One year, without warning, I found myself in the middle of a skirmish in what some call the “War on Christmas”.  I wasn’t looking for it, but it found me — through my eldest son.

He was a very social kid, and eager to learn, so we gave “junior kindergarten” a try.  For a lot of reasons, it went badly, but the really unexpected deal-breaker was a play they had him perform in.

The role of the Junior Kindergarten (two years before first grade) class was predictable.  They were given some neutral “seasonal” song that was hard for young kids to mess up too badly.  It was probably “Jingle Bells”, or something.  Then the play itself began with some of the older children.

It was a performance of December in Our Town — a Multicultural Holiday Musical.  I’d never heard of it before. Once I got a sense of the storyline, I paid particular attention to the words they were using, and the story they told. If you haven’t seen it, you haven’t missed much — it was a thoroughly banal propaganda piece where studying the creator’s biases may have been the most interesting part.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

To give a quick overview of the “storyline” (as best I can, it was eight years ago) events centered on a group of kids going from place to place in their town one December, encountering the customs of various different people-groups (that’s the pc buzzword for “cultures”, right?) each marking the season in their own way, with a little explanation given to the kids (and the audience) of each tradition.

Some descriptions were perfectly reasonable.  They summed up, for instance, in only a few sentences, events at the heart of Hanukkah, and gave a description of the origins of Kwanzaa, even acknowledging that it was only recently invented, and by whom.

Others seemed out of place.  There was a description of an obscure (to a Canadian audience) tradition called “Luminaria”.

Some descriptions seemed a bizarre case of grasping at straws.  The references to “Yule” and “Solstice” come to mind.  (What, no “Saturnalia?”)

Islam, as you may know, has no festival that reliably falls in December, and received no mention.  (But when it came up on the calendar, one of Islam’s holy days was actually discussed in class.  No surprise, considering the classroom diversity, but I didn’t notice Yom Kippur mentioned.)

Notice anything missing from this list?  Oh, don’t worry, Christmas is coming next, sorta.

Christmas actually got two mentions.  One was on the secular side, emphasizing the Santa angle.  There was also a tangential nod to “a pageant”, where a song whose lyrics were “innkeeper, innkeeper have you any room?” … or something similar was performed.  Notable by its absence was any explanation (or even passing mention) that people celebrate the birth of Jesus on Christmas, and most certainly nothing was said about why Jesus is important to Christians.

Does this matter?  Should I have been bothered about this?

When I insisted to speak to the Principal about this, she was offended that I even complained.  When I asked to see the script, she didn’t want to let me see it.  I insisted, and when the “copyright” excuse was given, I told her to let me read it right there in her office.  I told her that they had crossed a line by “teaching religious values”, something that no teacher ever has a right to do.  She didn’t think they had, until I showed her the script.

Was I bothered by the descriptions of Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and the rest?  Actually, no, I wasn’t.  Learning about what other people do is not harmful, it should, in fact, be encouraged.  That was my point.  If learning about other cultures is good, why would it be bad for others to learn about ours?  

The school my son went to had a very large number of foreign-born students.  Many are from parts of the world where Christian belief is actually illegal.  Would it hurt them, somehow, to have a simple grasp of why December 25th is a paid day off?  Had they even mentioned the birth of Jesus, I probably would have skipped that particular complaint. Because I had a much bigger one.  It showed up in the closing song:

This is the season of hope.  A wonderful time of the year.
People are caring, giving and sharing.  This is the season of hope.
Reach out and try something new, start a tradition or two.
No need to choose, nothing to lose.  This is the season of hope.
We put up walls from things that are new.  Open our hearts is what we must do.
This is the season of hope, a wonderful time of the year.
We can be more, look what’s in store.  This is the season of hope.
This is the season of hope!

Take your time as you read those words.  Read them carefully.  Notice the use of the imperative “Must” and of “No need to choose” and “nothing to lose”.  Those are values-laden phrases.

What “new thing” must be tried?  At best this is advocating (read: indoctrinating) religious syncretism, at worst, it is teaching these children that all (non-secular) beliefs are equally false, and it won’t matter if you betray or abandon them.

And those, dear reader, were fighting words.

Image: Courtesy of: http://seethesea.wikispaces.com/Christmas+at+Antiparos+School