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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)
  1. WellThen

    There is so much controversy with school systems and the way everything is played out that I think our dear president Obama needs to restart the entire system all together.
    Here's an idea; Teach the kids what it's like to me mommy and daddy. Have it to where they need to request days off in advance; such as asking for religious holidays off or birthdays to celebrate. The better the grades, the more days off you can accumulate.
    Let the families decide what days are important to them. Give the students a max (Say, the total of school days missed from an average winter break, spring break, ect) and let the parents and students sprawl it out to fit their personal scheduals.

    August 9, 2010 at 10:33 pm |
  2. Julyay

    Corny last sentence.

    August 9, 2010 at 10:26 pm |
  3. Michael

    No, No. NO! Religious people are credulous nut-jobs, but Islam takes the cake for the least sane of the Abrahamic religions. In computer terms, Muslims see their God as God 3.0, Christianity's God as God 2.0, and Judaism's God as God 1.0. First of all the penalty for apostatizing (leaving your religion.) In the Islamic faith is DEATH, no exceptions. This religion needs to be thrown away into humanities history and only remembered on how NOT TO BE.

    August 9, 2010 at 10:25 pm |
  4. Kat

    Hey, we Pagans have Yule right around Christmas. (In all honestly it kinda belonged to the pagans of the non-earthy variety first anyways.) I personally come from a Christian household and it's a good compromise for me to have a small Yule celebration myself on Yule and then join in the bigger celebration on Christmas. I would take offense to anyone having to go to school on that day. It doesn't mater to me that the government so frequently favors Christians above everyone else. People who argue for other large religions, you may be heard eventually, but pagans got the short end of being not only a minor religion but pretty much hated and deemed heathens by all major religions. So when you can make your voice heard go for it, don't try to take away that which is given. Everyone has the right to fight for what they believe in.

    Plus why would you advocate kids missing a day of school anyways? That's so stupid, at todays pace missing just one day can mean weeks of torture trying to catch back up if they learn what they missed at all. So I'm going to go ahead and say advocating kids skip schools for holidays is a form of creating ignorance which can harm a person for life. Nice thinking, and I mean that in the most sarcastic way.

    August 9, 2010 at 10:22 pm |
    • Tony

      Kat, I was under the impression it didn't KINDA belong to the pagans, it DID belong to them. The early Christians didn't want anything to do with any celebrations of any kind, and tried to ban the ones that did exist. Then when they realized they couldn't stop the celebrations, they adoped an "if you can't beat 'em" attitude and "hijacked" things like Yule and Saturnalia and gave them a religious spin. With Christmas they gave it a Christian name. But with Easter, they didn't even do that. Eastre was the pagan goddess of springtime and offspring.

      August 9, 2010 at 10:54 pm |
  5. GiveItARest

    Ya, ya, ya...let's add more religious holidays to the list. Kids don't need to go to school. We can just keep adding on holidays or how about we just don't observe any of them b/c the Jehovah's Witnesses will be offended if we do.

    As it is, we have a great deal of national as well as religious holidays. I think we've done a good job of scheduling breaks based on the majority. That's, after all, how these things are decided – the majority of this country. However, to make everything fair and nice for everyone, we continue to water down any religious greeting or celebration within the schools to the point where we no longer can even say, Merry Christmas out of worry that someone might be offended.

    As it is, we are no longer allowed to even bring up the actual holiday of Christmas in school (not the religious part but even discussion of the traditions of Christmas). But when we invite all the parents to come in and share a different holiday or tradition with the class so that everyone is represented, no one shows up.

    Everyone is so worried about political correctness in this country or offending the one parent out of 40 that we have all gone and lost our ever-loving minds. As a parent with a child in the elementary school system, I have completely had it with the ridiculous "P.C." version of reality my child has to face everyday, and worry that our effort to be a true melting pot, has taken us to a place where we don't even recognize what we all stand for anymore. It's not about being PC – it's about balance.

    To that end, if I was in Iran fighting for white children to have Christian holidays off in the Iranian public school system, I believe I would probably be killed. But here we are, with 10% of the population making issue. If they want the holiday off, then have their child do some extra work and prep for a day off of school.

    I think we should all be concerned about the fact that our children are growing up in a place that is literally being taken over by Muslim ideals and mosques cropping up on every corner. If these people are such serious followers, why did they move from their mother land and supportive culture to begin with? The only conceivable answer is to grow their populations around the world and take advantage of "P.C." systems that entertain their needs.

