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. HS

    Dear Mr. Bristow,
    Though I understand the point of your article, I still find it ridiculous. Hypothetically, if all religious holidays that are now given off for public school children were changed to regular school days it would not change what people do. The only people who would go to school on those days would be the ones where the children have no where else to go because the parents work (there are a lot of people who work no matter what the holiday). It would do nothing to make people evaluate their religious sentiments, it doesn't seem that much does except major life changing events (and that goes for re-evaluating any aspect of their life). And even though we are only talking about a few days of school a year what kind of message is it to ask people to choose between their education and their religion. It seems that a choice like that ends one of two ways...the first being the religious are less educated and the second being the less religious are potentially looked down upon by their friends, family, and community depending on how those groups choose. Your proposal creates unnecessary conflict in a world that needs more tolerance towards others instead of more reasons for division. Though ideally religion should be a personal matter many communities do not see it that way.

    August 10, 2010 at 1:55 am |
  2. Cory

    95% of americans celebrate christmas and a total of 308 americans and only right around 10 million muslims in what regard should a super minority change the way that a mega majority celebrate if school were in session on christmas than a number students would not be in school as well as teachers. If the muslim schools were to take school off on their specific holidays but not on christmas that is a possible solution

    August 10, 2010 at 1:53 am |
    • Julie

      You know, you can say that 95% of Americans celebrate Christmas, but I think that if you looked at the percentage that celebrated Christmas for religious reasons versus how many Americans celebrate Christmas because it's an "American tradition", you would see that the percentage that celebrate religiously is far, far less than 95%. Therefore, your argument isn't horribly valid. Well, that and I'd like to see where you got the percentage anyway. Because I'm fairly certain that you made it up.

      August 10, 2010 at 2:13 am |
    • Matt

      According to the American Religious Identification Survey 2008 (http://www.americanreligionsurvey-aris.org/), 76% of Americans identify *themselves* as Christian. Far fewer than 95%, far greater than most think it is.

      August 10, 2010 at 2:30 am |
  3. Epidi

    I'm Pagan and I could care less for the religious holidays currently in place. I agree with the author's point – take off your own religious holidays in your own faith and not elevate the religions of others any more than anyone else's. Simple fix and equitable to everyone.

    August 10, 2010 at 1:50 am |
    • TammyB

      Yeah, but the thing about Christmas is that it's recognized by the Government, and private sector as a holiday, not a religious day, therefore, we get that day off, and sometimes the day before, which in the working world is GREAT! I don't want to see the demise of Christmas (I'm not religious either) because I would not get that day off anymore and anytime I get a paid holiday from work, I want it!!!!

      August 11, 2010 at 3:58 pm |
  4. Jay H

    oops, Saturday i mean... still nobodys going to come even if its open.

    August 10, 2010 at 1:48 am |
  5. Jay H

    Uggggh, doesn't the author realize Christmas is on a Sunday.

    August 10, 2010 at 1:45 am |
  6. Sam

    Christianity's fake and God's not real. Come to terms with it.

    August 10, 2010 at 1:41 am |
    • nick

      You are WRONG. I'd teach you myself but its not my job to educate you fool, it's yours.

      So go get educated and then maybe you'll be allowed to discuss smart-person topics.
      maybe you ignorant arrogant close minded person such as yourself should be allowed on these blogs. By the way we christians are still awaiting proof that he doesnt exit so go on........ give me a reason please that you can PROOF it hahaha thought so u arrogant atheist will just say because there isnt or because i said so.. yeah thats what i thought

      August 10, 2010 at 9:03 am |
    • The Truth

      To summarize various prophets/enlightened teachers (jesus included): God is unknowable, a human being can know no concept of god. So therefore any concept of god by a human being, is incorrect. Which in turn means any mythology surounding the belief in god is also incorrect because that mythology is man made. So, any belief system involving god is utterly incorrect. Which completely invalidates ANY religion. It does not invalidate God, it just invalidates your religion.

      August 10, 2010 at 4:57 pm |
    • Alverant

      nick, since you're the one asserting your god is real the burden of proof is on you. And I haven't seen any yet.

      By the same token I haven't seen any christian disprove the reality of any other religions. So why is it everyone has to prove your religion is wrong while you assume without reason that yours is right? I'm sick of christians acting as if they're entitled to special consideration.

      Oh, as for proof that your god is false. The bible has taken nearly all of its stories, including Jesus, from other older religions. A plagiarized character in a book is not real.

      August 10, 2010 at 5:34 pm |
  7. yourboycal

    We are all taxed live stock , any holiday is a blessing no matter what the cause . Be greatful your masters allow you day off's =p . Its only christmas if you take it as christmas .

    August 10, 2010 at 1:30 am |
  8. Michael

    Christmas is more of a cultural holiday in the US than a religious holiday. In our culture it is customary to be off on the 25th of December, That counts for something even if it has religious origins. We will never be a nation that works on Christmas because of the tradition.

    August 10, 2010 at 1:20 am |
  9. Kris

    Personally I think Halloween should be a 2 day holiday too. Special days for kids should not be spent in school. And face it, thats all Christmas is to most people...a special day for kids.

    August 10, 2010 at 1:18 am |
    • CSnord

      Absolutely. More time to recover from the hangovers.

      August 10, 2010 at 1:22 am |
    • TammyB

      Right on! That's what I've been saying for years, that Halloween should be a holiday as well, with the day off! I think it actually ought to be a Federal holiday as well, so that the rest of us can have it off! Whoo-hoo!

