I am from Massachusetts. I've never had reason to be particularly upset at this Commonwealth. It's got its problems and redeeming qualities just like any other state.
However, I became outraged, embarrassed and extremely saddened about the 'state' of my state while watching television. We made it on the news, and what a disgraceful way to get there.
A girl attending elementary school ran into a very difficult situation when her class was asked to bring in something that demonstrated a family tradition shared over the holidays. She, being Christian, celebrates Christmas. So, innocently and quite appropriately, she brought in her favorite 'pop up' book which told the story of Christ's birth. Each year, she and her family read the book together as part of their celebration of Christmas.
While other children shared their family holiday traditions, some Kwanzaa, some Hanukkah, etc., her turn came. When she stood in front of the class and began to show the pictures & read from her book, the teacher promptly told her to stop. She was not allowed to read from the book at all, and was limited to showing only the pop up pictures.
I watched in complete disgust and disbelief as the child was interviewed at home with her family. Her parents thought nothing of the fact that their daughter was bringing her book to school, as it represented part of their Christmas celebration. The young girl, who was shown in her room, reading from the book, proudly displaying the pop up images to the camera, was not only hurt by her teacher's, (and the entire school's), reaction, but very confused.
Quite frankly, so was I and I'm a lot older than eight or nine.
Other kids were allowed to describe family traditions associated with their religious holidays like Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, which are also celebrated in December.
This little girl, doing the very same thing, was stopped dead in her tracks at the mere mention of the name Christ.
You see, religion can't be discussed in schools. It's just not right to force your views upon others. Oh, make that Christianity. Obviously any other religious beliefs are within the school's limits ~ and the state's.
No! I thought. This is ludicrous! What could possibly make it 'okay' to discuss ANY other religious belief, but not Christianity? I've got no ax to grind with any other religion. Why Christmas? Why Christianity? Oh, if she talked about Santa, the gifts under the tree, or the lights adorning her home, I suppose none of this would have happened. But, to talk about the birth of Christ in a pop up book? I guess that was too much, and she crossed the line. Just imagine how this poor, little girl felt being told to stop in front of her entire class. I can imagine the pit in her stomach as she made her way back to her desk with her little pop up book. Put yourself in that little girl's shoes, for just a moment, and ask yourself how you'd feel. It makes me want to cry and scream at the same time!
Well, what is the 'line', and who drew it? I suppose it's an issue of church and state, the first amendment, interpretation, religion and schools, etc. THAT is a book in itself and I simply don't have the knowledge to write about it. Yet.
However, in my own attempt to understand why discussing holiday celebrations and traditions other than the foundation of Christmas itself is deemed 'okay' and Christmas, specifically the birth of Christ, is deemed to be 'not okay,' I had to learn about different religions and celebrations. So, I chose Hanukkah and Kwanzaa because they were specifically mentioned in the interview with the little girl's parents as being 'okay' to talk about in the classroom. So, off to the Internet I went to research and learn. I thought this might help me too see what I'm missing. It did- but what I found surprised even me.
Below, are some very brief descriptions of three holidays: Kwanzaa, Hanukkah and Christmas:
http://www.officialkwanzaawebsite.org/ This is The Official Kwanzaa Website and where I found the following information.
Kwanzaa: An African American and Pan-African holiday celebrating family, community and culture from December 26 through January 1st. It stems from the first harvest celebrations in Africa. Let me point one,(of many) facets of Kwanza. I'd suggest you visit the website mentioned above if you want to study this further. It's an excellent resource.
It's stated on the website that Kwanzaa is a time of "special reverence for the creator and creation in thanks and respect for the blessings, bountifulness and beauty of creation."
Okay, I could relate and thought it quite beautiful.
I don't know much about Hanukkah, so off to the Internet I went, again. Here's what I discovered:
http://www.historychannel.com This is where I found information on Hanakkah. I suggest you go there if you'd like to learn more about this holiday.
