Friday, December 16, 2005


Last night I went to the elementary school Christmas concert to hear my third-grader sing. Well, there were a few-score others out there, but I went there to hear my third-grader sing. It was strange; as my wife pointed out, this was the first time in twenty years that we'd gone to a school performance without bringing along a small sibling of a performer. (Last year, with our youngest as a non-performer and our second-youngest off to college, we didn't go at all.)

The youngest strings started it, and they haven't really learned to use their bows but they pluck enough notes to generate a couple of short carols and the dreidel song. Then there were more and more performances of greater and lesser development, and finally my kid's group. They sang Pie Jesu and a non-Christmas Old Dan Tucker, and closed with a very energetic rendition of the "secular Christmas" tune Rockin' Down the Chimney by Kirby Shaw: "He'll be soulin', he'll be strollin', rock and rollin' down the chimney tonight!" A good time was had by all, I believe, and I felt sufficiently Christmassy that I cleared the snow off Mrs. Rainsford's car (she was piano teacher for some of my older kids, and she stayed in the school longer than I did) before driving home.

The snow kept coming, and today schools were closed through most of upstate NY. So my kid sat on a sled with her new doll and I pulled her over sidewalks and roads to the coffee shop, and we sat by the Christmas tree, and she commented that the star on top was missing. So I asked. This coffee shop is a Colgate University project, and I was told the star has been banned. It's a religious symbol. (And it's a solstice tree, maybe?) The menorah that sat beside it is gone too.

I feel sad. Writing as one whose religious views would perhaps be better expressed by a Darwin fish than a star, I feel sad. My sympathies are not entirely with Henninger's Opinion Journal article:

Any Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, atheist or Wiccan who gets a card this week with Santa Claus on the front and "Merry Christmas" inside and who recoils in the belief that the sender is "pushing" Christianity at them should, very simply, lighten up.
But I'm not too far from that -- and personally I thought the menorah beside the Christmas tree was a good idea. And I was glad when one of my kid's classmates this year turned out to be an Egyptian who wanted his classmates to participate in an end-of-Ramadan feast, or candy festival as the case might be. (The educational aspects here were perhaps under-emphasized; my kid said it was some other religion, and they'd just had a long fast, and maybe he was Buddhist? So I explained a little bit about Ramadan, not that I know much.)

I think I can understand the point of view of the North Carolina school in The Education Wonks: Merry Kwanzikamas From North Carolina!:

With students hailing from 29 countries and speaking 28 languages, Durham's Forest View Elementary School could be a miniature United Nations.
So, when holiday time comes around, teachers and administrators are careful not to offend anyone.
That means no Christmas celebrations at Forest View. Or Kwanzaa. Or Hanukkah for that matter.
But really, I disagree. It's better to have those second-grade strings plucking away at the dreidel song. It's better to learn about each other.

And by the way: I wish you a very merry Christmas. I really do.

But okay, you can have a rotten Christmas if you really want one. It's a free country, in some respects.


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