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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. NYC

    ONLY CHRISTIAN HOLIDAYS IN THE U.S.!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    GET RID OF ALL MUSLIM AND JEWISH HOLIDAYS – ONLY CHRISTIANS!

    August 9, 2010 at 11:20 pm |
    • MarkinFL

      As long as they are of pagan origin, that's cool. pagans rock!
      If its not worth doing pagan, it ain't worth doing!

      August 9, 2010 at 11:31 pm |
  2. deb

    You've obviously never spent much time at a public school. As an elementary school teacher, I can assure you that 1. Most teachers would call in 'sick' if asked to work Christmas day and, 2. most children would be absent.

    I suspect you are paid far more than I, although I have taught thirty years. What a shame since you are clueless and get paid for writing such tripe.

    August 9, 2010 at 11:19 pm |
  3. kathie

    one reason New York public schools close on major jewish holidays is that a HUGE portion of the teachers and students are jewish. In Philly, the school system does the same thing because so many teachers will not show up on those days and it would disrupt the whole place. It is not about religion...but the schools are being practical and closing due to the fact they have this come up each year.

    if there were as many muslim teachers and students in the system, then it would happen for them as well, and it should just so the school system is not disrupted.

    but, i do agree with the author. i take off my jewish holidays NO MATTER WHAT and i have been fired and also not hired because I am honest in my interviews. I will not work on Jewish holidays...I am happy to work on christmas, new years, easter, any holiday there is except ones of my faith...and no amount of money will change my mind. and my child does not attend school on jewish holidays as well and no one at her school really cares one way or the other. it is accepted as just one of many holidays from a diverse population.

    August 9, 2010 at 11:14 pm |
  4. JennyTX

    It's not Christmas Vacation and Easter Vacation any more. It's Winter Break and Spring Break. They are time off for all student and families to enjoy. Easter often doesn't even land during Spring Break.

    August 9, 2010 at 11:13 pm |
    • MarkinFL

      I think it matters what state and even what district you are in. Each county in Florida had its own first/last day and holiday schedule.

      August 9, 2010 at 11:15 pm |
  5. Truth

    Firstly Christmas is not a true "christian holiday" it is specifically roman catholic, hence "christ mass" ehich is what Christmas means, it has been adopted by protestants but for more commercial reasons. Secondly it is more of a pagan holiday than it is "christian." Pagans were celebrating winter solstice at this time of year long before christ was born. The "christmas tree" was used in pagan celebrations and has nothing to do with the birth of Jesus so its not really a religious holiday for the masses who celebrate it today. Further Christ was not born on december 25th as the scriptures indicate that the shepards were in their fields tending flocks and this would not be happening in late december in palestine. The argument is simply that it is not really a religious holiday anymore its a secular holiday that has various religious underpinnings from different relgious ideas. Therefore since it is not specifically religious but really secular we dont have to create religious holidays for other religions.

    August 9, 2010 at 11:11 pm |
    • kathie

      you mean late december in Israel...right? you have a right to be wrong in your opinion, not in your facts.

      August 9, 2010 at 11:16 pm |
  6. My take. ....

    I wasn't raised religious. So to me it was always just a holiday like Valentines day, where you buy the gifts, eat together, play in the snow. And in school it was always called Winter break. Leave it be... its not ours to mess with its been this way for so long that it could actually be devastating to change. That's like saying no spring break. They are just breaks in school, my husband works on Holidays if asked to its a freedom of school students mostly. I always had been given homework on my breaks to. LEAVE IT BE and if they want the holidays then ask for them off. Its still America we shouldn't have to change OUR traditions.

    August 9, 2010 at 11:01 pm |
  7. Justina

    Muslims, as well as atheists, need to trust in Jesus Christ alone for the forgiveness of their wicked sins in order to be saved from the eternal damnation they deserve, because Jesus came to save the world. That's the whole point of Christmas.

    August 9, 2010 at 11:00 pm |
  8. Chad

    Christmas is awesome... nuff said NEXT!

