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. Redcarpet

    Tipical info in CNN. It's like reading coverage about MED team in Afg that was killed, nothing about them being Christians and nothing about how bad are killers. Let's just built a mask in NY to support the rel of "peace"

    August 10, 2010 at 12:27 am |
  2. LMD

    Let's just take 2 weeks,oh say in December,combine every holiday that there is out there and call it a Holiday Break. With stores promoting Christmas,Halloween(no Thanksgiving,sorry seems to be missing) Starting now in July,whats the point any more? Religion? Don't think so,its all commercial. Tradition? What's left,so over the top these days with the lost meaning any way. All it has become is profit for business. So 2 weeks,each faith,non faithful can spend it any way they like. No offending anyone,no worries if you say the wrong thing,(ya know Merry,Happy, whatever).As for dominance in religion(s) that's partly where we have a problem. Your Religion,Mine,or any other;s is no more or less important. I used to Love Christmas as a kid,and even when I had children. But today,in the midst of 90 degree heat in Aug,when I walk into a store and they are playing Christmas music,well give me break. It's a shame,but that OLD type of holiday is gone. Times have changed(not for the better,alas) and maybe we should go along,after all,isn't this what all the wars(okay oil too) are about?? Religion?

    August 10, 2010 at 12:26 am |
  3. Scott

    The federal government has made December 25th a national Holiday. Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and All Saint's Day are not national holidays, so Christians don't automatically these day off. If someone wants a holy day made into a national holiday, they should petition for it, regardless of the religion. Make a logical argument for it and see it through. Muslims are already placated by not requiring young girls to attend music classes with their peers. Because apparently learning how to sing or read music is EEVIL!! I don't see any other religions getting opt out of the required curriculum based on faith. Maybe I've missed something.

    Bottom line, you want your holy day treated as a national holiday, petition for it.

    August 10, 2010 at 12:22 am |
  4. vince

    It's kind of along the "prayer in school thing" - if you fight for prayer in school then that also means buddhist, hindu, humanist, wiccan prayers etc - it won't end. And the same goes for recognizing special holidays. One can always pull their kid out of class for their own religious observances so that's not the issue - I think it's about recognition. I think Christmas is special because of tradition and it's place in history of American/English culture - and wasn't even a big deal until late in the 1800's when it became more commercialized. Easter is the big Christian holiday and that always occurs on Sundays (in the Western Church anyways). I think that even though I believe in separation of Church and State I think there is a place for traditions and Thanksgiving and Christmas have a long history of tradition in this country and we should not lose that - even if we don't believe in the religious ideals that spawned them.

    August 10, 2010 at 12:19 am |
    • One Whose Name Means Beloved of God

      American society also used to have a tradition of hanging people it didn't like. Just because it's the way we've done things traditionally doesn't mean it's right.

      August 10, 2010 at 12:23 am |
    • TammyB

      @One Whose Name Means Beloved of God
      I am fairly certain to the nth degree that there IS a difference between hanging people we don't like by the neck until they're dead AND what I like to call "eating holidays" or "breaks" if you will, where the most that could happen to one is that they eat too much, drink too much and are around their family too much. Do you see what I'm saying? Not a good analogy in other words.

      August 11, 2010 at 3:46 pm |
    • One Whose Name Means Beloved of God


      Pay attention! I was commenting that vince's argument that we should keep tradition for tradition's sake isn't a valid one. There are plenty of instances when tradition is horrible, stupid, or useless. Shouldn't we abandon those traditions?

      As for breaks–personally, I think it should be left to the local school board. If it makes practical sense to change the school year, they should be the ones to do it. Not us.

      August 12, 2010 at 12:48 am |
  5. LTF1

    English and American Puritans didn't celebrate Christmas. They viewed it as a pagan Catholic holiday.

    August 10, 2010 at 12:12 am |
  6. Courtney

    OMG: This article is so pathetic for so many reasons. Let me take one: If you canceled, or devalued Christmas, then U.S. economy would collapse. Without Holiday sales 3/4 of all retailers would immediately go out of business.

    August 10, 2010 at 12:11 am |
  7. David

    Wow, continue to increase the amount of school days. That's exactly what we need.... The American school system is not working and is not functioning. More school days does not equal more sucess. It's the teachers, students, it's the entire system that's failing along with the American ideology here. The only break I get from school is July and August and I back to school on September 1. With not other breaks other than Thanksgiving and Christmas. And yet my school is still one of the lowest in the country.

