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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. Elizabeth

    After reading Mr. Bristow's blog, I completely and respectfully disagree with the sentiment that schools should remain open on Christmas to provide an opportunity for Christians to show their devotion.

    It may help to provide context for me to state that I am both a devout Christian and a mother of four school-age children.

    (1) "Christmas" as we know it is not and should not be thought of as a "Christian" holiday – neither should "Easter." If a Christian really wants to show some Christian devotion, he/she should consider studying Leviticus 23 and the prophetic connection of the festivals and feasts God put in place to Christ's life, death and resurrection. It would show far more "guts" to pull your kids out of school for the Feast of Tabernacles to teach them for a week about the life of Christ and deny yourself the modern conveniences and gluttony of most holidays than to simply "go along" with a warm-and-fuzzy, unbiblical December 25th orgy of food and indebtedness. I realize that we are not "obligated" to follow the ancient feasts any longer, but I am not talking about obligation; I am talking about worship. I am talking about recognizing that God spent some time giving specific instructions to us on how to celebrate him in His Word . If you choose to worship God during a random week in December that he never even acknowledged in His Word while you play golf and ignore him entirely during the feasts he actually did mention, that's between you and God. But, he never commanded us to celebrate Christmas and we all know that Jesus wasn't born on December 25th. So, if it's a personal tradition and it's important to you, great. Celebrate that. Don't measure my family's devotion with your personal yardstick.

    (2) Why not spend some time learning God's ways instead of spending time postulating how we can be MORE arrogant and inflammatory to non-believers? Mr. Bristow's position essentially says, "I wish we didn't have a Christmas break just so that I could call the school and tell them that we are taking the time off anyway because Jesus is just too important." Are we seriously day-dreaming about how we could cause problems for our local school districts, if only they would comply with our whimsical interpretation of the world? Don't confuse zeal with just being a drama-addict!! We are supposed to be known by our LOVE, not our insistence on making political statements. The ways of God are absolutely contrary to the ways of the world, and sometimes we do have to take a stand, but we are not supposed to spend our time making up ways to make a big deal about how devoted we would be if only something ridiculous would happen. Another one I love is, "If I put a gun to your head and demanded that you renounce Christ, would you do it?" That is such a wasted question. Everyone who is a "Christian" says "NO," but we have no idea what's in their heart or what they would actually do. Why spend time postulating something that is not likely to ever happen? Why not spend time looking for new ways to renew our minds in Christ, love the lost and be Jesus to someone? Prove your devotion by feeding the hungry and clothing the naked and worshipping with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. "Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things." (Phillipians 4:8)

    (3) If they cancelled the Winter holiday, there would be a whole lot of non-believers calling in because Christmas is much more a sentimental holiday than a religious one. What point would be proved then? "Wow, we really showed that school district! Their attendance records are in the toilet and the teachers are all miserable because they didn't get any downtime! I'm pretty sure I'm gonna get a gold star in Heaven for this one!" Take the Winter holiday off because it is a good thing to decompress and spend time with family, (and, let's face it, the teachers need a break). But don't call yourself 'more devoted' to God because you want to continue your personal tradition and then brag about the fact that you're willing to be rebellious to do it.

    (4) To solve your problem of 'equality' with regard to religious holidays, I think all holidays should be termed as neutral (i.e. "Winter" or "Spring") so that no one can claim that it is a "Christian" holiday or otherwise. Before you get all Pharisaic on me, let me ask you – do you really think that Jesus would have argued about this?? He picked grain and healed on the Sabbath and messed with the religious leaders when they questioned him. I have a hard time believing that he would get his tunic in a wad over what a secular holiday is named (and, yes, they are secular holidays...)

    August 10, 2010 at 10:56 pm |
  2. Mark from Middle River

    Can we get the house and senate to push this through so Obama can sign it into law before the elections?

    I would think that would clearly wipe the dems out of office.

    August 10, 2010 at 10:40 pm |
  3. NEON whip

    some are being ironic in this blog. so ill say. hate the god. love the holiday.

    August 10, 2010 at 9:57 pm |
  4. jeff

    The problem with religion is, God does not exist.

    August 10, 2010 at 7:00 pm |
  5. blf83

    I live in Rochester, NY. One of our suburbs, created substantially out of the prejudice against Jews in the 50s and 60s, give both Jewish and Christian holidays off. Curiously, the largest mosque in the area is also located in that suburb, and many Muslim families value the strong educational opportunities this suburb's school system offers. It will be interesting, if, over time, Muslim holidays are considered. Inasmuch as the town values not only education but diversity and tolerance, my bet is that when there is a critical mass of Muslims, they will decide to honor at least the major Muslim holidays. Isn't that what we should all be willing to do?

