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Losing Hope (A Long Winter Holiday Rant)

A few weeks ago, one of my co-workers confided in me that she was a bit upset that the Holidays were not to be celebrated in the Madison school district. Schools were not to decorate for the holidays. They were allowed to have parties, but they were not allowed to have any holiday theme. Any treats that the children would bring from home for these parties were to be as generic as possible.

I thought that maybe my co-worker might have been exaggerating a little bit, so I asked my sister-in-law, who is an elementary school teacher, if any of this were true. She said that yes it was. And she added that the teachers were under strict orders to ensure that no mention of Christmas, Hanukkah, Yule, or any other religious or cultural celebrations were made. Teachers were not allowed to give their students any gifts in celebration of the holidays. They were to discourage students from bringing in anything or wearing any clothing that might denote some sort of holiday mention. And on the last day before the winter break, teachers were only allowed to wish their students a good break.

Then I read about the SeaTac airport who removed the 15 Christmas trees in response to a complaint by a rabbi who threatened to sue that either the trees be taken down, or he be allowed to install an 8-foot menorah and have a public lighting ceremony.

Now, I found myself extremely upset by all of this, but instead of ranting immediately, I decided to take some time to ask myself, why did I find this so disturbing. At first, I thought, "Well, Genevieve, you are a Catholic, and Christmas is an important holiday to you." But that didn't seem enough. So, I went online to research the various celebrations of other faiths during this time of year.

When I was in Catholic grade school, every year we had a Christmas celebration where we learned about how this time of year was celebrated throughout the world. So, for me growing up, Christmas wasn't just a time of celebrating the birth of Christ, but it was also a time to celebrate the amazing diversity of the human race, with all its cultures and religions. One thing I didn't really understand at the time, but after having done some research this year, I do understand now, is that every single celebration at this time of year is a celebration of HOPE. It's a time of celebration of things that have already happened, but also of things yet to come. It is a time of taking a look into the past and finding hope in the future.

Some little bit about the celebrations that take place in various cultures at this time of year:

Christmas is the time in which Christians around the world celebrate the joy and hope of the birth of the Savior. Birth of a child, in and of itself, is usually a great time of celebration and the hope of a new life breathed into the world. Christmas is a time of joy and hope that God has come directly into the world, to teach, to serve, and to redeem. Advent begins the celebration on the 4th Sunday before Christmas day as a time of preparation and anticipation, which is culminated on Christmas Day and is celebrated for 12 days until Epiphany, the coming of the 3 Wise Men to the stable where Christ and his family were found.

In the Scandinavian countries, as well as Italy, Bosnia, and Croatia, on December 13 we find the Feast of Saint Lucia, which begins the Christmas season in Scandinavia. Legend has it that St Lucia was a martyr who had been killed very brutally (they tried to burn her, but she would not die, so they stabbed her in the throat and plucked out her eyes, and still she would not die, so they finally beheaded her) on the darkest day of the year in 304AD. Prior to the reform of the Gregorian calendar, St Lucia's Day fell on the winter solstice. The eldest girl in a family, portraying Lucia, walks wearing a crown of candles, at the head of a procession of other women holding a candle each. The candles symbolize the fire that refused to take her life. The festival celebrates hope in the symbology of light overcoming the darkness.

Hanukkah is a celebration of victory over an enemy and a reclamation of Jerusalem. According to the Talmud, only a one day supply of nondesecrated oil was to be found in the Temple when the Maccabees went to prepare it for a rededication to Yahweh, after having removed all the Syrian idols. The Maccabees lit the candles, expecting only one day of light, but miraculously, the oil lasted for eight full days before more oil was brought. This miracle was a sign of hope for the Jewish people that God was with them. Every year, the Jewish people take the days of Hanukkah and light a candle on a nine-branched Menorah in celebration of the miracle of the oil that lasted 8 days.