    August 9, 2010 at 10:56 pm |
  9. Roy Crawford

    Why take the day off and not just celebrate around school? If I remember correctly, up until about fifty years ago, before Christmas morphed into a commercial holiday, Congress met on that day when it fell on a weekday.

    August 9, 2010 at 10:54 pm |
  10. oneStarman

    BRING IN THE SHEAVES – Summer vacation was to allow the kids to work the crops. We no longer use our own children for farm labor (we use migrant workers children) so why do schools have Summer's Off? It disrupts the flow of learning for the children – but the Teacher's Unions would never allow their members to work more than 9 months for 12 months pay.

    August 9, 2010 at 10:54 pm |
    • Lisa

      We work for 9 months' pay and it is given to us over a 12 month period. In my contract I am paid for 182 work days. I may prefer to receive more money each pay check for 9 months, but that is not an option. They pay over 12 months because it is a financial benefit to the schools, not the teachers. I won't even go into the argument that I do 12 months' work in 9...

      August 10, 2010 at 1:13 am |
    • TammyB

      Alot of schools where I live have started doing the year round thing, and that's both elementary and secondary. A lot of the teachers here were for that also! Teachers work much harder than most of us give them credit for. And they don't like the disruption in learning as well, as they have to spend the first part of every year reteaching everything from the prior year to their students.

      August 11, 2010 at 3:26 pm |
  11. John

    While Xmas is celebrated by Christians, you may recall it began as centuries ago as a pagan holiday. Based on historical evidence of the Roman census in the Meridium of Time, we know the actual birth of Christ took place around April, not December. Christians learned to celebrate the birth of Christ at a time of convenience which happened to fit a pagan holiday.

    The traditions of exchanging gifts have been adopted from many peoples and cultures to create a holiday season, one of love and sharing. Muslims should learn to adjust their celebrations in the same manner. Perhaps changing the name to avoid the association of Christs Mass would be appropriate as a nation, while allowing all religious faiths to enjoy a season of faith and good will toward men.

    August 9, 2010 at 10:52 pm |
    • TammyB

      I agree! If we called Christmas "Winter Break" or even "Winter Holiday" for example, I don't think that would make anyone think about it as a religious holiday, which it almost certainly isn't these days! Most people I know celebrate spending time with their families, they travel to get together with each other, not to go to Church.

      August 11, 2010 at 3:23 pm |
  12. Mannington Phil

    I don't believe that we plan to have primary or secondary school in West Virginia on any of the Saturdays in December this year.

    August 9, 2010 at 10:51 pm |
  13. BB

    I say leave it how it is. It's our country/countries. If 10% of Islam population were Christians, do you think they would honor Christian religion? Hardly. We'd be in the same shoes they are. So just suck it up!!

    August 9, 2010 at 10:50 pm |
  14. f.rose

    can we just stop changing everything in our little world.. how about letting people believe in what they would like to. leave stuff alone. for a breather. every since we have a different pres. people want to take the world and change it. lets look at what we have and try to realize we do have a good thing here. lets obey the current laws and help one another. if you don't like something that does not mean it needs to be changed all the time. if you don't like a movie,leave. if you are offended about a religious problem, step away.. you know many people in america wanted to come here because of our american way..what happened to that..now everything is changing. i simply say "if you don't like it here.leave. now,right now. we like what all of us americans have built and work for and we are standing up for our rights. .live and let live. try it.

    August 9, 2010 at 10:49 pm |
    • MarkinFL

      Yeah, we've never experienced change before....Otherwise we would have had to give civil rights to Negroes and recognized women as having value outside the home and workers would have rights. Nothing should ever change, for better or worse.

      August 9, 2010 at 11:12 pm |
  15. Ryan

    No, no, no, no, no. I will NOT have school on my one holiday that my ENTIRE family gets to spend time with each other. NO! School will NOT take that away from me, and if they do, I will SKIP the freaking school day because family is MUCH more important.

    August 9, 2010 at 10:48 pm |
    • One Whose Name Means Beloved of God

      I think that's the authors point. If there is no preference given to any religion in terms of which days we automatically get off, it would force us to actually pick and choose those days that really matter to us and voluntarily take them off.

