Christianity is Not Our National Religion

I believe that more Americans identify as Christians than any other religion. That actually makes me more frustrated by how Christian holidays seep into our public schools. I will admit that I have been guilty of this in the past. So my frustration could be seen as hypocritical. I can accept that.

Here are some images from teachers in a facebook group recently.

I don’t believe these activities are any more religious than Santa and reindeer are at Christmas. I do believe that they make the assumption that all kids are on board with Easter or Christmas. We don’t do this with Passover or Eid or Diwali. When it comes to holidays that are truly religious celebrations, we allow Christian holidays to dominate our public schools.

Our calendars reflect this. We are on spring break this week, in one of the largest school districts in the country, because it is the week between Palm Sunday and Easter. Our winter break is always planned around Christmas.

Many students do celebrate Christmas and Easter. Instead of that making these lessons (and calendar decisions) make sense to me, it causes me pain. Those students who do not celebrate these religious holidays, and there are many of them, are reminded yet again of how they are different, how they are the other. We reinforce that in so many ways in our society. I am not okay with public school teachers doing it so thoughtlessly.

Some years ago my teammates (a team I haven’t been on in a while) decided it would be great to address our geography standards by studying how holidays are celebrated in various countries. I thought this was a fabulous idea. One teammate volunteered to take it on and returned with five or six countries: Israel celebrating Hanukkah and western European countries and Mexico celebrating Christmas.

Sit with that for a moment.

Two holidays. Mostly overwhlemingly white countries.

I put together some activities around Eid and Diwali and most of my teammates had no interest.

These were not bad teachers. There were many things they did exceptionally well.

The idea that Christianity is the norm is so pervasive that many people don’t even think twice about it. (This doesn’t even get at how the norm is a very white version of Christianity even thought many people of color are also believers and their religious traditions may look quite different.)

Those of us who have traditionally been the norm, had the power, determined how things work in our country, need to take a step back. We have to do the work to identify all that we haven’t seen in the past. All the ways many people in our society live differently from us (be that around religious holidays or anything else). We are the ones who have to do the work.

One reply

  1. Jen, I love that you wrote about this with grace and firmness. Your last paragraph brings home the heart of the issue–dominant culture and power. Those of us who grew up with Christian heritage and those of us who are white (check both for me) grew up steeped in these traditions as “normal” rather than seeing them as cultural. Which has the effect of diminishing emphasis on the ways others celebrate and the holidays that are revered in their heritage. I’m so glad you are processing this and sharing your thoughts.

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