The latest social media meme pokes fun at the annual debate over Christmas: A photo shows a roadside stand selling cut pine trees with a sign that reads, “Christmas trees, $5.00 per foot. Holiday trees, $10.00 per foot.” The trend of removing Christ’s birth from the reason we decorate our homes, buy gifts, attend concerts, and take two weeks off from school in December continues. But administrators’ logic for deleting Christmas from school life is becoming increasingly absurd.
In Montgomery County, Md., the public school board voted 7-1 last month to remove all religious references from school breaks and substitute secular names for the holidays—“winter break” for Christmas, “spring break” for Easter, and a generic “no school for students and teachers” for Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah, The Washington Post reported.
The county’s official school calendar listed several Christian and Jewish holidays as the reason for school closure, but the new holiday titles will take effect beginning next school year. The change came because of ongoing complaints from the Muslim community that Muslim holidays are not included.
“High absenteeism is the main reason” for schools to be closed on Christian and Jewish holidays, said Dana Tofig, a representative for Montgomery County Public Schools, according to 4NBC Washington, an NBC news affiliate in Washington, D.C. The district added Jewish holidays to the calendar in the 1970s due to the county’s large Jewish population.
“The absentee rate on [Muslim] holidays, when they’ve fallen on a school day, haven’t been considerably higher or lower than it is on any other given day,” Tofig told 4NBC.
The school board intended to be equitable by secularizing school break names, but many in the Muslim community don’t see it that way.
“They have alienated other communities now, and we are no closer to equality,” Saqib Ali, a former Maryland state delegate and co-chair of the Equality for Eid Coalition, told 4NBC. “It’s a pretty drastic step, and they did it without any public notification.”
Meanwhile, more than 400 miles up the Eastern Seaboard in Belmont, Mass., the Butler Elementary School PTA voted to cancel the school’s annual trip for second graders to see The Nutcracker, claiming the ballet’s religious symbolism might offend some students. The offending symbol: a Christmas tree on stage.
The PTA cancelled the trip in secret, but word got out, NBC affiliate 7News reported. The PTA reversed itself within days due to parental pushback.
“I went once as a kid as well,” parent Adam Campana told 7News. “I think it’s anybody’s choice. They should still offer it, but you don’t have to go if you don’t [want to].”
Boston.com found it ironic for people to be offended by a “religious” Christmas tree when the tradition actually has pagan roots. According to the History Channel, long before Christians began celebrating Christmas, “ancient peoples” hung evergreen boughs in their homes during the winter, including the Egyptians, Druids, Romans, and Vikings. Some cultures believed the branches warded off evil spirits, while others saw them as a symbol of life and the promise of spring.
Today’s twinkly lit evergreen trees glowing in living rooms across the United States originated with 16th century German Christians who used the trees, adorned with apples, nuts, and berries, to decorate their homes for Christmas. Reformer Martin Luther is thought to be the first to add lighted candles to the display. German immigrants brought the Christmas tree to America in the 1800s and “fashionable Queen Victoria” endorsed the trend. Tiny, flickering, electric lights replaced candles in the early 1900s with the advent of electricity, according to the History Channel.
“So, really, the Christmas tree is less a brainwashing symbol of Christianity and more a relatively recent trend popularized in America by German immigrants, an English Queen, and people who like looking at pretty lights during the darkest time of the year,” Boston.com concluded.