It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like … Winter Holiday

Lord Alfred Douglas, in a poem from the 1890s, euphemistically branded homosexual behavior as “the love that dare not speak its name.” In recent years, homosexual behavior has gotten quite vocal about itself, causing confusion over “love” and even “marriage.” Religion in general, however, and Judaism and especially Christianity in particular, have been muted—gagged might be a better term—in the public square.

Case-in-point: the decision by the Montgomery County (Maryland) Board of Education to drop all religion references in next year’s school calendar. (In their general disregard for holidays, the Board’s decision occurred on November 11, which should be a federal holiday honoring America’s veterans).

The suburban Washington, D.C. county has closed schools on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the Jewish High Holy Days, since the 1970s. It has been closing a lot longer for Christmas.

Local Muslim activists asked that the school board also close on Eid-al-Adha. The conundrum was that the Muslim holiday falls next year on September 23, the same day as Yom Kippur. Montgomery County schools would have closed on Yom Kippur. But how, in a county that prides itself on its “diversity” and “tolerance” could one close on Yom Kippur but not on Eid-al-Adha?

In some sense, the problem is both in 2015 and afterwards. The 2015 issue: how to “honor” one day without “dishonoring” another. One could have simply put both Jewish and Muslim names on the calendar. But that would create a precedent and that raises the post-2015 problem: because both the Jewish and Muslim religious calendars are lunar-based, Yom Kippur and Eid-al-Adha would diverge. Each holiday would have to stand by itself.

Montgomery’s 2015 solution? Just strip off the name.

One argument for closing on the Jewish High Holiday days was that absenteeism among Montgomery’s Jewish staff and students would be high; missing Muslims would be much fewer. (Local Muslims began a campaign in 2013 to keep kids home on the Eid al-Adha holiday, in the hope of driving absenteeism up to a critical mass to garner Board attention.)

Montgomery County school officials maintained they close on these holidays, not necessarily for these holidays. The decision to close is dictated by “secular, operational reasons”—too high an absenteeism rate makes holding classes self-defeating. Closure is not dictated, they stress, by observing the holiday: “we cannot close school for religious reasons.”

The practical outcome of the decision means that schools will remain closed on Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Christmas … but those holidays will be anonymous or, more accurately, pseudonymous.

Board member Rebbeca Smondrowski, who offered the amendment to strip the names, branded the 7-1 decision “the most equitable option.” In some sense, she’s correct: in the best secularist tradition, the Board managed to offend all three religions of the Book. Equity obviously means religion gets short shrift. Diversity means everything diverse about the day should be suppressed under a homogenized, secular pseudo-label.

Christians have already grown used to being muzzled in public space. The “war on Christmas” has already been underway for some time and, in the name of being “inoffensive,” Christians have been subjected so long to “happy holidays” that some have even adopted the euphemism. Secular ears clearly cannot be burdened by the sound of “C-h-r-i-s-t-m-a-s.” Christian throats, on the other hand, are deemed to suffer nothing from subjection to an annual semantic tracheotomy. (There is, of course, the further secular mishmash imposed on Nativity scenes where, in the name of a “diversity” devoid of any historical foundation, Jesus lies in the manger beneath a Star of David while shepherds romp with Frosty the Snowman and Magi pull up on camels alongside Santa’s sled.)

A similar fate now apparently awaits other Peoples of the Book. Reading the comments to the Washington Post story reporting on the Board decision, one was struck by the numbers of respondents who clearly regarded any acknowledgement in Board policy that students and staff might be “clinging to religion,” and guiding their behavior (including their attendance) by it, as Constitutional mauvaise foi.

A truly “tolerant” and “diverse” community would be one that admits that its members have other commitments they regard as more important, and takes account of them in welcoming ways that acknowledge them not just because they are religious (which is important in itself) but because they honor the right of their fellow citizens to free public exercise of those ultimate commitments. As the Polish philosopher Zbigniew Stawrowski has argued, it is only a pseudo-tolerant community that installs a rigid secularist dogmatism hounding any trace of religion out of public life as a test of supposed Constitutional fidelity and then demands, in the name of its one approved dogma, that reality be renamed to expunge any religious identification.  Love of neighbor means celebrating with one’s neighbor, not searching for purely utilitarian justifications (too many kids will be absent) to concede begrudgingly acknowledgement that religion shapes some (American) neighbors’ lives. That love, now, had apparently better not speak its name … at least in Montgomery County, Maryland.

(Photo credit: Sarah L. Voisin / The Washington Post)

John M. Grondelski

By

John M. Grondelski (Ph.D., Fordham) is former associate dean of the School of Theology, Seton Hall University, South Orange, NJ. All views expressed herein are exclusively his own.