This year, the Islamic holiday Eid al-Adha (Festival of Sacrifice), will fall on Dec 31. In 2007, it will fall on Dec 20 (the Islamic people follow a lunar calendar counting the first day of each month as the day of the New Moon). Eid al-Adha is the celebration of Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his own son, Ishmael, to Allah (it follows the same storyline as Abraham sacrificing Isaac, except the Islamic people believe that it was Ishmael and not Isaac whom Abraham tried to sacrifice at Allah's behest). It also marks the end of the Pilgrimage for the millions of Muslims who make the trip to Mecca each year. It is a celebration of hope, a celebration of deliverance, a celebration of how Allah saved Ishmael's life once He saw how obedient Abraham was. The attitude is in the willingness to make sacrifices in order to follow Allah's commands and finding hope and strength in doing so.

In Chinese and Korean communities, the Dongzhi Festival (or Winter Solstice Festival) is a huge celebration beginning as soon as the sun sets at the start of the longest night of the year. It finds its origins in the balance of Yin and Yang, celebrating the turning of the year from a time heading into darkness toward a return of light. A celebration of family unity, prosperity, and hope for the coming year. The Dongzhi Festival ends with the celebration of the Chinese New Year.

The Japanese celebrate winter solstice as Touji. Like for the Chinese, it is a time to pray for prosperity in the new year. A time of celebration for health and fortune. Pumpkin is eaten to prevent sickness and to ward off any evil spirits that might try to enter during the long dark night. A sacred warm bath with Yuzu (a sharp citrus fruit) is taken in hope that it will bring luck in the coming year.

In Hindu traditions, from mid-December to mid-January, the Markali Pillaiyar home festival is celebrated. It is a season for the worship of Lord Ganesha, the Lord of Good Fortune and Destroyer of Obstacles. He is associated with the first chakra, representing the instinct of conservation and survival, of procreation and material well-being. In India, the festival takes on proportions that rival Christmas in the West. It is a festival of hope, as it is believed that to invoke Lord Ganesha is to bring good fortune and success to any endeavor.

Traditionally on or near December 8th, Buddhists celebrate Bodhi Day, which commemorates the day that the historical Buddha first experienced Enlightenment. It is a time of prayer, meditation, and reflection upon Buddha and one's ancestors. Looking to them as inspiration of the state of Enlightenment to which they aspire. Celebrating this holiday gives Buddhists a sense of hope that they too can reach the same enlightened state that Buddha did.

Pagan and Wiccan communities have celebrations of the Winter Solstice or Yule. It is the celebration of the rebirth of the Sun, bringing the hope and promise of spring even on the darkest day of the year. A Yule Log is burned to give strength to the Sun as it is reborn, and an evergreen tree is decorated as a symbol of everlasting life. It is a time when the Holly King (representing death and darkness) who has ruled the earth since Samhain (Halloween) is conquered by the Oak King (representing rebirth and life). It is a time of celebrating newness, and hope for the new cycle of the year.

Now, with these kinds of celebrations of hope from so many diverse cultures and religions, why are we seeing in our American culture (one that is supposedly a melting pot and proud of its diversity) a movement toward removing any holiday traditions from public view? Everywhere I go I hear stories of "OMGWTF! How dare you impose your religious/cultural views/traditions on me!" in response to someone saying, "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Hanukkah" or "Merry Meet". I've run into store clerks who are not even allowed to say "Happy Holidays" or "Seasons Greetings".

How has a time of year that finds huge celebrations of hope, prosperity, generosity, good will, and enlightenment, turned into a grudge match of whose holiday is the best? I am so tired of hearing stories about bickering self involved people and groups who seem to have forgotten what this time of year is about in all cultures. What could be a wonderful time of celebrating America's diversity by teaching, showing, and allowing all cultures and religions to demonstrate their festival traditions of hope at this time of year, finds instead any celebration or tradition ignored and shoved out of the way, because of a fear of conflict.

This none rather than all attitude leaves winter a very bleak and cold place. In a time when we are fighting a war on foreign soil, terrorists are popping up all the time, the media is focusing on political arguments or celebrity snafus, and further divisiveness keeps showing up; we could be celebrating together, with our variety of traditions, a diverse but united hope of better things to come. Our schools could be teaching the children, our very own future, what hope means to different peoples and faiths at this time of year.

At this time, I would love nothing more than for each of you to work with me toward effecting a move back towards hope. It doesn't need to be huge and significant, but for the rest of the season, just boldly wish the people you meet with whatever holiday greeting seems appropriate to you. Refuse to let the celebration of your hope be silenced.

