Tag Archives: Christmas

Christmas in a Whisper

I can remember in grade five or six wondering during the Lord’s Prayer if a Muslim would be allowed to put a rug on the floor and kneel, facing Mecca to offer his or her morning prayers.  It briefly crossed my mind to convert, or claim to convert to see if it were possible.  I reckoned the chances were fifty/fifty.  It seemed reasonable to me to allow an alternative form of prayer so long as the Muslim was also respectful of the Christian prayers.  It was a small country school in a school board of three schools so really there was little need for rigidity.  On the other hand, some people could have little tolerance for something out of the ordinary.  I remained a nominal Christian.

What was fun about those times was the unapologetic joy in the build up to Christmas.  In some schools, the piano was dragged into a hallway and carols were sung for a few minutes every morning.  We cut and coloured and painted unabashedly Christmas decorations and there was a Christmas concert.  The gym was overcrowded and the little ones waved to their parents and the older students took pride in their choir.

There wasn’t a great deal of talk about the religious side of Christmas; perhaps our teachers assumed we would hear enough at home and at church.   Or perhaps they reckoned it wasn’t their job to teach the religious aspects of Christmas.  On the other hand, if the topic did come up in class, it wasn’t a problem.  Some of our parents were very religious, others only set foot in church for weddings and funerals.  It didn’t really matter.  Christmas was important.  Family got together and feasted.  There was laughter and music and we played games that weren’t played at any other time of year.  There were stockings and presents but nothing extravagant and we weren’t disappointed.

Now in the schools, there are few decorations.  There may be a picture of a Christmas tree or a stuffed Santa on a chair, but the teachers are frantically fitting in the creation of woven Kwanza mats or cardboard dreidls for Hanukah or Chinese lanterns for the Chinese New Year.  While the tree, perhaps a hangover from the days when clippings of evergreen plants adorned peoples’ homes at the time of the longest day of the year, is tacitly banned. There may be a small tree on a teacher’s desk or on a desk in the office, but not a big sparkly tree dressed with children’s hand made ornaments.

As far as I’m concerned, the more holidays, the merrier and the more we come to understand other religions and customs the better, but please don’t tell me that we show respect for others’ customs, religions and holidays by banning our own.  We show respect by sharing, learning and inviting others in.

My husband was tutoring an Afghani gentleman in English and one day, the gentleman’s wife stopped by with a cultural question.  Her place of work was having a Christmas party and she wanted to know how that would play out.  Was it religious?  Should she bring presents or food?  As a Muslim she had no problem attending a Christian event but she did not wish to do anything that might offend.  She was relieved to find that these events are always secular in nature so there would be no complications of etiquette and that the organiser could answer the issues of gifts and food.

Many years (decades) ago when I knew very little about Judaism, my first husband and I were invited to a Bar Mitzvah in California.  My husband found someone at work who was Jewish and did exactly what our Afghani friend did.  We had no problem participating in such an important event in the Jewish religious life; we just wanted to be sure to be appropriately courteous and not to offend.  Our only problem after that was figuring out an appropriate gift for a thirteen year old boy we didn’t know.

Living respectfully with other religions does not mean concealing the symbols, traditions and joys of our religion.  It means welcoming all our friends to our festivities and when invited to theirs making sure we understand what their etiquette expects of us.  So break out the trees and the carols and even tell the Christmas story.  When I tell a First Nations’ creation myth, I am not proselytizing for that religion.  Neither should you be when you tell the central story of any religion.

When Kwanza and Ramadan and Ashura and Eid al-Fitr and Diwali and Ranavami and Wesak and Hanukah and Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and the Chinese New Year come round, tell those stories, too, and if someone from that faith is in your classroom ask her how to decorate the classroom appropriately.  With luck a parent will help or even do the decorating and bring food.  Never miss a chance to teach with all the senses.

Christmas cake, anyone?

Rein in the Reindeer

As Christmas and other seasonal holidays approach, I think it is time we reflected on the messages we send to the sensitive minds of our students in our schools’ Holiday Concerts. Many schools are appropriately avoiding any reference to the Christ in Christmas and even avoiding the word Christmas so everyone can feel included. Wisely, they choose songs about snowmen and Santa Claus. Santa Claus is a bit on the edge of promulgating Christian as historically he has his roots in St. Nicholas. However, no one studies history that far back any more. The red and white incarnation of St. Nick we know as Santa Claus was created by a certain soft drink company as part of its advertising campaign. Since soft drinks and advertising are not religious, references to Santa Claus are acceptable so long as the product is not mentioned. So we won’t mention Coke.
We are concerned with some songs, particularly Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. Normally, Rudolph might be acceptable as it originated in a poem written for department store advertising and is therefore not connected with religion at all, but I am afraid it is not connected with morality, either.
If you recall, the introduction starts with the names of the other reindeers. Some are innocent enough, even rather sweet, such as Dancer and Dasher, but Vixen is not an appropriate name for a character in a song for children; it’s true that the reindeer are badly behaved bullies but that’s no reason to use such language. Next thing you know, Santa will be referring to her as Tartette or Girlie. I am not even going to discuss the implications of a name like Prancer.
The song goes from bad to worse when it points out Rudolph’s affliction! Would we sing a song about Travis, the pimple-faced boy? Or Fred, the pocket-protected geek? Or Matilda, the enormous fattie? It’s not nice to sing about other people’s visible defects. They can’t help the humongous mole on their cheeks or their single eyebrow or large ears or knobbly knees so it is dreadfully unfair to point them out.
Not only does the song point out Rudolph’s affliction (and in passing, what an unfortunate name, with all of its associations), but it then goes on to tell us that the other reindeer made fun of him for it. They didn’t just make fun of him, they discriminated against him; they wouldn’t let him play with them! I imagine that particular bit of nastiness was instigated by the aptly named Vixen. This is the kind of thing that should have been quickly handled by Santa or personnel or the Human Rights Commission!
But does Santa intervene and make these four-footed barbarians see the error of their ways? No! He ignores it. The only notice he takes of Rudolph is when the weather gets bad and he needs a fog light. This is appalling. Surely Santa would have planned for such eventualities, or his Health and Safety Committee would have drawn it to his attention. He could hardly have done so many years of flying without encountering adverse weather conditions. If he had flown without having lights, it speaks to his carelessness not only for the mental health of his reindeers, but their safety and the safety of aircraft the world over.
It is clear that Rudolph has no training for the role of fog light; it is a big surprise to everyone when he is asked to lead. Another error in safety! Now this is where the children learn a truly disgusting lesson. The moment Rudolph is promoted, the other reindeers become sycophantic fawners, complimenting the very reindeer they had derided and inviting him to their games and parties. What kind of a lesson is that?
This song teaches our children that it is perfectly fine to pick on outsiders and exclude them. It is also acceptable to fawn on bosses, heroes and celebrities no matter how much we disliked them before their elevation. In other words, bullying and hypocrisy is part of the Christmas spirit. Ho Ho Ho.
Mrs. M. Whitehouse
© Sheila Diane Scaiff and Teachers Outside the Box, 2008. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sheila Diane Scaiff and Teachers Outside the Box with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.