    August 10, 2010 at 12:05 am |
  8. jen

    Oh please! It makes me so mad when people come into our country and then complain how things are done. If you don't like it, then leave.

    August 10, 2010 at 12:03 am |
    • One Whose Name Means Beloved of God

      Do you really think all the Muslims in this country came from somewhere else?

      To take your logic to an extreme, I should just chop up myself–an arm to Czechoslovakia, a leg to Ireland, a hand to France. Like many Muslims, I was born here regardless of where my ancestors came from. This is my home.

      August 10, 2010 at 12:20 am |
  9. Jentry Appenheimer Calgary Alberta Canada

    I understand where evrybody is coming from, by everyone I mean Government and groups. However I honestly thought Christmas was used as an appropriate time to give school students and teachers a break from there intense school schedules, not that it was specific to religion.

    August 9, 2010 at 11:58 pm |
    • TammyB

      Really, YOU are correct! Most schools now call it "Winter Break" because it does give students and teachers a break from their schedules, and usually ends the semester also. Therefore there is break until the 2nd semester starts which most students think is pretty great, and I am sure that the teachers do too!

      August 11, 2010 at 3:40 pm |
  10. Jordan

    Wow, this guy is a moron. We've had off on Christmas ever since this country began organized schooling. Why should kids have to go to school on Christmas, when workers don't have to work. Even though there is no federal religion in this country, Christianity is still dominant. It's not going to change anytime soon. So deal with it. Your not going to be able to change it. Jesus Christ, who wouldn't want a day off on Christmas?

    August 9, 2010 at 11:55 pm |
  11. Barbara

    But the celebration of Christmas isn't mandated by Scripture. Many faithful Chrisitians do not celebrate Christmas – after all, it's not our Savior's birth that we celebrate and remember, but His atoning death/burial and resurrection. So the Christmas celebration in this context and as lain out by the author of the article here is – for lack of a better phrase – nothing more than a sacred cow.

    August 9, 2010 at 11:54 pm |
    • One Whose Name Means Beloved of God

      sure–let's offend all the Hindu's while we are at it...

      August 9, 2010 at 11:55 pm |
    • Barbara

      The reference is to Exodus 32, my dear.

      August 10, 2010 at 12:38 am |
    • TammyB

      @ One Whose Name Means Beloved of God
      Oh, there's that PC bull again....afraid of offending someone and hurting their feelings....too much of that around.

      August 11, 2010 at 3:37 pm |
    • One Whose Name Means Beloved of God

      Perhaps you didn't know–my other post was joking.

      and just to make sure I understand you–you think offending people is a good thing?

      August 12, 2010 at 12:44 am |
  12. MarkinFL

    Apparently you cannot use the word C h r is ti an and Consti tu tion in the same sentence on this blog without it going to the moderator. I understand they are not compatible, but talking about it is a problem?

    August 9, 2010 at 11:47 pm |
  13. Matt Parliament

    There might be some overlooked good in this article. I, sir, agree with your proposal, but challenge all religious persons to skip everyday to pray to your god.
    If religious people ceased to attend school, as to obide by their relgious code, then the school would be an institution strictly attended by those of sound, unbiased, scientific mind – complete removal of religion from education. Utopia.

    August 9, 2010 at 11:45 pm |
  14. MarkinFL

    It appears that questioning the statement that we live in a Christian nation in completely innocuous terms is cause to be checked by the moderator. Wow.

    August 9, 2010 at 11:43 pm |
    • MarkinFL

      Just testing if you can use the word christian and Constitution in the same sentence.... Lets see.

      August 9, 2010 at 11:46 pm |
    • One Whose Name Means Beloved of God

      I noticed that. We live in a nation with a bunch of Christians. That's true. But a theocracy it is not.

      August 9, 2010 at 11:47 pm |
    • CSnord

      @"One Whose Name Means Beloved of God" (stupid line) - The US WILL be a theocracy if Islam holds sway....

      August 10, 2010 at 1:07 am |
  15. kdf

    Um, this is the USA... if you want your muslim holidays off... move to a muslim country

    August 9, 2010 at 11:40 pm |
  16. Colin

    Oh hi. I'm new here and I just discovered that you can post without an account, so I felt like I might as well throw in my 10 cents.

    Thought Christmas is considered a Christian holiday, it is celebrated secularly. Because it is celebrated secularly that means clearly that more than Christians celibate it, different from Islamic holidays that only Muslims observe.

    Put simply, religion is only a part of the pie here and the rest of our nation (Agnostics, Atheists, Pagans in general) also count into this equation, thus making this article a bit incomplete as far as contemplation goes.

