Bah Humbug Redux: First Draft
I’m writing to ask about Smartypants Yuppie School’s policies and guidelines regarding December holidays.
At winter break last year Mermaid Girl brought home several Christmas-related items, including a red-and-green wreath-shaped art project and and a reindeer handprint cutout as well as some Santa-and-reindeer themed worksheets. I was uncomfortable with the apparent emphasis on Christmas in her class, but didn’t say anything at the time, in large part because I only knew about it after it was over. This year, however, I would like to find out ahead of time what the school as a whole does to acknowledge that not everyone celebrates Christmas, and that there are many ways—religious and non-religious--of observing the advent of winter.
I do understand that many, if not most, people think of Christmas as a general holiday of good cheer and not as a specifically religious observance, and that in a public school where most students (including MG, with some of her relatives) celebrate Christmas, it’s unrealistic and stifling to expect there to be no discussion or acknowledgement of the holiday.
But for non-Christians in particular a plethora of Christmas-related symbols at this time of year (reindeer, santas, wreaths, even candy canes) can lead to feelings of exclusion. As a personal matter, I don’t want only one side of MG's family to be acknowledged in the December excitement. I’m also concerned as a member of the SYS community for the other students—be they Jewish, Muslim, or Hindu—whose families don’t celebrate Christmas.
I’m contacting you before writing to Ms. Teacher because I would like to get a sense of the policy of the school as a whole before approaching her with any potential concerns or offers. In particular, though, I would like to ask that Christmas-specific symbols be minimized in homework, art projects, and party themes, whether they’re initiated by teachers or by parent volunteers, and to suggest that general winter symbols such as snowflakes might be more appropriate and help more children feel included.
I’d also like to offer, if it’s appropriate and you approve, to come to MG's class and read a fun book about Chanukah sometime during December. It was hard for me to get a sense from MG about how the holidays were discussed last year, though I know she was asked to bring in a menorah and talk about Chanukah. While I appreciate that her teacher made the effort to introduce some diversity into the holiday celebrations, this year I’d be grateful if any presentation of Chanukah could come from an adult (either me, another parent, or Ms. Teacher) rather than asking my 1st grader to explain the holiday herself.
For more information on this topic, you and the SYS staff and PTA might be interested in these links:
“Religious Holidays in the Public Schools,” from Finding Common Ground: a Guide to Religious Liberty in Public Schools (PDF file)
"Religious Issues in Your Child's Public School: A Guide for Jewish Parents", a publication of the Anti-Defamation League.
I’m happy that our family is part of an inclusive school community that celebrates diversity wherever and whenever it can. I would love to see that inclusivity extend to a sensitive and thoughtful policy about Christmas and other December holidays in all the classrooms as well as the school as a whole.