  • Ken

    In my novel about a family that eventually decides to home school their son — http://reenchantment.net — one of the encounters they have at the public school is the gradual elimination of Christmas in favor of a Winter Festival.

    More families need to consider their options.

    • St JD George

      You’ll be happy to know (and I’m sure are already aware) that more families are considering their options, recently accelerated by the pollution that is called the common core. Even though I no longer have kids of this age I feel strongly that the Catholic church needs to expand here too. I know there is a strong tradition of brick and mortar that is crumbling because of declining attendance, but there should be an outreach to parents who see the problems with public schools and their kids indoctrination so want better for them but may not be able to afford traditional private school costs. It is truly sad how they keep lowering the standards to the lowest common denominator while filling them with so much garbage. It’s no wonder the country is in the shape it’s in after so many decades of their social engineering with their agenda largely hidden behind parents backs in the name of progress and community property.

      • Common core math is like having the “anal retentive chef” of the old Saturday Night Life skits teach math.

        Unfortunately, many Dioceses have surrendered to big money and big government, here too.

        • John Albertson

          The Archdiocese of New York has embraced both the Common Core and the Universal Pre-K programs, with Cardinal Dolan agreeing to cover crucifixes and other religious symbols in exchange for government money. The result is an increase in home schooling and private Catholic academies.

          • St JD George

            Cause … effect, go figure.

          • ForChristAlone

            Is the Cardinal Catholic?

            • I think he’s a member of the Order of the Corpulent.

            • John O’Neill

              Hard to say he was born Catholic but baptized Democrat like most of the Kennedy Catholics. Dolan seems to fit the Francis Church perfectly so we are in trouble. O tempora O mores

  • jacobhalo

    Isn’t it amazing that the Winter Holiday just happens to coincide with Christmas season, and the Spring Break just happens to coincide with Easter?

  • s;vbkr0boc,klos;

    I really don’t care, its all word games. St. Louis University High School (‘c’atholic) has an enormous nativity scene they put up right after Thanksgiving. MY Church is in the midst of the delicious mysteries of Advent, I suppose the Jesuits have a different church. Sort of unlucky, you know, like seeing the bride before the wedding or “Hey, my wife’s pregnant, have a cigar!”. What secularists don’t do will never matter as much as what WE don’t do. The commercialization of Christmas is the real Trojan Horse.

  • Vinny

    The Israelites were exiled from their land. Christians are being exiled in the U.S. within their land.

    • Tom in AZ

      Cry me a river.

      • Scott W.

        It’s not necessarily an occasion for crying because a Christian that has done any amount of study knows that things like this are just another day in a fallen world.

  • “Lord Alfred Douglas, in a poem from the 1890s, euphemistically branded homosexual behavior as “the love that dare not speak its name.” In recent years, homosexual behavior has gotten quite vocal about itself, causing confusion over “love” and even “marriage.””

    Or more succintly, the “love” that dare not speak its name won’t shut the hell up.

  • publiusnj

    We should never be less than fully assertive about Christmas because politicians are very feral and can smell indecision. If they can undercut Christmas to throw non-Christians a bone, they will. So, we need instead to assert the primacy of Christmas, qua Christmas, without apology.

    Truth be told Christmas is the most important time of the Year; it ain’t even close. The Secular Season of Christmas used to begin the day after Thanksgiving because Christmas is what gets people out of themselves enough to share the joy of living and giving and therefore shopping and buying presents, decorations, and food. It is so powerful that shopowners of all faiths BELIEVE in Christmas because it often means the difference between a successful business in the black and “red ignominy.” Hence, the neologism: “Black Friday.” Good christians at times even protest that Christmas is TOO commercialized. That, is another issue, and one that really is a personal thing. The fact remains Christmas is the SEASON the shines out with Joy, Love and Hope in an increasingly grim nation.

    The politicians, of course, have made up their own holidays but they have little currency. Who really cares about Labor Day? Except a few of the most aged union people who are still left around or the people at the beach who can keep their stores open until Labor Day? Who really cares about Memorial Day? Except the same people who put on sales for a few of the official holdays (Veterans’ Day sales and Memorial Day Sales differ not in what is commemorated but what is put on sale) and some that aren’t even? MLK, Jr. Day? Maybe it’s more deeply held by a small segment of the country but again, for most, a good day for sales. Independence Day has a little more cachet, but not much. And Thanksgiving is being overtaken by THE SEASON because our “culture” is little more than a marketplace. The only real “Culture” we have is that which is left from our European Christian Heritage.

    So, if we protest the attempt to destroy our only real culture, the politicians will probably back off as quickly as the store owners who were trying to eliminate Merry Christmas for awhile. Indeed, how dare they interfere with our real culture when they are making such a hash of everything they are touching?

    Joyeux Noel! Buon Natale! Feliz Navidad! Merry Christmas!

