each person within that schools community has an identity as singular as the marks etched into the pads of their finger tips. A public school has the capacity for recognizing and respecting the cultural differences of others; and being that most schools are naturally diverse, it should and can be accomplished. This was the subject Pegg Riehl M.Ed, a family and life educator wrote about for the National Network for Child Care in a news letter titled, “Celebrating Diversity and Meeting Children’s Developmental Needs” she states,
“Consider experiences from the point of view of children in your program. If the children
do celebrate holidays differently, perhaps because they are of different religions or
cultures, you can build on their knowledge of each other. The lesson that a friend
celebrates different holidays, or the same holiday in a different way, and is still a
friend, is the most important lesson for appreciating differences. It is the concept that
difference does not mean better or worse.” (Riehl M. Ed.)
Another concept Riehl states in her newsletter is, “as part of their social development, children learn about themselves, their families, and their community. How and what we teach in this process helps shape the values and beliefs of tomorrow’s leaders.” (Riehl) Riehl’s point is that we are not a country made of one homogeneous race. To have our children celebrate each others differences, by sharing in each others cultures and traditions can only benefit our country and our world. By teaching our children to accept other people’s cultural differences, we are helping to construct a generation that will be better equipped to understand what it truly means to get along with, and respect the other people who inhabit the world with us. It would be better to celebrate all the holidays that fall around the month of December, to embrace the very differences that makes all of us unique and special.
December 16th 7:35 PM
Sitting in the darkened theater we listen to our son Peter playing clarinet, as the sixth grade band performs their rendition of Glen Miller’s big band hit, “In The Mood”. Even in the dark, I could sense my husband smile as my son’s tell tale “squeak” escaped from his instrument. He leaned into me saying, ” You know what I am in the mood for?”I smiled at him, rolling my eyes thinking I knew just what response was coming. “What are you in the mood for Douglass?”
“Some holiday music!” He looked at me, smiled, patted my hand and went back to the show.
I gave him a smirk, then got to thinking… There is no other time of the year which comes close to the joy we seem to possess, body and soul during the holiday season. It is the time of year when humans are least selfish, when our natures seem to grow more tender and retrospect. We smile at strangers we meet on the street, wanting to outwardly share the gladness we feel ourselves. It is almost as if some magic spell has swept over our world, collectively changing us, bringing with it the spirit of good will for us to keep… if only for a little while. I was awoken out of my reverie by the sound of clapping and my husband tugging on my arm.
“Let’s go get something to drink, I’m parched!” We shuffled behind the parade of parents and grandparents, and small children making our way into the cafeteria. An assortment of cakes and cookies were on display and up for sale. I spotted my friend Shirley in front of a large tray of brownies. “Oh look Douglass it’s the Goldenbergs, let’s go say hello.” Waving to get my friends attention she waved back, we both walked toward each other, our husbands tailing along. “Hello Shirley, how are you?” I said, as I went to kiss her cheek. Shirley and her husband Lester wore the same look of consternation greatly resembling my husbands face, not more than an hour ago.
“Judy!” Shirley says my name staring me full in the face, “Judy, you know that I have been making cupcakes for the schools bake sale as long as my youngest was in this same school, and that was eleven years ago!” She takes my hand and pulls me in, whispering sharply in my ear, “They told me I would have to remove the chocolate dreidles from all 42 cupcakes, if they were to be included in the bake sale! Remove them! Remove them! What would be left, I ask you? A little hollow in the middle of the vanilla frosting, like mashed potatoes! I should pour in gravy instead? You think I’d put a swastikas on the whole lot, the way they shunned me!” Shirley’s lip quivered as she stepped back and waited for my response.
“Shirley they don’t deserve your altruism!” I said, and then just stood there, a little shocked to see my friend, who is always so good natured and happy, sniffing back tears.
My husband interjected, with great flourish he asked, “Shirley where are your cupcakes now?”
“The trunk of my car” Lester replied in a gruff voice, unnatural to his demeanor as snowfall in August.
My husband removed his watch from under his sleeve and checked the time. “We have at least eleven minutes. Do you think we can make it to the parking lot and back, I would love one, or maybe even two of your cupcakes Shirley.”
Shirley smiled and took my husbands arm, “Yes lets” she said looking up at my husband, grateful for his suggestion. “Just be careful, I dropped my purse and it went sailing like a curling stone on that ice out there!”