      August 9, 2010 at 11:29 pm |
    • TammyB

      @ One Whose Name Means Beloved of God

      But as most who have posted here have pointed out, Christmas has nothing to do with any kind of holy day anymore whatsoever, rather it has become a Winter Break, just like Spring Break and Summer Break. If school kids have those "breaks" called Winter, Spring and Summer, which they have had for decades, then why take them away because a few want some other days? The point here is that there are already established holidays, not holy days, and that all religions have days that kids have had to miss school for. Why change up the "break" thing?

      August 11, 2010 at 3:18 pm |
    • One Whose Name Means Beloved of God

      The author is discussing how holy days are so important to individuals that they would rather choose to miss school than go against their region. The guy I was talking to above was talking about a holiday–how important it is to him. (as you've said–it's more holiday than holy day)

      My point is–if you get no days off automatically, you would be forced to pick and choose your vacation days more carefully. Which days were most important to you to take off–regardless of religion or tradition. In the case of religion, how important are is honoring the traditions of your faith? Having no days off automatically would test what we really believe is important to our lives.

      I think a little more introspection would make one a more self-aware being.

      August 12, 2010 at 12:42 am |
  16. Pete Hickey

    First I would like to say that this is getting ridiculous. People have the right to worship there faith however they choose, however this is 'THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA", this is the way we do things!!!!! You do not have to like it and if you do not then do like the Catholic, Jewish, Protestant, Jehovah Witness'(and all other practices of faith) and build your own damn schools and places of worship and stop forcing your way of life upon this country and our public school system, First these people want the word 'God' taken out of the Pledge Of Allegiance, too bad this is the way we do things, and now the Pledge of Allegiance is not even said in most schools any more. Guess what the Pledge of Allegiance was said in every school every morning regardless of race or religion!!!!! Why, because this is the United States of America and that is who we are. You don't like it then get the .... out and go start your own country some where else. I am sick and tired of this politically correct nonsense. Be who you want to be, make your place in this country but for Godsakes, anybody and everybody who comers into this country,(most of them illegally)stop forcing yourselves and beliefs on the public schooll system of this countrty.

    August 9, 2010 at 10:46 pm |
    • MarkinFL

      God was added to the pledge of allegiance for the sake of 1950's McCarthy era political correctness. So lets remove that bit of politically correct pandering right away!

      August 9, 2010 at 11:08 pm |
    • One Whose Name Means Beloved of God

      I am an atheist. I also am an American and I pay taxes. I deserve as much say in my school system as anyone else.

      Can I start my own school where no one has to say the pledge? sure. But I shouldn't have to. Why? Because this is a secular country.

      August 9, 2010 at 11:27 pm |
    • Pete Hickey

      So it may be, the point is that we are changing our way of life for other beliefs with out any real ryhme or reason. I am all for allowing everyone to live life in what ever manner pleases them, just stop, stop, stop forcing your way of life and beliefs into our public school system. If you do not like it then go back to your country or some where else and start your own damn country!

      August 9, 2010 at 11:28 pm |
    • MarkinFL

      I concur, no religious beliefs should forced upon a public school system.

      August 9, 2010 at 11:39 pm |
    • One Whose Name Means Beloved of God

      "stop forcing your way of life and beliefs into our public school system"

      I'm not. You are.

      August 9, 2010 at 11:44 pm |
    • TammyB

      @One Whose Name Means Beloved of God......

      What is the big deal regarding the Pledge of Allegiance? Take the "under God" out of it (as it wasn't there to begin with) and if you don't want to pledge for some reason, then sit it out. For the others, who like the habit of it every morning, then let them do it. I personally liked pledging in the morning when I was in elementary school, I think it builds in some patriotism when you recite it. And why not? Other countries have anthems and pledges and I don't think they are getting all bunged up about it. Most see it as national pride and if you are American, then why not have national pride? And to those of you who don't want to pledge, but want to keep everyone else from doing it because you just cannot stand to hear it, well, as an example, I will say that I am tired of rude, mean-spirited people also, but we haven't been able to get rid of their shrill, whiny crap when in public. Some things you just have to put up with, if it's not really hurting you and I cannot see that hearing the pledge of allegiance every morning is hurting anyone. Sit down if you don't want to pledge or sing the National Anthem....cover your ears if it really hurts you that bad (not sure why?).

