Friday, November 6, 2009

Required Christmas Carols in Schools?

'Tis the season for cries about the "War on Christmas," and what better way to start off than attempting to pass a law requiring Christmas carols in school.

Ms. Hyatt, 61, a substitute schoolteacher, is the chief proponent of a proposed California ballot initiative that would require the state’s public schools to offer Christmas music during the holiday season.

Ms. Hyatt said she was inspired to start her ballot drive after working at a school where only nondenominational songs were allowed at holiday parties.

That struck her as unfair.

“We feel kids love Christmas,” she said. “And we’re not allowed to play Christmas carols. And we think that’s wrong.”
I'm one of those types of atheists who loves Christmas. I celebrate it with my family and I love singing the songs, regardless if they're about Jesus or Frosty the Snowman. I grew up singing Christmas carols in concerts for public schools, and it didn't traumatize me. My family was secular and I didn't feel left out; I just saw singing about Jesus's divinity the same as singing about Santa (aka, silly and fictional). I'm still an atheist now - the Noel didn't convert me.

That being said, my experiences do not represent those of every child. Some children of atheists may see it as one big silly joke, but children raised in Jewish families must certainly feel like the odd man out. They get their one token dradle song, and that's it. But at least they get one song - what about the children of Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, Pagans, etc? Well, Ms. Hyatt has a solution for that:

As to whether people of other religious beliefs might take offense at having to carol, Ms. Hyatt, a Christian, said schools would be required to provide other rooms for other faiths, and students could opt out if offended. But she added that in her experience as a substitute teacher in schools in largely Latino, largely Christian neighborhoods in Southern California, she had not often encountered people who do not celebrate Christmas.

“I don’t think I’ve ever had a Jewish child in one of my classes,” she said. “If so they never said anything.”
Yes, because ostracizing small children even further by hiding them in a separate room and making them miss out on a fun party is an excellent idea. Way to show your tolerance and understanding.

There's a point where I think secularization is unnecessary. I personally feel Christmas has pretty much lost it's religious value; rather it represents having time off from school and work, being with family and friends, and spending a crapload of money on presents (yay capitalism). But to require all public schools to sing religious songs just isn't right. Maybe let each school decide if it's appropriate or not, but don't force religion on all public students in California.

What do you guys think? Should there be no religious Christmas carols at all in public schools? Or have they lost their original meaning and it's all for fun? I'd especially like to hear from those not raised in Christian families about their experiences and opinions.

(Hat tip to @jakiking)


  1. I am one of those atheists who hates Christmas. But to be fair, I hated Christmas long before I was an atheist (though there was never any point where I did not question the existence of God, unlike many of my fellows, to some extent). This is a clear violation of the 1st Amendment.

    Reading the article, the woman is clearly some sort of narrow-minded bigot. She extends her experience to that of everyone, and says that since nobody has mentioned being, say, Jewish, that all folk should really be OK with singing some Christian songs. Well fuck me running, Ms. Only-My-Life-Matters. If it was my kid, I'd be in there, explaining exactly why you're a stuck-up over-religious ignoramus who's general IQ could be enhanced by a lobotomy.

    And all 24 other petitioners who added their signature too!!

  2. I don't think requiring them or banning them does much other than cause bizarre rage. Leaving it up to each school seems best.

    Without religious ones, that means you can't have a fifth-grader giggle when the word 'virgin' comes up in Silent Night. And that is a travesty.

  3. Well, thinking about it, third grader giggle. But I was a perverted kid.

  4. I think like you, that Christmas has, over time (and with the advent of abject materialism) lost pretty much 99% of its religious connotation(s). I’d say, let Christmas carols be played and sung in schools – no-one’s ever been driven into, or out of, a faith (or faithlessness) by Xmas carols, AFAIK.

    BUT, there should be a wide repertoire of Christmas songs from various religions played, though. First, because it would add some nice variety and may even get some kids to discover other musical styles and types, and second, so non-Christian students wouldn’t feel left-out.

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  6. Andre, what's this "was perverted" thing?

  7. I was raised Jewish, and so I've always had a sort of irrational knee-jerk revulsion when it comes to Christmas (it always reminds me of the times when I was in elementary school and nobody knew what a Jew was so I was constantly forced to answer questions about it). Christmas was everywhere, and because I was an outsider the absurdity of it all was more palpable to me (although this certainly isn't to say that Jewish holidays aren't absurd; they are).

    There's that, and then also I think Christmas is a horrendously tacky holiday, second only to perhaps Valentine's Day. I'm not a huge fan of most holidays to be perfectly frank (even the ones I grew up with) - they've always seemed very contrived and wasteful of time and money to me, especially with the blatant empty commercialism that's yoked to them in most cases. I do enjoy the opportunity to see extended family and so on, but you don't need a holiday to do that and it's usually better when it isn't one.

    That said... on to my real point.