    August 10, 2010 at 6:33 pm |
  6. Parkerman

    I think it is all a matter of majority, the majority in the United States still follow the Christian faith and our history of holidays were simply based on Christian events. We still need to have holidays as a nation in which we all take off so just call it something else. Christians can still celebrate Christmas on Dec 25 and the majority of people won't be in school that day including many of the teachers. Muslims can take off when they want, I as a Christian take off work on Good Friday (Easter) which is not a recognized national holiday either.

    August 10, 2010 at 5:44 pm |
  7. jpeay

    Even Scrooge gave Bob Cratchit off for Christmas. I digress. The Christian community can deal with their kids' lack of "religious obligation" and push them towards a faith filled life w/out changing the current system. As far as Muslims, it's time believers put aside their fear and share with them the good news of Jesus Christ. Those following the tenents of Islam are following a system of religious, political and financial bondage and need to hear the truth. Give them days off, don't give them days off, just give them Jesus. Amen.

    August 10, 2010 at 5:03 pm |
  8. stevie68a

    Religion is trickery, superstition, and shame. Teach children ethics, not folklore.

    August 10, 2010 at 4:20 pm |
  9. The Truth

    This country was founded on the concept of majority rules while respecting the rights of the minority. Which means the calendar and time off will be allocated towards what is best for the majority. To be fair the minority has the right to take off to observe their holidays, which is what we have now. Stop whining, I don't know of any country that is as tolerant of so many different religions then America. When you try to make everyone happy you make no one happy. If you don't like majority rules then become the majority.

    August 10, 2010 at 3:39 pm |
    • Alverant

      Would you like it if you were in the minority and the one being made unhappy? Probably not. I've noticed that conservatives love to talk about "the voice of the people" only when they agree with it. If "the voice of the people" say something they don't like then "the voice of the people" gets ignored. What you're suggesting is to continue to show preference towards one religion and that's anti-American. How many non-christian holy days were turned into secular holidays? None! Do you think that's right?

      August 10, 2010 at 5:42 pm |
  10. Schooner

    I'd rather have a secular holiday than a religious one. No tension, no call to impress anyone (or any deities). This is my view, of course.

    The entire idea of winter celebration is derived from Pagan rituals, where they got together with friends and family, exchanged gifts, ate food, and commemorated the season. All organized religions with a winter holiday basically took this idea and made it their own by putting their specific prophets into it. (According to the Bible, Jesus was apparently born sometime in the late summer, not December.)

    Honestly, I love curling under a warm blanket at home, playing Scrabble with my family, taking in the scents and sounds that come with the season. It's a welcome break from school and work, meant for relaxation. I don't need a higher power telling me how to enjoy the things I'm grateful for in life – I can see them right in front of me. My family, friends, a roof over my head, pets, good times, laughter, all that jazz.

    Again, honestly.. I'd rather have a secular holiday than a religious one.

    August 10, 2010 at 2:08 pm |
  11. ChristianFromMuslimCountry

    I came from a mustim country where I had to write exam on Christmas day, not just attend or not attend school. Why not just not attend the school on your religious festival day?

    August 10, 2010 at 2:00 pm |
  12. RevMarkSWillis

    Mr. Bristow, your article is well-thought out and presents a grace-filled perspective on this issue. It was thought provoking and bears witness to the larger message of "genuine faith". Thank you for posting it, I appreciated and enjoyed reading it.

    August 10, 2010 at 1:10 pm |
  13. Gary

    schools and business should be closed on Christmas but not for religious reasons....its time to be with families and celebrate and sing carrols, Santa Reindeer elves snowman and gifts....

    August 10, 2010 at 12:14 pm |
  14. MIke in NJ

    Um, this is throwing the baby away witht he bathwater, and it seems like it is almost farcical. Better to have schools allow Muslims their high holy days as holidays. The 'sacrifice' he speaks of would be better 'paid' as a penance. In my opinion, one of the reasons Western culture is more advanced than many Middle Eastern cultures is that we don't allow relgion – a Personal observance – to interfere with societal progress – be it economic, cultural, or social (including, you know, egalitarian rights, etc.)

    Less intrusive religion, with allowances for observance and tolerance, would seem a better choice – and it seems like allowing schools to close on holy days so families can observe without guilt or penalty is more appropriate than your solution.

    August 10, 2010 at 12:00 pm |
  15. Rehan Ahmed

    I am a fellow teenage muslim. And first off, let me say to a certain Jason Beesess, that what you wrote in your comment was very hurtful and very demeaning to the religion. Would you like it if someone said that about your faith? Please, respect others cultures and religions. Believe or not Mr. Jason Beesess, Muslim and Christian faith are barely different, they are very similar. The only difference is, we belive that Jesus is a prophet not the son of God. Please, be more open-minded, it just might change your biased views on other faiths/cultures. (:

    On to the relevant matter: the article itself.