Hanukkah is an eight day and night celebration, beginning on the 25th of Kislev on the Hebrew calendar. This is November/December on what's called the Gregorian calendar, like the one I have on my desk.
In very basic terms, Hanukkah, (which means 'dedication' in Hebrew), celebrates the miracle of one small flask of oil, which would ordinarily keep a menorah lit for just one day, lasting for eight. (This flask was found by the Maccabees after victory over the Greeks, who tried to force them to worship Zues).
Hanukkah is viewed as the celebration, then, of an eight day miracle.
A wonderful miracle, I reflected after reading. How splendid.
What is Christmas? My fingers began typing search terms in the browser. Here's what I found:
The History Channel Website at http://www.historychannel.com
First of all, I learned that the bible does not give an exact date of Christ's birth. Europe, Scandinavia, Germany and Rome all celebrated various holidays during the month of December. So, the Romans decided that the birth of Christ would be better received if celebrated in December. (I didn't know this fact.) The miracle of Christ rising from the dead, (Easter), was the first holiday celebrated to honor Christ. His birth, or Christmas, came much later. In short, Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Christ, who in Christianity, is believed to be the Messiah, the Savior, the Son of God, who gives all who believe in Him the miracle of eternal life.
I suggest you visit the website mentioned above if you'd like to learn more about what Christmas is.
I smiled after my research. I learned more about the holiday I'd been celebrating all my life.
I learned more about these three celebrations than I'd ever known. But, to what end?
Kwanzaa includes in its celebration the divine, the creator and special reverence to the creator and all the beauty of creation. It is a religious celebration.
Hanukkah celebrates a miracle- an eight day miracle which came from God. It is a religious celebration.
Christmas celebrates the miracle of Christ's birth and the miracle of eternal life, and also includes special reverence to God. It is a religious celebration.
Three religious celebrations from three different beliefs, yet only two of these religions are acceptable for discussion in an elementary school classroom.
Like the little girl who couldn't read about Christmas from her pop up book, and the other children who were allowed to discuss their holiday celebrations and family traditions, we spend far too much time pointing out the differences in religions- not the similarities. While there are some fundamental, profound differences between religions which are central to that religion and the subsequent practices and celebrations, there are also many similarities shared.
Let's have a look at miracles. Wasn't the oil in the lamp lasting for eight days a miracle? Isn't that what the entire holiday of Hanukkah is founded upon? Isn't there beauty and miracles in all of creation and its bounty? Don't those who celebrate Kwanzaa think so? Was not the birth of Christ by the Virgin Mary a miracle? Isn't that why Christians celebrate Christmas?
God: It seems to me that those who celbrate Kwanzaa, Hanukkah and Christmas ALL believe in a God- the names may be different, but to each religion, God is God.
Decorations/Celebration: In all three religious celebrations, special attention is given to certain items which are symbolic of the holiday~ whether it's a carefully chosen African piece of art, a beautiful menorah, or a manger depicting the nativity scene with figurines.
Family: I see a very strong connection between Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and Christmas in terms of celebrating the richness and beauty of being with family and those we love.
December: All three holidays are celebrated in December.
There is no reason, in my opinion, why the little girl with the pop up book couldn't share her story. I'd feel the same way about another child, sharing a different holiday tradition, being told to stop. It happened to be Christianity in this case, but, I firmly believe that anyone of any faith should be allowed to share their beliefs with anyone they want. No one religion should ever be singled out, as it so clearly was in the case I've referred to. We are all people, rich in diversity and culture. That makes us beautiful and wonderful~ and it also gives us the opportunity to share with one another and learn from one another.
I think what happened to that little girl who wasn't allowed to share her family tradition of Christmas with her class is a very sad indicator of society in general. It matters not what your race, religion or creed are~ at least that's what I thought. It was always my understanding and belief that we indeed are all ONE under GOD, whatever name you give Him.
© Ellen M. DuBois
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