August 9th, 2010
08:55 AM ET

My Take: Keep schools open on Christmas

Editor's Note: David Bristow serves as a Christian youth director in northern Virginia and is a graduate student at Washington Theological Union in Washington, D.C.

By David Bristow, Special to CNN

Christmas may still be five months away, but what would happen if schools around the country decided to open their doors for the holiday?

I pondered the question after reading a CNN Belief Blog post in which Imam Khalid Latif, executive director of New York University’s Islamic Center, argued that public schools should close for two prominent Muslim holidays in New York City.

Noting that more than 10 percent of New York City school students are Muslim, he suggests that the public school calendar grant the Islamic community the same holiday leisure as it already gives to Christian and Jewish students.

It’s no surprise that readers’ comments were highly diversified on the matter. But I didn’t see my point of view represented among the hundreds of comments. A full-time Christian youth minister, I wouldn’t care in the slightest if public schools opened on Christmas Day. I’m fine with school on Christmas.

Here’s my reasoning: For those religiously devoted to Christmas, having school on the holiday might foster more faithfulness and community from professed Christians.

As the Christmas season becomes more and more secularized, various Christian segments have accommodated its material encroachment, often consuming massive amounts of product to the detriment of daily prayer, charity and genuine worship. Such a trend is not exactly what I feel Christ would want from his followers.

Yet having school open on Christmas Day could very well re-emphasize its true meaning for believer and non-believer alike. Devoted Christian families would have to miss school just as the country’s Muslim youth should do for Eid ul-Fitr and Eid Ul-Adha.

Muslims aren’t the only religious minorities that have to do this. Jewish students often miss school activities for Yom Kippur. In doing so, American Muslims and Jews make a subtle but radical point, that faithful believers— not New York City politicians or its Department of Education—determine how and when they nourish their souls on holy days.

Of course, such a viewpoint is not without detractors.

The Christian, like the Muslim, would have to accept the consequences dished out by local school systems for their absence—be it missed school work, soccer practice, AP tests, etc. However, this may be the cost of faithful witness when one’s religiosity doesn’t jibe with public education or modern democratic principles.

It is a faith-centered rationale that seems to be lacking among many mainstream Christians. For the life of me, I can’t remember the last time a Christian youth had a “religious obligation” over and above a prominent public school activity. But I’ve encountered many a Muslim youth who has done so. Maybe it's time we Christians learned from our Muslim brothers and sisters.

The issue is not about getting sanctioned approval for a religious observance. At best, such rallying seeks to outwardly justify one’s faith commitments and, at worst, relegates those same commitments to the whimsy of outside governing committees.

What I don’t understand about Latif’s post is why he feels Muslims would be any better off by having their holidays legitimated with school days off. To the contrary, his perspective runs the risk of over-accommodating the Muslim faith in the same way some Christians have watered down theirs.

Instead, why not continue to have thousands of Muslims miss school for the religious observances they hold so dear? It reinforces the idea that faithfulness to ones’ sacred days are a personal affair. It should make no difference as to what New York City bureaucrats decide to do with Muslim holidays because, at the end of the day, they’re not the ones in control of the matter.

I’m all for working with local governments, city councils and educational systems for the betterment of all. Yet a “working with” doesn’t need to entail a “bowing down to,” especially when it comes to matters of worship. What worries me most about Latif’s argument is that he appears to seek integration largely for reasons other than those set forth by his faithful witness.

I pray that Latif understands that Muslim children don’t have to attend school on their sacred days any more than Christians would if schools opened on Christmas. I hope he teaches Muslim students to realize that choosing between education and faith is to have already made a mistake. And I trust he’ll comprehend how percentages or social demographics should never determine who gets a religious holiday and who does not.

Our faiths are too good for that. They deserve better.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of David Bristow.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • Holidays • Interfaith issues • Islam • Opinion

soundoff (320 Responses)
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    December 27, 2012 at 4:04 am |
  3. Grundschule Musik

    This is a great idea. But there is nothing to lose if they allow 2 more holidays in a year. http://www.buhv.de/

    July 11, 2011 at 2:23 am |
  4. ShattrdWrld

    Seem to recall the US being settled by Christians, and that the majority of US citizens are Christians. Maybe we should focus on the big picutre and just make sure we don't harm the small groups. Tired of political correctness, as all it's done is ruin the country through gov't racism.

    August 24, 2010 at 6:00 pm |
    • Btwind


      Majority rules? So let's all ignore the other major world religions? You sure do sound content to alienate millions just to keep things simple.

