Handling the Holidays
By Sherry Hall Culves
Twas the night before
Christmas Winter Break when all through the school,
There exists not a sign of religion nor reference to Yule.
The secular décor was hung in the classes with care,
In hopes that no lawyer soon would be there.
The symbols of faith were nestled all snug in their drawers,
While visions of Santa and snowflakes hung on the doors.
And the teacher in her “holiday sweater” and I in my bow
Had just settled down to watch a neutral student show.
When out on the court steps there arose such a clatter
I knew all our planning would soon really matter.
Our country’s traditions are rooted in principles of “One Nation Under God,” “In God We Trust,” and “God Bless America.” However, our society and our schools increasingly are pluralistic, with students coming from many different religious, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds. Schools walk a tightrope between protecting an individual’s rights to freedom of religion, speech, and expression versus avoiding the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause prohibitions.
As a result, what used to be known as the Christmas holiday season has long ago become the winter holiday season. When recitals used to be filled with classic carols and traditional Christian hymns, they are now carefully planned as secular, content-neutral events.
Does all of this mean that schools must remove any signs of Christmas -- either the Christian holiday or the commercialized version -- and that individuals must shed their own religious beliefs and holiday spirit? These suggestions can guide you to stay not only on the right side of the law, but also to make your schools welcoming for all of your students, staff, and families.
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