    Mr. Bristow has a valid argument/topic of disscussion. As a fellow Muslim who celebrates Eid, I find that it's no issue to take one day off to celebrate this special occasion. I tell my teachers in advance of the holiday, they understand, and give me all that I need for the day that I'll be missing. I find that taking one day off is a privilage, because, that shows that I am proud of who I am as a fellow Muslim. Now, Eid, can be taken as two view points for people. 1.) It's a religous holiday, in which we give God thanks for the time of Ramadan, showing us the values of food, and how we need him. Or 2.) Another day off for some people.

    Thank you for taking the time to read this comment,
    Rehan Ahmed

    August 10, 2010 at 11:52 am |
    • Reality

      Rehan,

      Once the bowers to Mecca see that they have been conned by the "angelic" hallucinations of a long-dead, warmongering, womanizing (11 wives) Arab, these 1.5 billion lost souls will quickly become secularists, agnostics or atheists and a semblance a global peace will spread across the globe.

      August 10, 2010 at 4:39 pm |
    • TammyB

      Rehan...Do not take the comments of a few and Reality as the end-all be-all of other faiths or non-faiths! Many of us are NOT haters! I don't mind anyone's beliefs or non-beliefs and I ask questions about faiths I don't understand! I do believe in knowledge and I believe that a lot of others feel the same way!

      August 11, 2010 at 7:11 pm |
    • WDH

      Well said Rehan. You're probably the smartest and sanest person here. Ignore the negativity and the stupidity. It is easy for these cowards to be so hateful when they can hide behind a fake name and a keyboard.

      December 4, 2010 at 3:11 pm |
  16. MB

    I agree with the idea here-that we as Christians need to be willing to make a sacrifice for our faith. I agree that we have become spoiled and lazy about our faith. I do get the article and what he is saying. However, practically speaking, it wouldn't work. Christmas has become so secularized and a part of our culture that everyone would take the day off in spite of faith. Maybe agnostics and atheists wouldn't out of making a statement. That means all school systems would have to remain open, paying salaries, many substitutes' pay, utility bills, lunches and breakfast programs etc. This is not practical considering many schools are thinking about going to a 4-day week to reduce costs. Again, I get what he is saying...just adding the practical part for argument.

    August 10, 2010 at 11:30 am |
  17. Bill

    Jesus is the most quoted prophet in the qu'ran.

    August 10, 2010 at 11:30 am |
  18. mary

    let's be very reasonable and logical. the US is a western country, with a majority of christians. this the reason why we have christmas and good friday off. also, the author ignores the fact that it is called winter break, so I'm sure every good and not-so good student in america will be jumping for joy if WINTER BREAK gets cancelled. moreover, I'm very sure that a 10 percent of christians in a predominantly muslim country would never have its wishes and holidays granted, like ever. If muslims have a problem with our christian holidays day off, maybe they should practice humility or consider moving. it's not fair that muslim countires get to retain and enforce their religion (sometimes with iron fist) and we christians cannot. Think about it...

    August 10, 2010 at 11:29 am |
  19. orthodox

    The basic fundamental for religion is LOVE. God = 1st, others are next & yourself is last.
    God, in His Holy Word never mentioned that we celebrate the birth of His Son.
    There is one command that we remember a day and that is in the 4th commandment.
    Remember the Sabbath (day #7 not the 1st)

    August 10, 2010 at 10:20 am |
  20. bostonjim

    Most of you seem to be missing the point of the author's article (though I do recognize that staying on topic is anathema to this forum). He is not advocating giving Muslims their holidays off, nor is he talking about changing Christmas to a regular day out of some sense of political correctness. He's offering up the opinion that there is value in choosing to make a sacrifice to celebrate your religion. Christians do not need to make that sacrifice to celebrate Christmas at the momen, and he is just putting forth the proposal that, perhaps, this would make people have to really think about why they were celebrating, and choose to make the sacrifice if it was important enough. Now, I know how much we all love to spew hate about Muslims here(or, really, anyone whose views differ from ours), but maybe we could try to discuss the topic at hand. Don't worry, I hear the Muslims are trying to build a mosque- so there will always be a chance to hate again.

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

      No I think many people here are on point, that many religions, including Christians already sacrifice time from school to satisfy their particular religous obligations and so there would be no need to open school on Christmas as it really isn't a holy day, it is a holiday which has become about Santa Claus, etc. Also, it is a winter and semester break at school. And this argument has spun along other lines as well, but that's the blogs for you, and if you don't happen to like this kind of debate, then blogs probably aren't for you. Also, alot of people here aren't hating on Muslims....they are actually saying that they should be able to leave school on those days, make up their school work without being punished for those days, much as Christians and Jews have to. That's kind of being fair, don't you think? Also, there are some atheists on this blog that don't seem to like any religion, but that's okay! That's what this kind of medium is for!

      August 11, 2010 at 7:06 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.