    • Michael Paterson-Seymour

      In Scotland, Christmas only became a public holiday in 1958. The proposal met with a lot of opposition. Many regarded it as an English innovation and a number of the churches opposed it, too.

      The 1st and 2nd of January have been public holidays time out of mind – one day to celebrate the New Year and another day to get over it.

      • publiusnj

        Christmas is an English innovation? What idiots those Scots must be!
        Christmas is surely “a little older” than either the Anglican Church (founded 1534) or the Scottish Kirk (founded a few decades later). Christmas has been celebrated since before the Holy Roman Church became a licit religion in the Roman Empire.

        What’s really afoot? The Established Scottish Kirk doesn’t hate the English so much as they purportedly hate Catholicism. If they really hated the English, the 1707 Union of England and Scotland never would have occurred.

        The Scottish lairds, in truth, did not want to become part of the Anglican Church after JamesVI/I gained the English Throne, so they accused the Anglicans of being “too papist.” What was the benefit to the lairds of maintaining a separate “elders”–rather than bishops and king–based church in Scotland? The lairds got to continue their control over local parishes as most of them had been doing since they used the pretext of Protestantism as a basis for taking political power away from Mary Stuart in the 1560s. As part of that campaign to paint Anglicanism as “too papist,” the Scots passed a law in 1640 banning Christmas, while engaged in their so-called Bishops’ Wars against some changes the King was proposing for the Scottish Kirk.

        BTW, the English-Scottish Union of 1707 would never have occurred if the Scots lairds hadn’t been able to retain control over those parishes. The English eventually backed down and their capitulation was formalized in the 1711 Church Patronage Act that left the lairds in charge of the parishes once again..

        • Michael Paterson-Seymour

          No one thought the feast of Christmas was an English innovation. The believed that making it a public holiday was and feared that it might lead to the abolition of New Year’s Day and 2nd January holiday, neither of which were public holidays in England.

          Boxing Day (26th December), a public holiday in England only became one in Scotland in 1974. The same Act made New Year’s Day (but not 2nd January) a public holiday in England.

          In the event, Scotland gained two additional public holidays and England one

      • slainte

        In 1950s Scotland, which group(s) advocated for Christmas to become a public holiday?

        Didn’t the Scots publicly and privately celebrate Christmas pre-Reformation…..you know before the Maypoles and Mistletoe were outlawed?

        • publiusnj

          Of course Scots celebrated Christmas before the Reformation.

          • slainte

            In the Calvinist tradition, English Puritans and their native son Oliver Cromwell banned Christmas in England…the Scots Presbyterians did the same in Scotland.

            The west of Scotland and the Highlands though were mostly Catholic even post Reformation. The Gaels in the west of Scotland didn’t bend the knee so quickly to J. Knox and the other reformers as the mostly non-Gael occupants of the east coast city of Edinburgh did.

            So there was likely a difference in the manner of celebrating Christmas in the west of Scotland vs. the east. It is this which MPS may shed some light upon.

            Even today publiusnj, the personality of towns like Oban or the rural Mull and Iona (and even the city of Glasgow) still resonate with more of a Gaelic Catholic flavor of lightness of being that “feels” different from the more rigid propriety of cities such as Edinburgh or Sterling…at least that was my sense as a tourist.

            • publiusnj

              We are several steps removed from the issues of Christmas in 21st Century America. MPS brought up the not very relevant issue of Christmas in Scotland for some not very clear reason. I then showed the silliness of any claim that Christmas was an Englsh innovation. You then segued into the question of what happened in Scotland on Christmases back before the Reformation. I then used the text of the 1640 Scots Law Banning Christmas to show that prior to the ban, there, of course, were laws that provided for the keeping of a Yule Vacation, which calls into question MPS’s claim that Christmas was celebrated as a public holiday for the first time in Scotland in 1958. You now seek to explore the keeping or non-keeping of Christmas in areas of the Scottish Highlands that remained partly Catholic after the Reformation. I have no immediate knowledge of the question and will defer to MPS and yourself, unless somebody makes the claim that the Catholics of Scotland somehow spurned Christmas until the law changed in 1958.

              • slainte

                Publiusnj, thank you for your research on the issue of Christmas and the law in protestant Scotland. Your points are enlightening (literally and figuratively).

                I will edit my posts to reduce any confusion.

              • Michael Paterson-Seymour

                Of course, Christmas was observed as a religious festival before the Reformation, along with a number of other popular celebrations.

                Children were given gifts on St Nicholas’s Day (6th December) including nuts and candied friut in a stocking; adults exchanged gifts at Epiphany, a month later.

                St Lucy’s Day (13th December) was a major public celebration (possibly under Scandinavian influence). There were torchight processions, featuring a girl with a crown of lighted candles, with bonfires lit in the streets and oxen and sheep roasted. Recall that, in the Julian calendar, it would have coincided with the Winter Solstice. Similarly, there was a major celebration on St Barnabas’s day (11th June) falling around the Summer Solstice.