    We've already seen what that has done in Europe and other areas around the globe. Now it's here. Today, I learned that the 20th mosque went up in my city. It's astonishing. Next it'll be the schools. So sad.

    August 9, 2010 at 10:21 pm |
    • Kat

      I can see what your saying about the politically correct world we live in. But I lost all faith in you when you started hating on Muslims. Next time try saying your piece without ending on such a cynical note. They have the freedom just as you do to live where you want and believe what you want. Maybe they realized living in America is a nice place to be most of the time, away from war and turmoil? I mean roughly 0.2% of the population shares my religious beliefs, but if we chose to speak up we would like to at least be acknowledged if not actually listened to by a body of people that holds so much sway over our lives.

      August 9, 2010 at 10:31 pm |
    • GiveItARest

      Kat – I "don't hate on" Muslims...

      I just think that our culture is losing something when too large of ANY population of people move in and start pushing to make changes and more changes to the system, and we (and our politicians), in turn, continue to go overboard with political correctness and pushing for everyone (even the smallest group) to be represented.

      I think it is sad that we're even talking about this. As it is in NYC, Muslims only represent 10% of the population but are fighting to be more represented in the school systems through adding holidays to the school schedule. What Muslims and other minority religious groups in this country don't realize is that the majority of parents/children are already heavily compromising on our own culture and values to make every single person feel comfortable.

      While it's nice to want to make every single person feel like they belong, when have we just gone absolutely too far with it? As I mentioned in my previous post, we've literally had one Jehovah's Witness parent demand that celebrations don't take place in the presence of their child. Talk about ruining it for all the other kids...

      My point being, that no matter what group is fighting for what, it's all about moderation. If you want it to be PC in the classroom, fine, no problem, we'll all forget our school traditions of the past, but demanding the school calendar be changed? Overboard. If someone is so religious then go to private school. Leave the public school system out of this.

      August 9, 2010 at 10:50 pm |
  6. Michael R.

    I'm a huge fan of "Charlie Brown Christmans" and I never understood his depression in the story until about two years ago. That's when I realized that every commerical on tv, every dept store, every car dealership, every store, counts on this holiday for cash. The true meaning of this holiday becomes lost completely. When I was a teen I volunteered at a hosipital and on Christmas Eve we went to every single bed in the hospital giving little hand knitted stockings with a single candy cane in them. I can't tell you how wonderful so many people felt just to see five people in their room wishing them a happy holiday, even for a couple of minutes. This was the true meaning of Christmas. Giving people hope when there is little or none. Letting people know they're not alone. This memory is what keeps Christmas special for me.

    August 9, 2010 at 10:17 pm |
  7. autom

    Breaking News: The United States of America is not a Christian theocracy.

    August 9, 2010 at 10:16 pm |
  8. Whocares

    As long as I can remember it has always been called winter break in grade school. It was a nice little mid term vacation. For Eid ul fitr and Eid ul Adha I would tell my teachers the day before and they would prepare my work give me info and say have fun. I would od all of my work. And then the next day its festivities etc. There are many more Christians and Jews so they know that they need to cater to majority. I am just fine with that. I dont really see the problem just deal with it. Americans ae already tolerant enough with us. THank you.

    August 9, 2010 at 10:07 pm |
    • Tariq

      I agree. I am Muslim and never had any issue with this in school. I always missed school for Eid. nobody cared and I got my work done with no issues. As I'm a lawyer now, I'd say it didn't affect my performance in school. The issue is if we didn't get X-Mas off, then the school would have to hire subs. The vast majority of teachers are Christian. That would just cause more taxpayer dollars to cover this which schools cannot afford, especially in this economy. If there were more Muslim teachers, I'm all for having Eid off. I'm sure they have Eid off in Muslim schools in the U.S. for example.

      August 10, 2010 at 10:20 am |
  9. Bonnie

    Isn't it awful that my first thought when reading this was "But what will happen to winter vaca?" Maybe a solution to that would be to push the winter vaca back one week, so starting with New Years holiday instead of the Christmas. All in all though, I can't see this working. Christian and non-Christian Americans are so used to this holiday tradition that it would be impossible to "retrain" them to accept anything else.

