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. K

    So...what? You want to break up a 2-week winter holiday and open back up for 1 day in the middle? Just to prove some sort of a religious point? Yeah, I'm sure everyone will be fine with that. LOL
    Here's a crazy idea! Let's just call it a winter holiday not a religious holiday and celebrate no one's god! Let everyone celebrate their own thing during those 2 weeks.
    Oh wait, we already do that.

    August 10, 2010 at 9:58 am |
  2. jbird

    Dec. 25th IS a secular holiday. All of the elements of what we call Christmas (Santa, trees, gifts, partying, yule logs, etc.) were Pagan traditions that Christians usurped in order to make their conversion more easy. Even the date is wrong! By most accounts, Jesus was born in the spring, but the 25th was chosen because it was close to the solstice and the holiday of Saturnalia, both of which predate Christianity. So keep the 25th as an economic stimulus secular gorgefest, and let the Christians pick a more fitting day in the spring to revere their deity. – j

    August 10, 2010 at 9:46 am |
    • orthodox

      Hi jbird, just want to correct the date of Jesus' birth. Lets think it through. He was crucified in the Spring (Passover). His ministry was 3 1/2 years. This means that His ministry began in the fall of the year. A Jewish man qualifies for priesthood at the age of thirty. I don't believe Jesus waited 6 months, I think He hung up His tools for the last time & headed for the river Jordan where His cousin John been preach-en for 6 months.

      August 10, 2010 at 10:34 am |
  3. Audra

    I think this is a refreshing viewpoint. When I first read the title, I was a bit defensive...but he has a point. Christmas has become a large, commercialized event and it does not promote the true meaning at all. Christian youth have not had to choose between their faith committments and school ones for a long time...Maybe it's time we start putting faith above other things, and stop expecting the government to be favorable to ours or any other.

    August 10, 2010 at 9:17 am |
  4. Katie

    What part of 'worship in your own home on your own time' don't you religious folks understand???? Separation from church (or mosque) and state.
    I don't want to live by your rules, nor do you mine. The only fair thing to do is to do what you want in your own homes and stop trying to push your belief systems on others.

    August 10, 2010 at 9:11 am |
    • nick

      yeah you are right but what happens when kids get held back for missing too many days of school on long religios holidays such as ramadan? or holy week? yeah think about it you could do it at home sure....but the school system would frown upon that of course

      August 10, 2010 at 9:14 am |
    • Michael

      I agree with you. I don't understand why this is even as issue. If a student misses time at my local high school due to a religious reason, those absences are exempt. I can't really think that that is a minority view? When I was in college it seemed like we had a day off every week or so because I went to a college that had a very mixed religious body. So their solution was to give us every holiday off. Haha it just made me reminisce thinking "I don't have to go to class today, geez I love the _________ reilgion!"

      August 10, 2010 at 9:27 am |
    • nick

      @Michael yes but thats yourrr local high school you see mine was if you missed more than 10 days unexcused then u =fail that semester. Excused absences were doctors notes etc....

      August 10, 2010 at 9:49 am |
  5. Jack

    I go to church at least once a week and am raising my children the same way. I think David's idea is GREAT! Our whole school system needs revamping anyway – starting with the elimination of summer vacation. School should be split into four quarters with two weeks off between quarters. And yes, the government should have no respect for anyone one group's special Holy Day (Holiday). There's just too many to accommodate.

    August 10, 2010 at 8:16 am |
    • nick

      do you really think loke honestly think that would work????,,,,,,,there would be riots, strikes, kids wouldnt go to school etc... you have to think of all the negatives before you run and see a decision fit... thats why people like you shouldnt vote... they say oh yeah that sounds great lets do it....

      August 10, 2010 at 9:12 am |
  6. Ule Neverknow

    Why don't we just take all the days off? There's bound to be some group of minorities that will claim to be slighted if their special days aren't recognized. Bottom line: Majority rules. Deal with it and stop your whining. If we were a Muslim dominant society we'd take Muslim holidays off instead of the ones we do now. Do you see Muslim countries shutting down on Christmas?? No? Well, there you go.

    August 10, 2010 at 7:48 am |
  7. leah

    I think the discussion of keeping schools open over Christmas is just silly, even as a hypothetical idea. Kids and families need a break, and if it happens to coincide with an important Christian holiday with strongly pagan roots than so be it.

    For the vast majority of people, Christmas no longer has a deep religious meaning. Instead it has become a time for rest, reflection and and showing family and friends that you care about them. I'm fine with that. There's no need to heap guilt upon "professed" Christians who choose to exercise their faith in a more low-key way.

    And to be honest, I see absolutely no value in favoring an idea which forces significant numbers of people to alienate themselves from the general community by missing school in order to perform a religious obligation. Unless, that is, your goal is to alienate those people and emphasize their already isolated status within the mainstream culture.

    August 10, 2010 at 3:38 am |
    • Mark

      "forces significant numbers of people to alienate themselves from the general community by missing school in order to perform a religious obligation"
      Well, that is what is happening.

      On the other hand I feel all religious holidays are silly. Go pagans.

      August 10, 2010 at 8:08 am |
  8. Eric

    I think that we should have off for every major religions holiday. I could use the rest, and they could use the prayer. Win-Win.

    August 10, 2010 at 3:04 am |
  9. kazz

    christmas has had nothing to do with religion, spirituality, or jesus for quite some time now
    it is nothing more than an annual marker for a consumer-based economy – a check point for manufacturers and retailers
    it arrives a week before new years, and provides a break for the working class six months after summer vacation
    if it had any true meaning left, we would at the very least focus on the spirit of giving, rather than buying, or receiving, or exchanging
    it's pointless to compare christmas to other religious holy days – that aspect of it no longer has any relevance in our society

    August 10, 2010 at 3:04 am |
  10. jojo


    August 10, 2010 at 2:54 am |
    • One Whose Name Means Beloved of God

      Thank you for playing. You can leave now yourself.

