Monday, December 16, 2013

Well Said: The Ghost of Christmas Lost

Tis the time of year to celebrate Santa being allowed back in Texas schools. Or to read about schools who insist on having no religious songs in Christmas - excuse me - holiday pageants. Or even, as Tom pointed out the other day, to watch Lexus ads which tell us "winter is the season to buy a new car." (Winter is the season? Really? Are they going to run these in February? Now they can't even say "holiday?" Brother, did we laugh.)

All this made me think fondly back to actor Stephen Tobolowsky's Christmas Reflection, part of which I share with you here.
A few years ago I was driving the carpool to school. It was the day of the Christmas program. I told the kids I was eager to come to the show. I asked what Christmas songs they were singing. There was a lengthy pause followed by the innocent reply, “We’re not singing any Christmas songs. Our teacher says that they are too religious. We are only singing songs about the Winter solstice.

It was one of those moments I wished I carried small caliber weapons. I took a breath and said, “Who is your teacher?”

Alex answered back, “Mr. Webster.”

I said, ”Alex, you know Mr. Webster probably doesn’t know this, but the Winter solstice is religious too. It celebrates Paganism. So if he really wants to cut out religion he should just stick to Beatles songs.”

Alex was silent. He recognized the signs of an adult quietly flipping out while driving. I was too angry. I couldn’t stop. I calmly said, “Alex. I have a question for you to ask Mr. Webster. Tell him that Mr. Tobolowsky wanted to know many songs Johann Sebastian Bach wrote in honor of the Winter solstice? How many paintings of Michelangelo were inspired by the solstice? In fact I would like Mr. Webster to cite one reference to the solstice in the works of Charles Dickens, George Eliot, and Jane Austen. Just one.”

The decision to remove Christmas songs from a children’s Christmas show was the definition small-minded. I shouldn’t have been surprised. It was the kind of choice you expect from an expensive private school in Los Angeles.

I dropped the kids off. They ran inside for another date with meaninglessness.
As anyone knows who listens to The Tobolowsky Files, Stephen Tobolowsky is too good a story teller to leave us with just that ending. Go read the whole thing at his blog.


  1. Well said, indeed!

  2. I was very distressed to read Stephen Tobolowsky's story.

    First of all I would like to say that I personally am a very dedicated Christian, specifically Catholic, and am now retired from 44 years of public school teaching.

    When I was a Kindergarten/First Grade teacher, I knew that ALL the parents, Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim, Christians of all denominations, as well as non-believers, trusted me with their precious children.

    Little children idolize their teachers. For me to have Jewish children and other non-Christians singing about baby Jesus would conflict with what their parents believe and have been teaching them.

    While I can't speak for our wonderful Pope, I would like to think that he wouldn't want to endorse a situation that would create conflict between young children and their parents.

    Yes. There were more Christians children than non-Christians in my classroom through the years, but my basic tenet of teaching was that if even one child was hurt by my actions, that was one child too many.

    I wonder what Stephen Tobolowsky would say if his children had to sing songs praising Krishna, Mohamed, or the Buddha?

    Christian parents and their children have MANY opportunities to sing Christmas songs and attend pageants and plays and see living crèches.

    But In our schools, we must be respectful of all, and be especially diligent in respecting the beliefs of families of young children who are in our care.



    1. I am not sure you actually clicked through, as I requested, and read the entire piece. Mostly because I am trying to figure out how Stephen Tobolowsky (who is a devout, practicing Jew) pointing out that celebrations of the Winter Solstice are pagan, and therefore religious, is somehow insulting to Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, and various other children. His suggestion that they instead have a regular music program, singing Beatles songs which would offend no one, seems to me to be reasonable under the circumstances you mention.

      If I were living in a Hindu country and my children were denied the chance to experience the local culture because a Diwali celebration was deemed too insulting to anyone who might believe differently, I'd feel they were cheated of a chance to enrich their lives. Likewise if we were living in a Muslim country, I'd expect Ramadan to be prominent in the schools, both the fasting and the joyful celebration that occurs every night when the fast is broken.

      If my faith couldn't take a couple of songs without feeling endangered, I'd feel it was a pretty weak and useless faith. If all we do is worry about being just like each other, where is the chance to enjoy the richness of culture? My oldest daughter and her friends would support their Muslim schoolmate in her fasting during high school during Ramadan. It was a Catholic high school. Obviously those parents didn't feel threatened. That young lady is now, I believe, an Amnesty International representative for Egypt. Isn't it possible that her deep experience of a fully celebrated Catholic life enables her to more fully do her job?

      When all we do is lower everything to the lowest common denominator it hurts us all. If nothing else, celebrating Christmas, no matter what one's faith, is a part of our country's culture. I bet those kids who aren't allowed to sing Christmas songs are watching A Charlie Brown Christmas at home. I certainly hope their parents aren't afraid of a little diversity. It is what made America great and can continue to do so ... Christmas songs and all.

  3. There's a movement up here in my area by a political party to make sure no person can wear religious artifacts of any kind because it might "offend" another. I'm waiting for specific colors to be outlawed because they might be considered "too religious".

    So when does it stop and society becomes tolerant enough for these people? Because I don't see an end to this slippery slope that doesn't end in bad things.