    August 9, 2010 at 10:07 pm |
  10. Jeepers

    The more days off the better I say. : D

    August 9, 2010 at 9:03 pm |
  11. Don

    Christmas is no longer the religious holiday it used to be thanks to all these money hungry corporations who insist on using Christmas sales as their annual lifeboat and the PC police giving everybody a hard time. It's a downward spiral that will only get worse as the years go on. How about Americans try to revert back to the ways that made us the great nation we were and try to become great again. Let's drop all the over the top political correctness because as it is now all we are is a nation of money hungry "me first" morons with a majority of people who can't even think for themselves without being told what to think. If we can take our heads out of our own a.ss.es we'd see we're a laughing stock among other western nations.

    August 9, 2010 at 8:39 pm |
    • Eric G

      I agree Don! We need to accept Christmas for what it is............. a huge part of our economy!!! Other western nations laugh at us because of our desire to cling to religious superstitions. The world is changing.......... you are not.

      August 9, 2010 at 9:00 pm |
    • TammyB

      Personally, I don't care if we are a laughing stock to other Western nations as you suggest. They have plenty of their own problems, and drama that make them look like they have their heads up their a**es as well. PC bullcrap is something all Western nations suffer from and really, it's time we do away with that too! I am tired of, as an American, kissing the behinds of every big or little nation that comes along because we might hurt their little feelings. Boo freaking hoo!

      August 11, 2010 at 2:44 pm |
  12. David Houston, TX

    Santa Claus died for my sins

    August 9, 2010 at 8:37 pm |
  13. Chance Frances

    Jesus is a Capricorn; reason enough to get Christmas off.

    August 9, 2010 at 8:08 pm |
  14. Vynn

    I'm all for it....Christmas not being the secular holiday it has become, that is. It's about time we stopped this Christian encroachment upon our freedoms, this Christian favoritism that has stained American secularism.

    August 9, 2010 at 7:51 pm |
    • TammyB

      How is it an encroachment to your freedom? It really has become Winter break more than anything. And you get some time off, so what's the beef? No one is forcing you to go to church on December 25th. Personally, I think everyone should get Halloween off, but no one listens to that either!

      August 11, 2010 at 2:40 pm |
  15. jenn

    Christmas may have come from christianity, but it is much more of a cultural holiday now. I'm not a christian and I celebrate christmas as a time of family and giving. The muslims don't need school closed on their religious holidays

    August 9, 2010 at 7:43 pm |
    • DontDistort

      Actually christmas has it's root in paganism.

      In ancient Babylon, the feast of the Son of Isis (Goddess of Nature) was celebrated on December 25. Raucous partying, gluttonous eating and drinking, and gift-giving were traditions of this feast. In 350, Pope Julius I declared that Christ’s birth would be celebrated on December 25. There is little doubt that he was trying to make it as painless as possible for pagan Romans (who remained a majority at that time) to convert to Christianity. The new religion went down a bit easier, knowing that their feasts would not be taken away from them.

      August 9, 2010 at 8:16 pm |
    • Jacqueline

      So you're saying that as a Muslim, I should just give up on my holidays and celebrate Christmas instead? That's ridiculous, like saying that Hispanics should be happy just celebrating Black History month, because, hey, it's a celebration!

      August 9, 2010 at 9:29 pm |
    • MarkinFL

      What he's saying is that Christmas is not really a religious holiday in the same sense as the Muslim days in question. The vast majority of people celebrate Christmas primarily in a secular way with some perhaps having an extra prayer thrown in for good measure. (please note: I did not say ALL). The Christians borrowed it from the pagans in the first place and its pretty much gone full circle.

      August 9, 2010 at 11:25 pm |
    • TammyB

      @ Jacqueline....Christmas is NOT a religious holiday and has not been for some time. I knew, growing up, several kids of different faiths that took off for their religious days. They missed that day, made up the work and went on. No one is saying that you shouldn't celebrate your holy days, what most people are saying is that the holidays we have at this time are not holy days anyway. Christmas break has really become Winter Break, and there is also a Spring break to give school kids a break from studies. They don't really have anything to do with Christ or religion. Even Easter, which is held on a Sunday, is secular holiday, more about hiding eggs and the Easter bunny, taken from some old pagan ritual. You can still observe your days just like everyone else does.