      August 11, 2010 at 3:54 pm |
  10. michael

    America, Land of our fore fathers, who were Christian. God fearing Christians. Nation rooted in Christian beliefs. Why would we not celebrate Christmas? I have no issue with Muslims and their holidays, but they do need to remember where they hang their hat and respect the heritage of the country they so choose to live in even if its not their belief system. Land of the free, but this country was not built by muslims.

    August 10, 2010 at 1:05 am |
    • CSnord

      Right on!

      August 10, 2010 at 1:09 am |
    • Kris

      They were also slavers. Bring it back!

      August 10, 2010 at 1:19 am |
    • CSnord

      @Kris - Thank you for the obligatory moronic non-sequiteur. Some idiot had to say it.

      August 10, 2010 at 1:21 am |
    • Sam

      You should do some research and look at all the quotes from the founding fathers that directly contradict your ridiculous suggestions. You are WRONG. I'd post them myself but it's not my job to educate you fools, it's yours.

      So go get educated and then maybe you'll be allowed to discuss smart-person topics.

      August 10, 2010 at 1:43 am |
    • nick

      @ C Snord hes right they were slavers

      August 10, 2010 at 8:58 am |
    • Alverant

      Name 6 christian beliefs this nation was founded upon. I dare you.

      You won't do it because that whole idea is a myth! America was based on ANTI-christian beliefs like democracy, freedom for all, and legal equality. Those are beliefs you won't find in the bible. So kindly quit the conservative christian entitlement demands and start realizing you're not the only Americans out there.

      August 10, 2010 at 5:29 pm |
  11. Jeremy

    Any argument to open schools on Christmas to make it more meaningful to "faithful believers" is minute when one considers the role that such a break plays in the academic year. The few weeks off in late December and early January provide a break period between the two major academic terms. This break not only allows students to relax and let go of any built up stress from finals and exams but also allows teachers, instructors, and professors time to prepare for the courses of the next term.

    A change in the academic school year should not be determined by any socio-political agenda, but what is best for a school's ability to function and for the students to learn. That being said, the length of summer break, and even the holiday break in the winter may be too long but so is any term much longer than 18 to 20 weeks.

    August 10, 2010 at 12:57 am |
  12. Roger

    I'm an atheist and I think Mr. Bristow's idea is excellent. The government, in this case in the form of the public education system, should take no stand whatsoever on religious matters. The school year should be organized around the students' educational needs, not their religious beliefs. When a student misses a day or more of classes for an illness a professional educator will find some means of providing that student with the necessary "makeup" work. I suppose that something similar would have to be provided for those who opt out of instruction days for religious purposes.

    August 10, 2010 at 12:53 am |
  13. KS

    idgaf about the holidays, it's just nice to have 2 weeks off in the middle of the school year (actually in my case I get a month off, ha!).

    August 10, 2010 at 12:50 am |
  14. Nick

    "I hope he teaches Muslim students to realize that choosing between education and faith is to have already made a mistake." Isn't that what Bristow is advocating?

    August 10, 2010 at 12:49 am |
  15. Marty

    Oh to be young again. And live in the academic world. I enjoyed the structure of your argument in this article, but its base is so unrealisticlly simple. If only the world was this way. Kudos for getting the spot light to 5 seconds. Live and study outiside your immediate faith and do the best you can in the next 10 seconds.

    August 10, 2010 at 12:49 am |
  16. sandy

    As a Catholic, I must attend mass on days that are not holidays. Ash Wednesday is the most obvious - it's always on a Wednesday for starters! - but there are others. Sure, it's great to have the long holidays (Christmas and New Year's Day both), but I don't believe that working would prevent me from attending mass, although it might affect which family members attended mass with me. Like Thanksgiving, the bigger issue is time needed to (re)assemble families to celebrate together. Accommodating likely absences from work and school are motivations for making holidays vacation days. Religions with fewer members have less impact, regardless of how society might regard the religion itself.

    August 10, 2010 at 12:48 am |
  17. nick

    just look at us.......this is why our world cant make any decisions we have teachers professors ministers rabbi s and the media fighting over if we should have school on Christmas. What we really need to be doing all of us... is brainstorming ways to save our Earth. Now i am not a democrat nor republican and i am not preaching global warming but...... anyone with eye could see that we are all in this together and we are all destroying our planet. However look at all of ou on here arguing about this stupid topic who cares really....we need to do something before we reach the point of no return we need to do sometihing now because our time on earth is coming to an end if we dnt do something now and stop arguing about these follish topics

    August 10, 2010 at 12:39 am |
    • CSnord

      Earth is coming to an end regardless of what we do, but that doesn't make what you say wrong. You are a bit off topic here, but you point out one of the great truths of our time - that the Earth has only one pollutant - people. Population control will fix all of your concerns. I encourage everyone I know to practice safe sex because accidents cause people.

      August 10, 2010 at 12:47 am |
  18. Sean

    I mean religion aside, kids need a break! If there was school on every holiday kids would be working straight until the summer.

    August 10, 2010 at 12:35 am |
  19. Redcarpet

    (David Bristow)
    Typical left college graduate, who needs great visibly on the web. Will do everything he can to make $ and fame. Do we really know that he is a christian, or that was a typo from CNN?

    August 10, 2010 at 12:35 am |
  20. G

    Vouchers would be a tolerant choice.

    August 10, 2010 at 12:31 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.