Yesterday, I walked into school, and there, in all of it’s ugly, towering, lopsided, pathetically holey, Charlie Brown-esque beauty, was a Christmas tree.
It wasn’t some majestic spruce or a regal red pine. No, just your typical, run-of-the-mill, sparsely-needled white pine yanked out of the woods near town and plopped down in the front hall of the elementary school.
It was pretty much the most beautiful thing I have ever seen in my life. My irritation at having to babysit the most ADHD, OCD, ODD group of first graders on the planet, instantly disappeared upon seeing that tree.
Why? Because I can’t remember the last time I saw a Christmas tree standing in a public school.
When I was in school, Christmas trees were the norm. As a kid, there was always a tree standing in that same spot, covered in paper chains and snowflakes. Trees stood in every classroom. The hallways were covered in Rudolphs and smiling Santas, gingerbread men and frosted window panes. The afternoon before Christmas break was spent wheeling the music teacher’s piano into the front hall, and gathering the entire school around that tree – squeezing all students and staff into the halls and stairwells to sing Christmas carols. It’s one of my most cherished childhood memories. Even the high school had a Christmas tree in their front hall and another one perched precariously on the ledge of the tall front windows, for everyone to see and admire from the street. Christmas was a big deal… and the schools embraced it.
And then I grew up.
Pretty soon, Christmas was a hot-button topic. Stores were refusing to wish their customers “Merry Christmas” for fear of offending someone. Salvation Army Red Kettles were no longer allowed in front of most of the major chain stores for fear of offending someone. Schools could no longer have “Christmas Vacation”… but only a “Winter Break”. Classrooms could no longer speak of Christmas, but only the holidays. No decorations, no holiday-themed story books or projects… just another day of being politically correct for the sake of the children. I’d sit in education classes and have it hammered into me that the mere mention of “Christmas” would be detrimental and psychologically scarring to my students and all I could think was, “But I LOVE Christmas…” And I’m not even talking, “Let’s celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” kind of Christmas… I’m just talking Santa and Rudolph and silver bells and sleigh rides and presents around a tree kind of Christmas. But apparently, that was just as bad… because it had Christian undertones.
*Gasp!* OH THE HORROR…
When I got my first job and wanted to put up a snow scene on the bulletin board and lights around the classroom, the principal gave me the go-ahead with a warning not to make any mention of any holiday anything. I eventually just said, “Screw It” and read my kiddos Christmas-themed books and let them color Christmas-themed coloring pages (or regular pages too if some of them didn’t celebrate it…). It was my subtle way of sticking it to the man and thumbing my nose at their political correctness. (Not once did I get an angry phone call from a parent.) Actually, in that last job, holidays of any kind were strictly forbidden… including Halloween and Thanksgiving. A lot of teachers didn’t pay attention (including me) and gave the kids plenty of other options but didn’t ban the holidays from our rooms. It became an exhausting tight rope walk, trying to figure out how to infuse holiday spirit and fun into the classroom while not offending anyone. By that time, most of the older teachers had had enough and put up a huge Christmas display in the teacher’s lounge complete with references to the birth of a savior and a time of great rejoicing… which was apparently “okay” because it was hidden from view of the students.
SO, when I started subbing in my hometown… I was shocked to discover that the school celebrated Halloween (with classroom parties and a costume parade) AND Thanksgiving (the Home Economics class even cooked up a feast for the staff). And when I saw that tree? I almost couldn’t pick my jaw up off the floor.
I’m all for being inclusive. If I have a student who celebrates Hanukkah or Kwanzaa… or one who doesn’t celebrate the holidays at all… I want them to know that’s okay… that’s cool… YAY for differences! But I’d rather provide options for the class like, “Here. For your art project you can make a Christmas Tree, a snowflake, or a menorah… it’s up to you… and then we’ll display them proudly in the hall for everyone to see!” instead of telling them, “SHH! Nobody talk about holidays or celebrations or how we’re different!” If many of the students celebrate Christmas (and I’m talking the pagan version of it which most of it is now anyway…) why should they be prevented from doing the art projects and reading the stories that surround it? There’s nothing inherently “bad” about Christmas. Why do we have to hide it? As long as we’re giving ALL students the opportunity to share their own celebrations and customs and providing options when they might not celebrate something… isn’t that okay? Why do all the Christian holidays have to be put on the chopping block?
I’m just tired of Christmas being vilified… and I applaud the places and schools who aren’t afraid to embrace it.