Merry Christmas!!

It’s a little early for Christmas, but I wrote the following for part of an American Thinker Christmas trilogy, and offer it to you here, as well:

Last week, I attended the “Winter Concert” at my children’s public elementary school. It was a very good concert. The kids – all 75 of them – performed beautifully. They remembered the words, sang in time and in tune, and showed a great deal of poise.

The only problem was the music. There were two African harvest songs; an American spiritual that repeatedly mentioned a Mary and a baby, but stopped short of giving any hints as to which Mary and which baby; a Hebrew song and a Yiddish song; two Muzak songs that seemed vaguely to deal with generic uplift themes; and a disco homage to Santa that, as with the spiritual, carefully avoided any reference to Christmas. It was rather like a concert in code, with the initiated meant to understand that, in fact, this was a Christmas, Kwanzaa and Hanukkah concert, rather than a mere “winter” musical soiree.

It was a far cry from the “Christmas” concerts of my youth, a youth that was also spent in public schools. Back in those days – spanning the mid 60s through the mid 70s – the weeks before Christmas saw us singing all the Christmas classics, both old and new: Oh, Holy Night, Silent Night, Little Town of Bethlehem, Oh Come, All Ye Faithful, Deck the Halls, Christmas is Coming, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, and Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer, just to name a few of the songs that delighted my friends and me as public school children.. We also sang Hanukkah songs that actually mentioned Hanukkah, songs such as Oh, Hanukkah! or The Dreidel Song. Kwanzaa songs were missing only because, in those far away days, this holiday had not yet received any prominence outside of small sections of the African American community.

As a child, I loved the musical feast that came with winter. Just as the days grew oppressively short and cold, we were inundated with beautiful, celebratory songs. The children in my school, Jewish and Christian alike, felt bound together by songs of light and hope in a season of darkness. Instead of being dull and drab, this was a most exciting time of year, visually and aurally beautiful. I felt connected both to the history of all humans – people trying to bring light and meaning to the days when the sun seems so distant – and to the history of my country, which, whether one likes it or not, is imbued with Christian thought, music and iconography.

By the way, did I mention that I’m Jewish? According to today’s experts and ACLU activists, as a Jewish child who was being inundated by these Christmas songs and images, many of which were explicitly religious, I should have felt, at best, marginalized and, at worst, coerced or insulted. Maybe I was exceptionally obtuse, but I never felt any of these emotions. To my mind, the songs were offered as something to share and enjoy, and our smilingly practical elementary school teachers never indicated any preference for one faith over another.

As for me, I was delighted to share in the Christmas holiday with my friends in the public forum of school. I caroled their songs, and delighted in my ability to draw Christmas trees with a certain panache (one of my few artistic accomplishments, I might add). When I went home, I lit the Hanukkah candles with every bit as much pleasure. Rather than feeling slighted, I felt doubly blessed.

How different it is today. The schools are frightened of the parents, the parents are afraid to give offense to each other, and the children are denied the excitement of public celebrations of a unique set of holidays, concerned with wonderful abstract concepts such as faith, bravery, and hope. Instead, we’ve entered a grim Seinfeldian “Festivus” world, where joyous winter celebrations of light and song are reduced to the Airing of Grievances (usually identity based, along the lines of “they’re discriminating against me this season because I’m [fill in the blank with your choice of Jewish, Christian, Atheist, Muslim, Buddhist, Kwanzaan, Wiccan, etc."]). How much better, I’ve always thought, whether one is Christian, Jew, Muslim, Atheist or Buddhist, to eschew the public school effort to gather around a minimalist and meaningless aluminum Festivus pole, and instead to share in the bounty of America’s many faiths.

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  • greg

    What a loss for all of us that Book spends more time discussing others’ religion than her own.

