Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Bah, Humbug.

Robin's post about mixed-holiday traditions has made me think about the stuff that came home in the Mermaid Girl's backpack on the last day of school last Friday. Somehow I thought that because we live in a big(-gish) liberal tolerant city, and she is going to public school, they would lay off the Christmas. What with all that Church-State separation, and all. Her preschool certainly did, on account of their fervent commitment to anti-bias education (not to mention the longstanding pagan on the staff), and they were private and could've done whatever they wanted.

I guess I was generalizing from my own elementary-school experience, which took place in a New Jersey suburb I loathed at the time but think fondly of now as "Central Park West with lawns, " a town where probably the plurality of the white kids were Jewish. We didn't have school on Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur, everyone made the Bar/Bat Mitzvah Circuit during 8th grade, and the December holidays were kept strictly out of the curriculum.

Technically, I guess they kept things pretty nonsectarian at MG's school. Renaissance Woman justly pointed out that it could have been much, much worse. Still, I was kind of taken aback when I rifled through all the papers stuffed in the backpack and found a big, red-and-green handprint-painted wreath, complete with ribbon, with a winsome picture of MG in the middle. I mean, awwww, cute, but...sort of Christmassy, maybe, a little?

And then there were the counting worksheets festooned with reindeer and Santa hats and candy canes. And the reindeer handprint-cutout thingy. I didn't mind the gingerbread-house project, because, hey, basically when you get down to it, it's just candy. But the cumulative effect of it all gave me pause. Yeah, we're an interfaith family, and MG does in fact celebrate Jul. But that's our business, and it's at home. She also celebrates Chanukah and identifies as Jewish, and I bridle at her having even more Christmas pushed down her throat at school.

I asked if they talked about Chanukah at all at school, and MG responded with an emphatic N-O. The teacher did ask her to bring in her homemade menorah and talk about it, but that was it. To be fair, MG also reported N-O explicit discussion of (or songs of) Christmas, except that it and Chanukah are occasions for people to give presents. So maybe I'm being oversensitive about the whole thing. But it left me feeling weird.

I'm not sure if it's just this teacher (whom I think I've mentioned we all love, and who I really don't want to give a hard time), or the school as a whole, or what. And in any case it's OVER now, and will be ancient history when school starts up in January. I'm not sure what I could do about it--write a letter to the prinicpal? Or an email to the teacher? And if I do, what should those emails say? "Snowmen are okay, but ixnay on the Santa imagery"? "White and sparkley projects are fine, but please refrain from combining the colors red and green in school during the month of December"? Or should I wait till next November, and write a proactive email of some kind to her 1st grade teacher, throwing in an offer to come do a presentation about Chanukah?

I already feel like something of a troublemaker for having written a(n extremely polite and diplomatic) letter to the principal and PTA complaining that the Fall Festival was held during Yom Kippur. They were very apologetic and nice about it, but maybe one complaint a year is enough?

Those of you with kids in public school (whether or not you and/or you kids are Jewish): what December-holiday-related stuff do your kids do in school? And if you do follow a minority religious tradition, what do you do about it? Do you go in and give a presentation? Do you protest? Do you just figure that you'll make up for it at home?

I'm honestly stumped.


Blogger wen said...

I, too, went to the suburban Jersey elementary school. It had some Jewish kids and some Christian kids and well, me, whose mother is Catholic and father is Jewish and who thought "Hannukamas" and "Christmaskah" were proper holidays celebrated with a tree bearing a Star of David on top.

Alas, we sung a couple of songs that could be considered "cultural celebrations" of Christmas and Hannukah, like "Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel" and such. However, there was no Silent Night, no Christmas themed stuff etc. We had Frosty the Snowman. We had "Winter Break" and "Spring Break." Over Passover, we had our choice of matzoh or not at lunch. We had school on Yom Kippur etc. but the devout kids took it off, with no ill effects.

When we moved to Ohio, it was serious culture shock. They had Christmas Break, Easter Break, and school had "Christmas parties" etc.

1:20 PM  
Blogger Anna said...

Personally, I'm dreading the whole school holiday nonsense. As an atheist, I'm not into ANY religiousness in school, but at least if it has to be there, I'd like a balance, and not to be innundated with Christmas hooey, especially Santa. Celebrate the seasons, but keep the deity beliefs out of it. (yeah, right...I can dream.)

If I were you I'd be writing a letter, despite having already written one. (; I'd probably even do ANOTHER one next fall as a preemptive measure. Since it's not likely they'll get rid of the Christmas stuff, I think your idea of a Chanukah presentation is the best: it makes you seem more reasonable and participatory instead of just critical. (Not that I think this: I'm projecting how THEY might think.)

BTW, I watched "The L Word" on your (sort-of) recommendation, and had two comments...One, the whole "Jewish Heritage" thing with the photographs was just as bad as you said...I had a big SNORT throughout. Secondly, that has to be the WORST theme song EVER!!! Wow. *shudder*

3:09 PM  
Blogger elswhere said...

Wen-- You got matzoh at school lunches?! Even we didn't get that! Were you in Berggen county?

Anna--Hmm. Yeah. I might write a letter. I don't know. I probably should, but I don't know if I can bring myself to. But it helps to know you and other people don't think I'm being an oversensitive twerp. I'm thinking I'll check in with her next teacher next fall.

And YES! totally worst theme song ever. Could it be worse??

9:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

yes, you should check in/say something. The analogy I like to use is that we christmas celebrators (religious or otherwise)can be a bit like the drunken neighbours having a party into the wee hours. Unless there's that rap on the door (polite or otherwise), we'll most likely continue our happy but overbearing behaviour in complete oblivion. Of course, to stretch the analogy a bit further, you never know if your 'knock on the door' will be met with understanding, denial, or rudeness - but the point is to let it be known that there are other points of view not being considered.

12:21 PM  

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