      Being considerate of other religions isn't gov't racism, you're the anti-semite. There's more of us non-Christians than you realize, and we're taking over. Just turn on the TV and look at all of the Jews running the entertainment industry and our subliminal messages are going to turn you into one of us. Afraid? You sound so afraid of us that you want to ignore us so we go away. Not gonna happen buddy 😉

      December 3, 2010 at 10:29 pm |
  5. Steven

    I'm frankly amazed at the number of people who say that this is a Christian nation; from the first amendment to the Constitution:
    "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion..." There is no official state religion. Our Constitution was written to support the rule of the majority without stamping on the rights of the minority. There are millions of people in this country who do not celebrate Christmas, but the holiday has become a secular celebration (for some) and is a national holiday; even for those who aren't Christian. People of faith will make their own decisions about personal celebrations. Telling them that their religion may not be 'official' is offensive and discriminatory at best.

    August 23, 2010 at 3:12 pm |
  6. troy in america

    Hey listen the up what does santa cluas have to do with religion if they want to close the schools on chrismas let them close the schools,dont let them take our idenity from us these are lies and if the jews dont like it i got two words for you fuck off im american,i dont drink the flouridated water,im going all organic soon and you jews,globalist and eugenics will not destroy my country christmas shall remain because its american we invented santa claus and a chrismas tree with presents, stop bring jesus christ into this, you know this has nothing to do with religion and everything to do with destroying this country

    August 19, 2010 at 1:46 am |
  7. Acmed Shams

    we must not allow muslim children to be indoctrinated into hatred by radical madrassas. this is what will happen:


    August 12, 2010 at 5:29 pm |
  8. Tracy

    Ok, this is the first article on faith on CNN that I can honestly say I agree with. Wow! I really ought to write this day down.

    I'm a Christian. I do belong anyone's church, but Christ's church. I am not Baptist, Catholic, Methodis, Penecostal, etc... I am a Christian. It amazes me how many folks identify themselves not as a CHRISTIAN, but rather as a DENOMINATION, which in fact, was never God's intent. Anyway, that isn't the point of the article. I base that statement about being a Christian because of what I'm about to say.

    Christ did not command us to celebrate his birth. In fact, Christmas is proven to have been "created" by the Catholic church to coninside, compete with per say, a Peagon Holiday. Over much time, Christmas as the Catholic Church sought to celebrate became anything but religious as we all know. Now it's all about the fat guy in the red Santa suit, gifts under a Christmas Tree, and annual town fights over manger scenes.

    Bottom line is, Christmas isn't a religious holiday, contrary to what this "Youth Minister" has stated in this article. Now, my "fellow Chiristians" would like to think of it as one, but folks, it isn't. Yes, as a Christian I just said that, go ahead, pick yourself up off the floor now from shock. LoL!

    I'm not saying it's sinful to celebrate Christ's birth, but to proclaim a certain day was Christ's birth, when in fact we don't really know the exact date of Christ's birth, that's going to far.

    I'd be ok with schools open on Christmas. Those that wish to celebrate it as a "religious holiday" are more than welcome too, those that devoted to something that truly isn't scriptual, will take the time to celebrate it.

    For the record, I do put up a Christmas tree, have a big family Christmas dinner, etc... but I consider Christmas a time of year when my family, who at times are scattered through out the country can come together and spend time together. I celebrate Christ's birth and death for that matter each and every Sunday, on the first day of the week. I don't need a Christmas holiday to do that.

    August 12, 2010 at 5:08 pm |
    • Kate

      Amen! Amen! What you said makes the most sense out of just about everything I've read here. God bless!

      For all the teachers who have responded, for the record, I respect how much time and work you put into your job. Thanks for all that you do, and I pray for your safety and that God would continue to use you to do great things. Not every teacher does things right, but those of you who are doing the job well, keep it up, and know that I do thank you from the bottom of my heart.

      So, I'm about to go husk corn for dinner. Take care all, and God bless.


      August 16, 2010 at 7:33 pm |
  9. Blessed Geek

    Do you remember Christian fundamentalists prior to 1990 arguing that Christmas is pagan and from the devil?

    Nowadays, the new breed of fundamentalists take time to chastise Walmart and Target for not letting their cashiers greet "Merry Christmas" where "merry" traditionally means "get drunk in an orgy". What happened between then and now?

    August 11, 2010 at 3:06 pm |
    • chronoslinger

      I second that, I believe the what people call "fundamental" today is anything but, fundamentalism wasn't a bad thing (just a few simple beliefs) but now it's become way too complex to be fundamental, I mean some of the most complex stuff on earth (DNA) is simpler than today's "fundamentalists"

      December 9, 2010 at 11:24 am |
  10. Gary

    There are too many secularist Christians to keep schools open. If the schools were kept open they would largely be empty. Practicing Christians are generally engaged in reflecting and celebrating Christ during the entire time of advent through Epiphany. Kids would miss classes and events certainly on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and possibly Epiphany.

    I would have no proble if schools just stayed open. I think that they would avoid tests on any of the major faiths holy days just out od respect, but there isn't much of that going around these days.

    The secular Christians are too busy with Xmas parties, and Holiday cards, and "the Season",

    In fact, most americans basically celebrate Hallowthankmas. That goofball made up commercial holiday that runs from Mid October to New Years.

    August 11, 2010 at 9:17 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.