“Shirley, did you know Judy can figure skate?”
I slapped at my husband’s Gor Tex bicep, feeling the color rise on my cheeks.
Think this scenario is far fetched? That a school could put a ban on all holiday accoutrement’s? The Byam School district not only banned Christmas music, they went as far to eradicate anything remotely related to the holiday season as shown on this clip titled School Bans Holiday Items At Gift Shop. Cut and past link to view news clip.
The separation of church and state is a legal and political principal derived from the United States first Amendment to our Constitution. The first amendment also endows this county religious tolerance, it is the first of our unalienable rights enshrined in our Bill of Rights. The holiday season is a time when this diverse nation in which we all live comes together to rejoice and celebrate each others traditions. Celebrating the holidays is not the same as teaching religious doctrine, but what we must teach, and practice is tolerance!
I will revisit a quote from Haley’s article on the Byam School District given by an anonymous parent, “How long since students were allowed to sing actual Christmas Carols during the Holiday”…or maybe “Winter production? With a little extra effort and creativity, music teachers can figure out ways to work students in and out of acceptable and non- acceptable pieces in honor of family religious practices. Would this not be preferable to losing the joy of celebration altogether?” (anonymous) I would like my readers to pause just a moment to reflect on these words, of which the owner remains anonymous, but the statement easily deciphers into a very simple and practical solution that is worth consideration.
It is not just Christmas that is being omitted from our public schools. It is Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. At an increasing rate all over America instances of banning anything that remotely smacks of the holidays is becoming more and more prevalent. In an online article titled, “Christmas Music Banned In Jersey School District, a Bulletin Staff Report, written as recently as November 2009, reports about a school that has put a ban on all religious music, including instrumentals, because one parent complained. This issue was taken to court and in the ruling by the Third Circuit it was approved that school policy must now prohibit Christmas selections such as Silent Night, Joy to the World, and Oh Come All Ye Faithful. However, Rudolf the Red- nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman was approved. Although this schools policy was not quite so severe as the Byam’s school districts complete ban on everything pertaining to the holidays…the seed has been planted and where, or how far the banishment of the holiday season from our public schools will go, no one knows for sure. But, not acknowledging the holidays is certainly not teaching tolerance.
The subject of teaching children about divercity was the topic for another article titled, “The Delemma Of Celebrating the Holidays At School” written by Amy Benoit for the Baystate Parent. Benoit is a third grade teacher at Worcester arts Magnet School and a Massachusetts-based freelance writer. Benoit reports, “Many local teachers agree holidays are perfect avenues to explore similarities and differences, showcasing each child’s diversity. For example, Diwali, Hanukkah, Ramadan, Las Posadas, Kwanzaa, and Christmas share a commonality, involving celebrations with light. Oil lamps, menorahs, lanterns, candles, kinaras and trees are lit in honor. (Benoit) Jessica Guetin, a kindergarten teacher at the Kane Elementary School in Marlborough was quoted as saying, “she feels that it is her obligation to learn more about the many traditions celebrated by the students in her classroom. “The holiday season is a time when children are able to take ownership of what they learn as well as what they are able to contribute, It is also one of the many times during the year when I’m learning just as much as I am teaching!” (Guetin) To best sum it all up, celebrating holidays in the public schools is a wonderful exercise in teaching cultural divercity to children.
Although I strongly believe that no one should be outwardly offensive to another person, especially in a school environment, the restrictions that are being put upon certain holiday traditions goes against our freedom of speech. A freedom born from the very idea that as American’s we will be tolerant of all people. This freedom we inherit by just being born American, a freedom as innate as the genes we’ve inherited from our parents. If we decide one holiday is offensive, what is going to stop someone from deciding yet another holiday is offensive as well? We have an opportunity to teach our children in their most formative years how to be tolerant, and how to respect their peers. Our forefathers paved the way for this country to be unburdened by prejudice, and we have strived hard to make sure all people are treated equally, and are continuing to do so. Public schools are the perfect venue to celebrate how people of all nations, religions and backgrounds can come together to express not only tolerance, but kindness, humility and what it means to live in a free nation.
