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Stephanie Silberstein

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Member Since: Dec, 2008

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Christmas and non-Christian children
By Stephanie Silberstein   
Rated "G" by the Author.
Last edited: Sunday, December 07, 2008
Posted: Sunday, December 07, 2008

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Some thoughts about the difficulties children who do not celebrate Christmas face during the holiday season

When I was in the fourth grade, I was terrified of singing Christmas carols because Jewish people weren't "supposed to", and I didn't want G-d to be mad at me. So I just mouthed the words. Another girl in the class told on me, and my teacher told me sternly to "stop being disrespectful of other people's religion".

I didn't have the words to explain then, and was probably as terrified of the teacher as I was of G-d. But I felt bewildered. I was only trying to protect myself from "other people's religion". How was I being disrespectful? And why was it OK for them to be disrespectful of mine?

Twenty years later, and sixth months after the publication of Winter's Silence, I wonder... is it still that bad for children of different faith--or of no faith at all?

At least here in the South, the answer may be Yes.

I don't know enough non-Christians here (we are, after all, in the Bible Belt). I do know of one who is offended that her child is being made to sing songs about "Father G0d" when the child's family does not believe. Anecdote does not equal data, but no child--or hir parents--should be made to feel uncomfortable about asserting a different religion.

The parents of such children find themselves in a difficult situation as well. If they pull the child out of the concert, s/he may be the only child not participating. The father in Winter's Silence refuses to make this choice because he doesn't want his little girl to feel even more different than she already is. Yet allowing the child to continue to participate requires a lack of assertion about the family's religious beliefs (or lack thereof). This may send the child--and the school--the message that the religious beliefs being taught at home are not really important. Some children may grow up to abandon the religion they grew up with because it is "fake" or "unimportant".

The question of how to handle holiday concerts in public schools belies a deeper question: are such concerts even appropriate in a public school setting?

In recent years, religious clashes of this nature have made huge headlines. Some groups try to block public Nativity scenes, or celebrations, or even the use of the word Christmas in store literature. People seem to divide into two camps over this issue: those who think all public displays of religious holidays should be blocked, and those who think the protesters are completely ridiculous. It is difficult, therefore, for people to take a stand, for fear of being labeled an anti-Christmas extremist.

The public school setting, however, is a little bit different. Compulsory education laws require all children to go to school. Public schools are supposed to be open to every child, regardless of race, sexual orientation, or religion. If children are pressured into Christmas celebrations, the public school environment may become uncomfortable for them. In such cases, are the schools truly welcoming them to learn?

It wouldn't take a lot to make holiday time more accessible to non-celebrators.  Holiday concerts could include an equal balance of songs dedicated to holidays other than Christmas. More importantly, children could learn about other winter celebrations in their social studies classes during this time of year. All children could also be invited to share what their family does or doesn't do during the holiday season.

In order for this to happen, we'd have to give up the assumption that everyone celebrates Christmas. Even in the Bible Belt, this is not true . Nor should it be.

I often wonder if the educators putting together holiday concerts realize that not everybody celebrates Christmas. There seems something covertly anti-Semitic (in the case of Jewish students) about requiring children to sing Christmas carols and only Christmas carols. Is it meant this way? Or is it merely that Christmas has become such a secular holiday that it's become assumed we all celebrate it?

Some thoughts to ponder this holiday season...

Web Site: Narrow Path Publishing

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