Each December, there is an increasing amount of attention spent on the word “Christmas” and how its use has to be carefully monitored, especially in schools.
A decorated tree is permissible if you call it a holiday tree, and students performing music in December is OK as long as the songs focus on sleigh rides and snowmen. And for goodness’ sake, school is closed for winter recess, not Christmas vacation.
So we ignore the whole reason why we aren’t teaching kids at the end of the calendar year.
Like Harry Potter’s nemesis Voldemort, the word “Christmas” is the holiday that must not be named.
In June, Texas Gov. Rick Perry signed the “Merry Christmas” law that allows teachers to say the greeting and to celebrate Christmas without the fear of repercussions. Such a concept is gaining traction in Louisiana and Oklahoma as well.
Regarding Christmas music, Glendale Unified has a brochure titled “Religious Expression in the Schools,” which prescribes “a balance between religious and secular music” whenever a concert includes religious music.
Still, when was the last time you attended your child’s school for a student performance in December and the word “Christmas” was used to describe the show?
What’s interesting is that many of the most beloved Christmas songs were written by Jewish composers: “Winter Wonderland,” “I’ll be Home for Christmas,” “Sleigh Ride,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” “Have a Holly, Jolly Christmas,” and the most famous Christmas song of all time, “White Christmas.”
If it weren’t for these immigrant songwriters, the American idea of Christmas wouldn’t exist. These artists didn’t feel excluded from society because they weren’t the majority religion; instead, they desired to be included by imagining a broader definition of the Christmas season.
Imagine how the song titles would be altered in today’s times to “Rockin’ Around the Holiday Tree” and “White Winter.”
The point is this: certain traditions in the United States are what makes all of us Americans. If the trend continues where each ethnic group’s own individual customs are preserved museum-like, not to be influenced by anything “American,” this country will be further splintered and fragmented than it already is today.
Schoolchildren are not sharing in the common culture that most of us over the age of 50 had — what it means to be American. And part of that American education is the way we all celebrate Christmas, from putting light displays on houses, to visiting Santa, or attending school Christmas pageants.
What’s funny is that right here in Glendale on display is pure Christmas Americana at, of all places, the Americana, where you can watch water dancing to Christmas classics along with snow falling on the hour with a real Christmas tree that rivals Rockefeller Center’s.
It is a Christmas that maybe some of us never really had in our past, but it is an ideal we buy into no matter our ethnic or religious background.
Perhaps we should reread the response New York Sun newsman Francis Church (an interesting last name, right?) wrote to 8-year-old Virginia O’Hanion’s letter back in 1897 regarding the existence of Santa Claus:
“Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! How dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus.”
And how dreary our schools would be if our children remain ignorant of what made Christmas such an American holiday. Merry Christmas, everyone.
BRIAN CROSBY is a teacher in the Glendale Unified School District and the author of "Smart Kids, Bad Schools and The $100,000 Teacher." He can be reached at brian-crosby.com.