December 16th 8:40 PM
Applause once again and my husband and I get on the line to shuffle our way out of the auditorium. Once out of the theater our eyes try to adjust to the fluorescent lighting. I shout to my husband over the noise of a hundred voices all talking at once, “I’m going to the ladies room, you get Peter and Natalie, I’ll meet you here.” Shimmying my way through the crowd in the direction of the ladies room, I can detect the tell tale row of women with anxious faces clutching pocketbooks, I would have to wait on line. Taking my place, I shift my pocket book to the other shoulder so I can use the wall to lean on, and then I let out a little sigh. Just then, feeling a light touch on my shoulder I turn around and to the beautiful face of my neighbor Janiyah Washington.
“I heard you sigh, are you tired, or are you as upset as Terrall and I are about this so called holiday concert?” Janiyah asks me.
“Winter concert” I report in a flat voice, “We are celebrating winter…this concert was an ode to that giant snowman they put on stage.”
Janiyah reads my expression and knows I am being more than facetious, and that I am as angry and disappointed as she is. We both move up about twelve inches and resume our conversation. Janiyah gives her braids a toss, and with one hand on her hip she says what’s on her mind, “Terrall was in Afghanistan for almost six months, we thought for sure he was going to miss the holidays. While he was away Jayda wrote him emails and letters every day. She told my husband how she was going to perform an African dance for Kwanzaa, one that she had learned at camp this past summer. Janiyah takes a deep breath, her pupils seem to go under water, as tears well up making her amber eyes swim. Her music teacher called to tell me that part of the concert would be cut. I think that man was a sad as my daughter. He had to revamp the whole production this year by order of the school board! It is un-American I tell you! My husband puts his life on the line for his country, so that we can all live free. He can’t even see his baby girl perform a dance she practiced just for him. Isn’t America supposed to be a melting pot? We’re all in this together, just one stirred up stew of people enjoying the freedom to be who we are.”
She swipes at her eyes streaking her mascara across her cheek, I handed her a rolled up napkin from Burger King I had scavenged from my purse. “If we let this go Judy, there will be no holiday that is safe. There’s going to be signs posted around here warning us NO ST. PATRICK’S DAY, not everyone is Irish, NO MOTHER or FATHER’S DAY, not everyone has one of those. NO THANKS GIVING , not everyone feels thankful and of course Easter and Passover are out, and don’t get me started on Halloween… why, that one would have them all running for the hills!” That’s when she laughed, a little uncomfortably, feeling a bit embarrassed for getting emotional in such a public place.
Even though there was a space at least fourteen inches for us to move up, I stood and hugged Janiyah, patting her back and promising we would find other people to fight this thing with us.
“Undecking the Halls” written by John Leo for the U.S. World and News Report discusses the subject of abolishing the holidays from our public schools. Leo writes,
“The word “inclusion” comes up all the time as a term used by those who wish to
obliterate rather than include. This is certainly so in Plainfield, Ill., where elementary
school principal Sandy Niemiera made a startling announcement: Because of diversity
concerns, students will no longer be allowed to celebrate any holidays at all. So
goodbye to Valentine’s Day, Halloween, and Thanksgiving, as well as Christmas and
Hanukkah, because the school needs to “respect each individual’s uniqueness but also
to help us look for and celebrate those things that we have in common.” What the
students will have in common, of course, is a sterile, tradition-free public environment.
And the school-induced sense that religion and ritual are inherently dangerous.” (Leo)
“Leo’s article reads like snap shots taken of what is occuring all over America. He is warning that we should recognise that inclusion has come to mean exclusion. In an effort to not to offend anyone, we are excluding everyone. Leo’s message is prophetic, there will always be that one person who will veto against the norm, we must take care to keep our traditions alive!
Lydia Kulbida is an anchor/reporter for wten in an article titled Happy Holidays vs Merry Christmas she writes about a war on words which is raging across America, that picks up veracity as we near the month of December. Kulbida’s report and research is similar to what John Leo had written about in his article “Undecking the Halls’, both articles encapsulating the opinions of people who feel banning the holidays is wrong. Kulbida recalls one person who called into Albany Mayor’s Jerry Jenning’s radio show wanting to know why the cities Christmas tree is now called the Holiday tree? Someone else responds how her child’s school replaced their tree with a giant snowman, calling in un-American.” Kulbida writes, “Isn’t this supposed to be a season of peace? Even the Grinch learned after trying to steal Christmas from Whoville, that it came without packages, boxes and bows.” (Kulbida) The Grinch realized how special the holidays are, cartoon character that he might have been….but the message he learned is one other people could use to learn as well, that the holidays are a gift of peace and joy. When we embrace the holidays and cultural traditions of other people we are practicing what we preach to our children. We practice respect for our multicultural communities, we practice tolerance for all people, and we can come together, for the sheer joy of the moment. It would be better to have our children grow up with these holidays in their school environments, than to cast them aside.