  • SGT Dave

    I think the point, Greg, is that she is commenting on the current state of affairs in the education system. The lack of commentary about religion, especially given the historic influence of faith on society, is hindering rather than helping our children. A winter festival is nonsensical without the religious context; winter is a time of hardship and conservation. The inclusion of holidays (“holy days”) during this period was vital to developing societies; these days ensured that people would interact as a community. Pre-industrial societies often crumbled under winter hardship as competition for scarce resources forced hard decisions. The celebrations made the whole community into an extended family rather than a group of small families. Survival for the “tribe” became an important item, not just the best survival for the basic family unit.
    I do not care what faith Bookworm follows; it is entirely irrelevant to my interest. She has shown a capacity for insight, faith, and morals that are similar enough to mine for compatibility. In the end, that makes her an acceptable part of my “community”. When we degrade, hide, or disavow religion’s influence in our decisions for community we are doing a great disservice to ourselves and others. We must search for other criteria for community – and these strictures are often more demeaning and restricting than a comparison of values and moral standing.
    We cannot know what is inside a person, but an avowed Christian (for example, though the same applies to many Jewish, Buddist, and Muslim persons of my acquaintance) who quietly professes faith will return a reasonably “known” quality. I can sort them into a place in my “community” more easily – which also means I don’t sort them by skin color, income, or language as a primary choice. We all discriminate – but faith is fairly colorless (colorful?) in that as adults we choose a faith rather than have it determined by genes.
    Back to my main point; by asking Bookworm to profess her faith you are asking her to reveal more than is truly necessary to the community. If you cannot tell she is a person of faith and good intent by now and would limit your view of her because of the flavor of her faith then you are the one who is less for this judgement.
    I have faith in Bookworm’s capacity for humanity; in many ways that is enough for me and has been across four continents and three conflicts.
    Merry Christmas, then, and goodwill to all mankind – even those who do not share my faith. That they hold goodwill in high esteem is enough.

    SGT Dave
    “God rest ye merry gentlemen, let nothing you dismay.”

  • swampacreage

    I don’t believe a person is any less than anyone else for asking someome about their religion nor do I think school teachers are afraid. Generally schools are sensitive and do the best job they can considering the resources they have to work with . . yes I’m talking about the parents an kids(just joshing . . . relax) ! Schools are only a reflection of society. So Happy Sensitivitus to us all !

    ps Everybody has an opinion and remember it is only an OPINION. Greg you got some good ideas(so does Book and Sarge) but I want you to get a new nickname.Greg is bland. It is unkool. I’m not just joshing(yes I am )Something flashy like Book,SGT or Swamp.Have a good one EVERYBODY and good luck on your missions to make it a better world for as many people as you possibly can.

  • swampacreage

    Further to the above religion is a private matter for the home or place of worship. It certainly doesn’t belong in politics or public schools(good for you teachers).

  • Trimegistus

    Swamp:

    That’s the most idiotic thing I’ve heard in a long time. It requires a special brand of stupidity to fail to recognize the difference between “no establishment of religion” and “establishment of no religion.”

    I’m an atheist, and I love a good Christmas concert. I recognize and respect the role religion has played in creating my culture and civilization. To pretend otherwise is ridiculous.

    And why, in a time when we celebrate all forms of “diversity” is religion the one type of diversity which has to remain in the closet?

  • http://expreacherman.wordpress.com/ expreacherman

    Book,

    You brilliantly stuck a needle in the eye of the politically correct left. Our country is losing so much of its heritage. I fear for the future of our grandchildren.

    I choose my faith and others choose theirs. If others see my faith as more desirous or appropriate I will gladly help them along the journey to my faith. But I would force no one. Nor would I be PC and deny them the opportunity to celebrate their season as we see happening today in public schools.

    When we visited Israel we thoroughly enjoyed the many timely Jewish celebrations and songs. I was not offended nor did I have any desire to storm the Knesset and demand the Jewish celebrations cease and desist.

    Just old-fashioned, I guess.

    Merry Christmas and a Happy Hanukkah, to each according to his or her faith or their lack thereof.

    ExP(Jack)

  • swampacreage

    Let reason reign. Maybe I didn’t make myself clear about seperation of church and state. I didn’t mean a Christian,Muslim,Jew Wiccan or Hindu etc.couldn’t be president of the USA. I meant there should be no religious indoctrination in public schools.Of course you can put your atheist plays on BUT THEY BETTER BE ALL INCLUSIVE AND SENSITIVE TO OTHERS .Comparitive religion should be offered as an option in the curriculumn .Religion is a private matter of the home and private place of worship. If you believe in a theocracy go ahead but then I don’t know how S—– and I—— you are. Nice to see you come out of the closet. You must breath easier.Good for you.Merry Atheistmas !

  • Mary

    What a wonderful article, and so true. I have a Buddhist friend who went to public schools. She also loves Christmas carols, and makes a point to go to a Christmas Eve carol service every year so she can hear them and sing along. Apparently, she didn’t feel slighted either.

    It is so sad that childrens’ only exposure to the wonderful Christmas carols is (1) at home if their parents take the time to share and enjoy, (2) church, if their church sings them (I’ve been to some that don’t) or (3) the horrible bastardizations of Christmas carols recorded by rock stars who can’t leave the melody as the composer intended but must “improve” it with their warbling and changing the beat. I can barely stand to listen to the radio at Christmas because of these travesties.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if within a generation, the Christmas carols we enjoyed as children have completely disappeared.