    Thank you.

    August 9, 2010 at 11:37 pm |
    • davidh

      If i remember right and the history channel is not terribly wrong, didnt the early church just conform the pagan winter solstice into a christian holiday? It not like christ was literally born during December it was a decision made by the church much later on to smooth things over so to say. If you dont believe it just google why Christmas on december.

      August 9, 2010 at 11:46 pm |
  17. zig

    in my 53 years ive never heard of something as idiotic. its a christian nation not islamic. thats why we are going down the tubes,so called christians like you giving it all away.

    August 9, 2010 at 11:31 pm |
    • MarkinFL

      Please show me something in the Constitution that makes this a Christian nation. Anything at all.

      August 9, 2010 at 11:36 pm |
  18. tasha

    Most school systems give you two weeks off around Christmas. Two weeks off sure is a lot of money saved for the schools.

    Also, why teach school for the 3 kids that show up?

    Regardless of someone's faith, majority will most likely win out in what holidays are chosen. If 90% of the school was Jewish than Yom Kippur would be a day off for students.

    August 9, 2010 at 11:29 pm |
  19. Eli

    I'm Jewish, and I concur with the author
    I wen to a public high school, not in New York, where I had to miss up to 11 days of school a year (depending on if holidays fell out on weekends that year or not). I also had to miss class when different religious activities were being demonstrated (such as dia de las muertos in spanish class), and I was eliminated from several extra credit opportunities, since they required me to to things that ran contrary to my religion. And I don't regret it at all. in case you couldn't tell (from the amount of religion tolerated within the classroom), I was in a very conservative state/school district. every December, our foyer would fill with religious scenes and trees. just to clarify, they were all christian religious scenes. One year, in government class, the topic of seperation of church and state came up (and according to texas curriculum, that doesn't meant the same thing as it does in new york). my class got into a debate about whether all religions should be represented, or none at all. after a while, someone noted that I was the lone non-christian in the class, and decided that I should give my opinion. And I did just that. I told them that I don't care if they want to practice their religion in public. I don't need them to practice mine or try to for that matter. My religious practices have meaning to me, and I definitely believe them to be correct. but if thousands of people who don't believe in Judaism were to start performing Jewish religious observances (all in the name of egalitarianism of course), it would loose it's meaning, and that is the last think I want. so basically, I'll keep my religion as just that – my religion. As long as you don't try and force me to practice yours (I never will), I don't care what y'all do in public or private.

    August 9, 2010 at 11:26 pm |
  20. Zoemeri

    The United States of America was originally founded as a Christian nation. We have forgotten our history. The USA is so afraid of being politically correct, that they end up abandoning our traditions and heritage. America should not have to change our traditions for any other group. Just as anyone who comes to America needs to learn to speak, read and write English. America foolishly is wasting tax payer's hard earned money, to create the same programs in multiple languages to please the foreigners. Where ever you come from, this is America, you learn to speak and read English. This country was founded as a Christian nation, respect its traditions. If you want to celebrate your traditions, that is fine, so long as you do not impose or require the American system to waste valuable resources to change to the newest immigrant population.

    If you don't like adapting to America, its language, culture, customs and traditions, then go back to your country or go somewhere else. You are not required to stay here, you should be required to adapt to the American culture and system. In most other countries of the world, either you adapt and embrace your new country and its traditions, or you leave. If you cannot respect America, and adapt to our culture, you are free to leave.

    August 9, 2010 at 11:26 pm |
    • MarkinFL

      And how many times is "Christian" mentioned in the Constitution?

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

      OK–anybody? Does Anybody take American History courses any more? Me thinks somebody aught to dust off the books and learn a bit about the founding fathers.

      America was founded on certain premises–one being freedom from having the government establish the religion for everybody. That's why it was put into the Constitution–the highest law of our country! American was never a Christian Nation.

      Do we have a bunch of Christians? Of course. But that doesn't make an establishment. I wish people would stop repeating this bible-thumper piffle as if repetition could change history.

      August 9, 2010 at 11:36 pm |
    • davidh

      Actually the united states was specifically made to separate church and state so its not like we are founded as a christian nation, we where founded as a nation to stand on its own with no connections to any one religion and we just happened to be majority protestant at the time.

      August 9, 2010 at 11:42 pm |
    • Mark

      Let's count the number of times the Chri stian is founf in the U.S. Consti tutio n.....
      Oh yeah, zero. Which happens to equate to the chance that this is a chris tian nation.

      August 10, 2010 at 12:04 am |
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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.