December 17th 2:24 am
At home my whole family is sleeping, it is deep night and I am up, my husband snoring lightly beside me. I am lost in my own thoughts as I try to drift off to sleep, when all of a sudden my husband bolts upright in bed.
I cannot see him in the darkness but I sense he is stressed, he calls my name, “Judy! Judy!”
“Douglass what is the matter?” I say into the darkness reaching for his back and rubbing it reassuringly.
“I had a nightmare!”
“Apparently a very real one, you sweated right through your pajama top!”
“Judy it was horrible, we were in Manhattan with the kids, right on 5th Avenue. We were on our way to FAO Schwartz, when this enormous snowman, almost as tall as the buildings themselves, comes pounding its way down the street. Crushing cars, tossing buses full of people onto the sidewalk.” He stops to catch his breath and continues, “Then it stops in the middle of all this destruction and starts to dance, using jazz hands, as “In The Mood” blasts from the top of the Trump building. And you’ll never guess what it had in its mouth?”
“Douglass, I cannot imagine”, smiling now, knowing my smile was invisible in the dark.
“It had the remains of the Rockefeller Christmas Tree!”
I laughed so hard the whole bed shook, as my husband let out a “Hey, I’m really upset here!”
“Douglass, your dream is a scene right out of Ghost Busters, remember the giant Stay Puft Marshmallow man attacking the city? You have an over active imagination is all. Don’t worry, it was just a dream, go to bed.” We both lay down pulling the comforter up around our chins as we settled down for our long winters nap. As I closed my eyes and tucked in, very softly I spoke into the darkened room a prayer as well as a wish, “God bless us, everyone!”
Christmas and other holidays are an integral part of this nation’s heritage and cultural identity. It makes more sense to teach our children the benevolence and joy of the holiday season than to take it away? Children believe what they are taught in school, the books they read, the subjects they study shapes the way they will think. Couldn’t it be possible that children might start to believe that celebrating the holidays at all, is an offensive act? What would happen then? To children, the holiday season is a time of anticipation of good things to come, a moment when their lives are most harmonious, filled with love and hope. It is not a man in a red suit who bestows a child with memories more priceless than anything bought in a department store, it is everyone of us in that child’s life. In Africa it is said that it takes a village to raise a child, making all who share in that child’s life responsible for what that child will be when adulthood is reached. We must take care what we take away from the younger generations, we might never get it back.
” I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach. Oh, tell me I may sponge away the writing on this stone!” Scrooge
Benoit, Amy. “The Dilemma of Celebrating the Holidays Within School.” baystateparent. Our Hometown Newspapers, 1/12/2006. Web. 17 Apr 2010. http://www.baystateparent.our-hometown.com/news2006- 12-01/feature_Articles?.
Dickens, Charles. “Christmas Carol Quotes.” Lit Quotes. lit Quotes, n.d. Web. 18 Apr 2010. Http://www.litquotes.com/quote_title_resp_php?…
Hailey, Cindy. “Is the Spirt of Scrooge Limiting Your Child’s Holiday Season.” Norfolk Grandparenting Examiner. examiner.com, 17/11/2009. Web. 17 Apr 2010. http://www.examiner.com/x-28438-Norfolk- Grandparenting-Examiner~2009m11d17-Where-Does-Your-School-Stand-On-Christmas-and-the-Holiday -Season.
Kulbida, Lydia. “Happy Holidays vs Merry Christmas.” timesunion.com. All timesunion.com blogs, 11/12/2009. Web. 17 Apr 2010. http://www.blog.timesunion.com/kulbida/2009/12/11/happy-holidays- vs-merry-christmas/.
Leo, John. “Undecking the Halls.” U.S. News& World Report 24/12/2001: Vol. 131 Issue 26, p47, 1p. Print.
Riehl M.Ed,, Pegg. “Holidays: Celebrating Divercity and Meeting Children’s Developmental Needs. ” National Network for Child Care. The National Extension Service Children Youth and Family Educational Reasearch Network, 2/1996. Web. 17 Apr 2010.
The Bulletin Staff Report, . The Bulletin. The Bulletin , 28/11/2009. Web. 17 Apr 2010.