                New Year’s Eve was kept as St Sylvester’s Day, a name still used in the Highlands.

                • slainte

                  “…nuts and candied friut in a stocking…”

                  The Christmas fruitcake which is still with us today.

                  • Michael Paterson-Seymour

                    Not to mention Christmas pudding and mince pies!

          • Michael Paterson-Seymour

            The legislation referred to regarding the Yule vacation had been introduced at the same time as Laud’s Prayer Book and was part of the Stuart policy of remodelling the Kirk on Anglican lines.

            This, you will recall, is what led Jenny Geddes to throw her stool at the Dean of Edinburgh in St Giles Cathedral, when he tried to read prayers from Laud’d book on 23 July 1637. Disturbances broke out all over the kingdom and on 28 February following, thousands signed the National Covenant in St Giles churchyard.

            • publiusnj

              Never heard of Ms. Geddes’s obnoxious behavior before (that I recall), but it is just one more example of how ugly the Scots can be.

              • Michael Paterson-Seymour

                Others joined in with gusto

                http://tinyurl.com/pqoxou5

                Jenny Geddes’s protest is often regarded as the first incident in the War of the Three Kingdoms

                • publiusnj

                  Now we know where the Fergusonians got their inspiratioon.

              • slainte

                Jenny Geddes raged at the Anglicans in 1637….take a look at what the reformers did to the Catholics in 1559 by way of the Cathedral of Saint Andrews just due north of Edinburgh.

                http://www.panoramio.com/photo/47647241

                I assure you the photo does not do justice to the site; the dark skeletal remnants of the once majestic cathedral still resonates the violence of the reformation.

                Not all Scots participated in the treachery…many Highlanders remained resolute Catholics through it all.

      • John O’Neill

        In fact under the Puritan rule Christmas was banned because it was much too papish; in New England where the American Liberal Church originated the banning of Christmas was continued in accordance with their Puritan beliefs. It was Queen Victoria under the influence of her German husband who restored Christmas in England. Many of our Christmas traditions stem from this English/German rebirth of Christmas. Medieval Catholic England celebrated Christmas elaborately, the twelve days of Christmas were the days between Christmas and Epiphany. It was a merry time hence the Puritans could not tolerate it. Funny how the modern American secularists who own the political body and the corporate body of Americans follow their Puritan roots still.

    • slainte

      Nollaig shona dhuit!….Publiusnj

  • Stanislav

    ☧-mas

    ☧ (Chi-Rho, Alt-9767) is an ancient Christian symbol. It is made up of two letters of the Greek alphabet, Chi (Χ) and Rho (Ρ), the first two letters of the word Christ in Greek. It would, in itself, make a good Christmas Card (or addition to one). For most people, an explanation would be needed. It’s a great replacement for the ever-present X-mas.

  • cestusdei

    No one is more intolerant then a liberal.

    • Chris Cloutier

      “Tolerance is the last virtue of a dying society.”
      Aristotle

  • Kyra_Athena

    In our local school system in Georgia, absences due to a religious holiday are excused without question. I have never been questioned for sending my child with a note for a holy day of obligation.

  • HAppy Festivus!

    • Objectivetruth

      Being a fellow Pennsylvanian DE, I invite you to celebrate Ground Hogs Day, religiously, with me this year. We will make our pilgrimage to Punxsutawney, as if it were Mecca.

  • I’m in favor of respecting the religious holidays of all religions. How many business days would be left is another question. 🙂

    • Michael Paterson-Seymour

      I once remarked to some of my French friends that I thought it a pity that Corpus Christi (which the French call simply the « Fête-Dieu » or “Feast of God”) is nowadays transferred to the nearest Sunday.

      They explained to me that the government would allow the Church only one public holiday that always fell on a Thursday, as people would, inevitably, make it an excuse for a long weekend – « faire le pont » or “make a bridge,” as they say and so the bishops settled for Ascension Day.

      The notion that there could be a Holiday of Obligation that was not also a public holiday was quite beyond their comprehension. Currently, they have only four: Christmas Day, Ascension, Assumption and All Saints. In addition, Easter and Whit Mondays are public holidays

  • Tony

    In our schools now, you are more likely to read obscenities from your assigned literature than you are even to utter the name of God, let alone learn about how the Christian faith has formed the very nation where you live.

    I think we should celebrate Embarrassment Day, once a year, by reading in a public school or a court or a public library one of the laws passed by the given state in 1840, or a selection from a textbook approved by the state board of education in 1900, or a speech given by one of the state’s solons in 1920 … THE WHOLE HISTORY OF ONE’S STATE will be seen to have been “unconstitutional”.

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