      August 10, 2010 at 7:00 am |
    • chronoslinger

      but I came from America?

      December 9, 2010 at 11:47 am |
  11. bk_amdg

    The problem is that you want to make an exception for 10% of the population. We should take the whole month off for Islam because of 10% of the population. The founders understood that the majority and the minority has rights. If 10% of kids want to take off during their holy month then let them. They have that right. Jewish students can take off on their holidays because of their right. We forget that the majority makes the rules and the minority has rights. Our nation, like it or not, was formed on Christian principle our fathers were Christians. A majority of America is Christian, whether they are Church goers or not, a majority of the nation is Christian. They make the rules, they respect the rights of the minority, the Jews, Muslims, Atheists, etc, but the Christians make the rules. That's the way it goes. If you don't like it, then become the majority then you can make the rules, and you can leave the Christians to their rights.

    August 10, 2010 at 2:43 am |
    • One Whose Name Means Beloved of God

      We're working on that.

      August 10, 2010 at 7:01 am |
  12. Goodspeed

    I have not read everyone's responses to the article, but I have read some. The harsh critics are being distracted and entangled into the trivial details of the artical such as the logistics of having school open on Christmas and the apparent bias that American politics has for Christianity. However, the main point of the article is that there are inherent benefits one realizes when being forced to sacrifice some part of their everyday life to worship and give thanks to God. The title of the article initially caught me off guard. But upon further review, I found the article had good insight, and has inspired me to take a look at my daily life and determine where I am falling short of giving God my attention and my gratitude.

    August 10, 2010 at 2:40 am |
  13. Jack

    Until we realize that ALL religion is opposite our human nature we will continue to be slaves. FREE YOURSELF FREE YOUR MIND religion is 100% garbage get with the times Christ is about as real as Jupiter or Minerva... Once we realize that then we'll be free to inform opinions

    August 10, 2010 at 2:36 am |
  14. thatguy

    Interesting... but would never work. Most teachers seem to be of Christian or Jewish belief, and would never work on Christmas. Not enough employees would ever show up. Other religions would take it as an oppurtunity to miss a day of school. It's totally unreasonable.

    August 10, 2010 at 2:23 am |
  15. Matt

    -James- Almost as many as were killed by Stalin in the name of atheism...

    As a (amateur) historian and Christian, I have no problem owning up to, discussing, and apologizing for the horrors committed by and in the name of Christiandom, however by the same token, you then must own up to yours.

    August 10, 2010 at 2:20 am |
    • Alverant

      Except Stalin didn't kill in the name of Atheism. Stalin was also a man with a funny mustache. Does that mean all men with funny mustaches should apologize for Stalin? Of course not! Atheists should not apologize for Stalin by the same reasoning.

      August 10, 2010 at 5:25 pm |
    • TammyB

      @ Alverant....Just like people who are religious don't necessarily need to apologize for the things that religious fanatics have done in the past, either, huh?

      August 11, 2010 at 6:37 pm |
  16. Matt

    As an atheist, I think this is ridiculous. Keep Christmas thru New Years as a holiday week. It ain't broke, don't fix it

    August 10, 2010 at 2:20 am |
    • chronoslinger

      I agree, and only wish now that I had a holiday. What a lot of people don't realize is that humans NEED these kind of breaks, otherwise we'd all go crazy...now excuse me while I enjoy my lack of break.

      December 9, 2010 at 11:50 am |
    • chronoslinger

      p.s my last sentence was supposed to be sarcastic 😀

      December 9, 2010 at 11:51 am |
  17. Matt

    -Mr. Bristow-
    You made a major error with your article. Any observant Christian would tell you that Christmas is not the most important Christian Holiday, that would be Holy Week including Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter. Guess which week next year is not a school holiday in my area...

    August 10, 2010 at 2:12 am |
  18. Julie

    Actually, I think most people miss the whole point. The time off of school must be scheduled, not to accommodate faith necessarily, but to schedule time off for other things to be accomplished as well. The fact that Christmas is the time off given is not as much a matter of religion, but a matter of convenience. In this case, structuring the time off around when most students would typically need to spend time with family for the sake of their religious holiday is the most convenient because that would be the most probable time of students not being in school anyway (if you schedule the time off, they won't miss what is being taught while they are gone). The fact is, we live in a world where travel is easy, and as a result, we travel more to spend time with family during the holidays. Why have school when most students wouldn't be there anyway because they will be with their family, often in another state? Would you deny them the time with their family, creating memories, building relationships, and establishing and reinforcing values to simply make it "fair", or in a possible attempt to teach them not to choose between faith and school? Time with your family is important both for personal and, in many cases, religious development. The only true way to make it fair, is to restructure the holiday time off so that each important holiday that would be spend with the family gets the same amount of time. If the typical Christmas holiday is 2-3 weeks, then reduce it to 1 or 1.5, and give the Muslim holidays also 1 or 1.5. Same number of days used, both groups get the important holiday family time that children need.

    August 10, 2010 at 2:06 am |
    • nick

      what are you a teacher......hey americans dont like change honey just keep it the way its been for years things have gotten done you dont have to worry about that..

      August 10, 2010 at 9:08 am |
  19. yourmom

    its a day off of school kids are happy who cares.

    August 10, 2010 at 2:06 am |
  20. james

    I am so sick of religion. Organized religions of all denominations, christian, jews, muslim etc all feel that their religion is the chosen one. And in that, it justifies their actions of hatred and intolerance. Religion is the most oppressive element in this world and the greatest killer of all. Over the course of time and in the history of humans, how many people have died in the name of God?

    August 10, 2010 at 2:04 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.