  • swampacreage

    Someone once said people will do anything just to be able to say the words”it’s political correctness gone mad” Apparently they will even make things up. Like they say “it seems to calm them down “. I guess it is easier on our ears than them using “scream therapy” .

  • Ruth H

    Last night I was privileged to attend a Christmas pageant at the school my sister’s grandchildren attend. It is a Catholic school, although their family is devoutly Southern Baptist. They wanted the best for the children and this is far and above the public school system. This morning I lamented with my daughter in law that their children are not allowed to have “Christmas Pageants” per se. The youngest child is in 5th grade, it is the last year they are allowed to have a party, not a Christmas party, but a festive party. What an education they are getting in our country’s values. Or should I make that into a question, yes, I should. What kind of an education are they getting that leaves out our country’s values. Fortunately for these children they are getting good values at home; that is, the traditional ones their parents were taught.
    Note, I am not Southern Baptist, but I know values when I see them.

  • Marguerite

    Swamp! Whilst religion is personal, it is not private.

  • greg

    That, Miss M. is well stated, and I’ll rember it.

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com/ ymarsakar

    I think the point, Greg, is that she is commenting on the current state of affairs in the education system.

    I think the point is that g should remember where hamster patties come from.

  • http://writingenglish.wordpress.com judyrose

    I approach this trend from a different perspective. For me, it’s all about the music. I’m so glad I went to school in the 1950s and 60s when, even in grade school, we performed traditional Christmas music as part of our year-end concerts. Later, in high school and college, church music was the foundation of music education. (I majored in music.) The study of church music and the study of music history are inseparable. The vast majority of choral music comes from the church. As a Jewish kid, I learned more about the Christian religion from exposure to church music than I would have learned any other way. I also learned a lot about comparative languages. Many composers set well known religious texts (like the psalms) to music and depending on the composer, the piece might be in Latin, German, Italian, or English. Singing the same text in different languages was a GREAT education.

    If kids are limited in grade school and high school to “neutered” pieces like Frosty the Snowman, they miss the opportunity to be exposed to some of the greatest music of all time. What a loss! I was totally immersed in the music of the church for most of my 16 years of schooling. What rubbed off on me wasn’t the religion, but a love of Handel, Bach, Palestrina – the list is long. “Frosty” just doesn’t compare.

  • http://bdroppings.blogspot.com/ Bill C

    Merry Christmas Bookworm. I hope you and Mr. Bookworm and all the little bookworms have a happy holiday season and a wonderful New Year.

    Kind Love,

    Bill C

  • http://wwwjackbenimble.blogspot.com/ Jack

    I meant there should be no religious indoctrination in public schools.

    I am in complete agreement with you. There is no reason for religion to be included in public school. If you want your children to have religious education send them to parochial school, teach them at home etc.

  • swampacreage

    Jack is exact ! If parents want their kids to be educated according to their values and not the public values they have the freedom to take it elsewhere.

  • http://OgBlog.net Earl

    The idea that a Christmas program with traditional carols violates the “public values” (I’d sure like to have someone explain just what those are), or in any way establishes religion ought to be too ludicrous to require refutation. This point of view is a relatively recent innovation – our country somehow staggered along for over a century with carols and even prayers in the public schools……but let’s leave that aside, since argumentation doesn’t seem to change minds in this area.

    The real problem is that government is involved in an activity that is *inherently* value-laden…..education. You cannot educate a child without communicating a set of values to them. The Catholic church realized that, and set up their own school system to avoid having their children “educated” away from their faith. It is simply *wrong* for our government to take money away from families who wish their children to be raised with values derived from their faith traditions, and use those families’ money to undermine parental values in the children.

    If it’s in the interest if the State to have an educated citizenry, and if it’s constitutionally OK to tax the citizens to provide it, then let the State provide education the way it provides food to people who qualify — using “stamps”. Food stamps can be spent at any grocery store, including religious ones….”education stamps” could (and should) be designed to do the same thing for schooling.

    Will this produce Utopia? Of course not. (I have a plan for that, but there’ s not enough room, here.) But, it will get our practice more in line with our rhetoric about liberty.

  • http://Synova.blogspot.com Synova

    “The real problem is that government is involved in an activity that is *inherently* value-laden…..education. You cannot educate a child without communicating a set of values to them.”

    So true.

    Education *must* be value-laden to be of any worth. That government is involved in it at all is inherently a conflict of interests.

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com/ ymarsakar

    There is better stuff to focus your energies on than what people call a holiday. Course, to the bored rich like Soros, there isn’t much entertainment to be had given that they have bought and tried all the normal avenues.

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