      August 11, 2010 at 3:11 pm |
    • One Whose Name Means Beloved of God

      "What is the big deal regarding the Pledge of Allegiance? "
      "I think it builds in some patriotism when you recite it."

      The big deal is not the pledge. It is the recitation during state-sponsored school. Separation of Church and State, remember? First Amendment? The State is effectively using the pledge to support religion. A generic "God", true, but still–religion. That's why "under God" was put in during McCarthyism. To separate us God-fearing Americans from those godless Commies. Combining the current pledge with state-funded school is unconstitutional.

      A patriot, like my military brothers and sister, defends the Constitution. Not the Pledge of Allegiance.

      August 12, 2010 at 12:34 am |
    • One Whose Name Means Beloved of God

      "What is the big deal regarding the Pledge of Allegiance? "
      "I think it builds in some patriotism when you recite it."

      The big deal is not the pledge. It is the recitation during state-sponsored school. Separation of Church and State, remember? First Amendment? The State is effectively using the pledge to support religion. A generic "God", true, but still–religion. That's why "under God" was put in during McCarthyism. To separate us God-fearing Americans from those godless Commies. Combining the current pledge with state-funded school is unconsti-tutional.

      A patriot, like my military brothers and sister, defends the Consti-tution. Not the Pledge of Allegiance.

      August 24, 2010 at 5:15 pm |
  17. Tony

    Christmas is not just a religious holiday, there is a secular aspect to it. Thus, comparing Christmas to any strictly religious holiday (or holy day) is like the proverbial apples and oranges. And there is no strictly Christian holiday upon which schools are not open (with the possible exception of Good Friday, although this has been characterized as an extension of spring break).

    My problem is, why close for a full week or more at Christmas and over a week in the spring? Why not just close for the one day (Christmas) and MAYBE half a day on Christmas eve? Why a full week off in April when school will be closed for two months starting just two months later? How many BUSINESSES close for a full week in December, a full week in April and then two full months in the summer? For that matter, how many are closed the day after Thanksgiving?

    August 9, 2010 at 10:44 pm |
  18. This Country Is Headed Down the Toilet

    Typical liberal america. Making new rules to accommodate a group that consists of less than 10%. When will this nonsense end? I am embarrassed to be an american some times.

    August 9, 2010 at 10:43 pm |
    • Pete Hickey

      And to all those whose response is in favor of this change, remember one thing. These people of all races and religions who are flooding into this country(majority of whom are doing so illegally)have more rights and government assistance than the majority of us who are born and raised here for centuries of generations. Do you all realize that it is earier for a person of a foriegn country to obtain a passpiort and access all this country has to offer than an american citizen who was born and raised in this country? You can be a foriegner who has never have stepped foot in this country and be issued a passport, but if you are a native of this country for generations and your license is expired you can't even purchase an airline ticket tio travel somewhere in your own country. Yet as a country and our Government continues to do more for immigrants and illegal aliens than for our own people of this country. Mark my words we are heading for a revelolution(desperately needed I believe) and do you all remember 9/11/01, well it has been almost 9 years and within 1 more year another terrorist attack will be made on this country at which time all you liberal do gooders will be asking, why did we let this happen again?

      August 9, 2010 at 11:20 pm |
    • HS

      10% is a substantial number. Only the cities with a large Muslim population should consider this kind of change. Where I went to high school there were only Christians so we only had Christian holidays off. Where I went to college there was also a large Jewish population so we also had important Jewish holidays off. If I ever went to school where there were a large Muslim population I'd hope they'd get any important days off, its only fair. Its something that means a lot to them and does not hurt anyone. And no matter what the reason no person in school is going to care why they have the day off as long as it is off. Having the days off for other religions is also a great learning experience. I knew didn't know much about Judaism before college except what is part of pop culture. When you get a day off you aren't used to you wonder why you get it off, then you find out and in the process you learn something new.