      August 11, 2010 at 2:36 pm |
  16. Mark from Middle River

    You know I wonder how long before many will notice that some of these blog articles seem to nudge folks into angry responces. Its almost as if they... who ever has say over these articles.... are just goating folks into fights.

    Its like the movie "the last castle". I love these blogs but its like the prison scene where James Gandofini's character tells his second in command to only put out "one" basketball for the prisoners rec time. Just to see the prisoners tear each other limb from limb. Most of the articles seem to ilicit negative responces.

    I do not think that we can move towards understandings and mutal respect if the only articles that we can respond too are meant to have each of us at the others throats.

    August 9, 2010 at 7:23 pm |
    • noBama

      It's called divide and conquer. If you look at any political or religious debate in America today, it's all you see. Ancient tactic to have your enemy destroy themselves. CNN actually had an article on wether a Second Revolution was a certainty yesterday. Wonder why? Easier to have the population conform to a One World Government once our social, economic and cultural backbone has been broken.

      Anyone who points this is out is made out to be a conspiracy theorist that needs their tin foil hat adjusted. Divide and Conquer, plain and simple.

      August 10, 2010 at 2:26 pm |
  17. knownbyHim

    Our family has not celebrated christmas for the last five years and we are believers IN Christ. We follow THE TRUTH and His name is Jesus Christ/Yahshua.....and christmas is NOT OF HIM......it is not biblical and has its origin in paganism.

    We don't celebrate easter either....for it too has its origin in paganism. We DO celebrate the biblical HOLY DAYS.....feast of passover, feast of pentecost/shavout, feast of trumpets, day of atonement, feast of tabernacles.....WE see our Lord Jesus Christ/Yahshua in ALL OF THESE FEASTS.....and we take off for a week as a family during Tabernacles. It has been a JOY to honor our Heavenly Father by keeping His commandments to honor His Feast days.

    It is time for people who confess Jesus Christ as their saviour to WALK IN THE TRUTH.....christmas is nothing more than a false man-made holiday.....not a HOLY DAY.

    August 9, 2010 at 6:57 pm |
    • Scott

      whats with the caps? you having a seizure mid post?

      August 9, 2010 at 10:51 pm |
    • Mildred Marie Brooks

      Amen to knownbyHim, this is so true. I learned this from the late Apoltle Bishop S.C. Johnson. I do not attend any church, I stay at home listen to God's precious word left by tape recorded so I can save my poor soul from hell fire that is surely coming.

      August 19, 2010 at 11:16 am |
  18. Ashley

    I agree with the author that people should choose when to miss school due to religious observances. However, do the Christian teachers have to use one of their personal days to miss work on Christmas? I have a feeling schools with a high percentage of Christian teachers will be losing millions of dollars in order to pay for subs. Just a thought...

    August 9, 2010 at 6:43 pm |
  19. Beth

    Whats interesting here is that there is an assumption that all of the holidays for the various religions come with the same restrictions, or in this case non restriction of working on that holy day. For the Jewish holidays, and the Islam holidays, there could be no school if we followed the same rule for having off as we do for christmas because there is a prohibition on working, or creating or destroying on those holy days. As far as I know there is no such restriction for Christmas. While it might be interesting to see if having school on Christmas did indeed foster a deeper connection to one's faith, the same could not hold true other religions most holy days, as the actions of working are prohibited.

    August 9, 2010 at 6:40 pm |
  20. Kealee

    We also have to take into account that "Christmas" is no longer a solely "Christian" holiday. Quite the contrary. Many who profess no faith in Christ celebrate the holiday of Christmas. I think that's the real reason no one would be in the schools, teachers and students alike if they were open on Christmas Day (although not the only reason). I can agree with his idea that no one should bow down to anyone regarding how or when they worship. If the Muslim children need to miss school on their important religous days, miss them!

    August 9, 2010 at 5:53 pm |
    • One Whose Name Means Beloved of God

      Point of order–Christmas has NEVER been solely Christian. The timing was chosen to better convert pagans that were already celebrating things like Saturnalia, the solstice, and the birth of Mithras. Like the Easter bunny and the Christmas tree have nothing to do with the Christian mythology–they were adopted from other pre-existing religions.

      So–it's hard to argue that Christians should have it off because it's their holy day.

      August 9, 2010 at 10:28 pm |
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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.