For myself, I wish all of you a very Merry and Joy-filled Christmas.


( 9 Ghosts — Haunt the Cellar )
Dec. 21st, 2006 06:42 pm (UTC)
Quick answer....our legal system. It's that whole questions of seperation of church and state. Any government funded organization has to remain neutral in all things religious. Think of it like reverse freedom of speach, you can't allow any at all or you start slipping down the slippery slope. (Personally, I think the smarter thing to do in the first example is let them set up and light the candles but what do I know).

Stores are protecting themselves from bad press, which are another key contributer to these things. At least however that the press here and there fixes problems as well. Press coverage managed to overturn that ridiculous peace sign ban in that one community. ( I don't have a link to the follow up crow eating).

Teachers, I think, are put in the worst spot. Their obligated to remain neutral, even if it does seem to be in support of the grinch.

Dec. 21st, 2006 08:01 pm (UTC)
It seems a shame, however, that the powers that be totally disregard the "...or prohibiting the free exercize thereof" part of the establishment clause.
Dec. 21st, 2006 11:10 pm (UTC)
One of the only good things about teaching in a conservative christian area is that we still have some parts of the holidays. The elementary kids have their "holiday" parties and decorate Christmas ornaments. In the middle school teachers and students are allowed to wear holiday appropriate attire, including things that are directly linked to Christmas. It is a shame though that this country has gone off the deep end over this argument.
Dec. 21st, 2006 07:11 pm (UTC)
Darn darn..I just posted a long post and it went away.

It was a babble babble fest.

It went something like this.

I am so glad I went to Catholic School for 12 years. My children will be following in those footsteps. We got to have Christmas parties..wear fun Christmas stuff and have all that goodness.

The thing I do not get is this, yes I know that Christmas is the day of Christ birth and I understand why some people might have a problem with the whole thing if they are not Catholic(or Christian)and it is against what they believe and that is fine. We all have the rights to our beliefs.

But really...what the heck does a tree..lights..flying reindeer, SNOWMEN...really snowmen???, cookies..candies, and the fat man in a suit have to do with the birth of Christ??
and the presents..we get presents..I know it is Christs birthday but why do we get presents?? It just does not make sense to me why people get so mad about it.

So this is what I say

Merry Christmas..Happy Holidays!!!

I love you all!!
Dec. 21st, 2006 09:00 pm (UTC)
Wow. I cannot believe the Madison school system does that. That's really horrible to pull all of the fun out of it like that.

Incidentally, in my daughter's school, they teach them about all of the holidays, which has been somewhat funny and cute because Christie came home wanting to know if we could celebrate Hannukah this year. I had to tell that we really weren't "qualified" to do it. :) I think the 8 days of presents had more to do with it though!

How did we as a people mess up the most joyous time of the year?

Dec. 21st, 2006 09:36 pm (UTC)
I got wrong at work for wishing a Jewish guy Merry Christmas. I didn't know he was Jewish at the time. I felt insulted that I was being told off for wishing someone a Merry Chrismas.

Not that I was surprised.
Dec. 22nd, 2006 02:02 am (UTC)
*Yay!* for winter holidays. *Sheesh* to the bureaucrats who have gone so far in some schools as hiding the red and green construction paper until January. And to add one, let's not leave out the patroness of the Americas, who is also celebrated this month...
Dec. 23rd, 2006 05:53 pm (UTC)
Season's Greetings is my personal favorite. It adds so much without leaving anything out. It gets complicated when one is Jewish and celebrates Christmas as a family and friend's holiday. On the first night of Chanukah I lit the menorah and went to a holiday caroling party and had a fantastic time! I'm watching "It's a Wonderful Life" on Christmas Eve and going to see "For Your Consideration" on Christmas day. With the SCA I get to stretch traditions and holiday fun further. So, take care, Merry and Happy Everything. Wishing you and yours all the best and bright blessing for the season.

Dec. 25th, 2006 09:56 pm (UTC)
Oh, cool. This is much better than my venting. Thanks for the link!
( 9 Ghosts — Haunt the Cellar )