      August 10, 2010 at 2:09 am |
    • Sarah

      And I am embarassed to share a country with close-minded individuals like yourself. There is a doctrine in this country of Majority Rules with Minority Rights. As of right now, Christians are the majority, but what will you say when the tide changes and they are in the minority? Would you allow eastern faiths (Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus or whomever) to eliminate Christimas and replace it with one of their holidays? Would you then cry that you want some small, basic rights protected? I bet you would.

      For those morons who says this country was founded on Christianity, please read up on your history. Our Founding Fathers were Deists, NOT Christians. They left England to gain religious freedom from the Church of England. Look up Jefferson's Bible and learn more before you spread your ignorance.

      August 10, 2010 at 8:28 am |
    • Sarah

      I'm also amused that you use the word "liberal" like it is something negative. Merriam-Webster defines it as being open-minded. I much prefer to be accused of being open-minded that the opposite. At least I'm open-minded enough to think for myself and decide what to believe. Conservatives (by definition) only want to maintain existing views, never considering what might be better. But of course, most conservatives think they are smarter than everyone else and that they should decide for us versus letting us make our own decisions.

      August 10, 2010 at 8:36 am |
    • Btwind

      America is NOT a country of Christians, it's a melting pot. It's a melting pot specifically because of the religious tolerance not provided in English- remember? That's the freedom that the US allows, but notice that no other major religions have federal days off. Not even one for the Jews, a pretty large % of the population in comparison to others.

      To those who don't remember, there are several other major religions celebrated here. Can we all just take off our ethnocentric blindfolds and look around? Those 2 weeks in December are for other people too, yep, to kick back, drink, eat, go on a cruise, etc. Loosen up and consider that we all know someone different than ourselves, who deserve some recognition of their personal faith beliefs.

      December 3, 2010 at 10:21 pm |
  19. Chris

    Intresting takes on the Religion based Holidays... however I would like to see the those honored more then then say the Summer vacation... Do away with Summer vacations and have year round school, think about all the money saved in baby sitters and day care , boys& girls clubs etc...thge kids in school and adults working? I think we ned that more then adding subtracting or dishonoring tradtional belief sets. those a personal and public ...holy fior those that believe. So leave those alone and lets direct attention to vacations that would ease finanical burdons instead of increasing relgious tentions.

    August 9, 2010 at 10:37 pm |
    • Hmmm...I wonder

      Hmmm... Stereotypes of teachers... They are lazy... And take a huge number of days off when creating the School Calendar... Oh, wait wait wait, it's elected officials on the school board that set the calendar... Silly me.

      August 9, 2010 at 10:42 pm |
  20. Clint

    (Aimed at Christians) Did any Bible reading Christian pick up on the muslim "brothers and sisters" comment? lol yeah, right. That term is reserved for those who are children of God, in the Christian's view. The Bible says that to those who received him (to those that believe on his name, Jesus), to them he gave the power to become the sons of God. That's what makes a person a brother or sister to a Christian. Granted that we are all God's creation, but we are not all his children. Sorry, David, but I have to take exception to that comment. Much of the rest I do see value in. Thanks for your opinion!

    August 9, 2010 at 10:36 pm |
    • Daveo

      Yeah, I was willing to hear what this guy had to say until i read the: " Maybe it's time we Christians learned from our Muslim brothers and sisters." Comment.
      Christians can not fall into Universalism. God does not make that a option in the Christian Faith. The Christian God is very different from the Islam, Hindu, Buddhist... any others.
      That does not mean we can not come to the table with respect, but to call them "Brothers and sisters" is not correct.

      August 9, 2010 at 11:32 pm |
    • One Whose Name Means Beloved of God

      Oy vey....

      August 9, 2010 at 11:52 pm |
    • Grant

      God loves all, but Christians, for some reason, despite being TOLD to, don't need to.

      That's some sad elitist thinking there...

      August 10, 2010 at 2:11 pm |
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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.