    In junior high and high school, we had a "winter" celebration every year at which they would sing songs ostensibly from many traditions and so on. The majority of the songs were Christmas songs (religious and otherwise), and then there were a few Chanuka songs and a few others I can't remember. The whole thing bothered me, because they managed to misrepresent every culture they tried to include (I was only certain with respect to the attempts at Jewish songs, but it was pretty obvious they botched the others too aside from the Christian). What shocked me was that most of the students enjoyed this event - I loathed it and always sought (without success) excuses not to go each year. I like music; I like good music, but tawdry "holiday" songs do not qualify...

    I guess in short I'd say: regardless of how secularized it is, I personally wouldn't want to be forced to endure Christmas or any "winter holiday" music in any form whatsoever.

  8. *delurk* I went to two schools as a kid, one of which was very culturally sensitive (compared to a lot of other places). They did things like 'hey, so-and-so's parents from Hungary want to come in and show us how to make Hungarian christmas decorations! isn't it interesting how they celebrate christmas in different places.' they also sometimes put made a fuss at other celebrations, like diwali or something. this was a cool way to do things, and largely included people of other faiths.

    The other school... in 2001 my best friend was muslim (we were 12/13 at the time). Some wonderful people in the class decided since muslims blew up buildings we should harass muslims. Because i defended her i got a bit of flack for being an athiest too. And then we got to do christmas celebrations. I rebelled. I refused to sing carols. I wasn't going to do things celebrated the religious views of the bigoted people around me. It was scary doing this, and sometimes felt really upsetting. The teachers didn't really know what to do with me even though they respected my right to opt out. I sometimes ended up helping with the end of year tidy-up while other people were doing christmas things.
    The worst bit was when we were asked to make christmas cards for the younger kids in the school who we read with. I couldn't say 'no, i won't do this' because then my buddy would be left out, and that felt mean. I ended up making a 'have a happy break from school' card.

    Leaving it to a school by school basis won't stop kids feeling unhappy when a religion is imposed on them. Maybe there should be guidelines, for ways you can have some fun in religious celebrations without making people conform to other religions. Forcing kids to sing carols is so not the way to go.

  9. Eh, I'm torn on this one. Because I agree, I think Christmas has become so secularized that songs like "Holy Night", etc. are basically meaningless unless you're religious to begin with. However, I also attended a public school where we were forced to perform religiously-themed material throughout the year, and have a big problem with that. For instance, one solo I tried out for my senior year had these lyrics:

    "All creatures of our God and King!
    Lift up your voice, and with us sing!
    Praise the Father, praise the Son!
    And praise the Spirit, three in one!"

    Looking back on that, I cringe. I was religious at the time and didn't think a thing of students at a public school being given Christian gospel songs to sing. Now, it makes me furious. So I feel like I can't be a hypocrite and say it's okay on Christmas, but not any other time, y'know?

  10. About halfway through my being in elementary school our district got "PC" and stopped doing the "holiday concert". Instead it became the "Winter Concert"... we no longer sang Christmas carols; and you know what the prevelant feeling was? Relief. Pretty much everyone was tired of the same old songs year after year after year. Instead the the classes all got to choose their own songs, including contemporary new songs to sing, which was WAY more fun and even if the new songs weren't great, at least they were different. I don't see the problem with having concerts not contain holiday songs... you can still have everyone get together and do concerts with songs that have no seasonal or religious affiliation.

  11. I THINK: if schools were run the way I'd like them to be, each classroom full of kids would have a discussion over what they wanted to do, and resolving any conflicts they had within the group. It might take a month of two for this process to work itself out, but...
    As far as laws being made, I'm totally against that process. We don't need more laws, and the only constitution I know says that government can't pass any laws one way or another (read the amendment). All the points made in the comments are valid, except perhaps the first one which was too personally vindictive to be of value, but I think part of the educational process should be teaching kids how to get along, compromise, and work things out themselves. Then maybe we wouldn't need so damn many laws.

  12. One has to consider what we really mean when we say that Christmas has been "secularized". What it really means is that it's post-Christian, so it retains Christian features, even if they're vestigial. To someone who's not Christian or post-Christian it can still be highly offensive to have your public school officially engage in the celebration of the holiday.

    I say leave it out of the schools. There's plenty of Christmas going on outside of them for those who adhere to the dominant cultural sensibilities.

  13. Being an atheist from California I am appalled at this however I am mainly appalled at the "required" aspect of this. Once again Christianity is trying force something down everyone's throat. Now before everyone goes all Bah Humbug on me, we do Xmas and Hanukkah (wife's Jewish) in our house. But, it is done as secular as possible. Although, we put up a menorah and a Xmas tree (wife calls it a Hanukkah bush) there are no other religious items but it sure messes with the Jehovah and other proselytisers as they come around during the holidays.

    As for singing Christmas carol's at winter concerts I'm ok with it as long as it is not forced by law or the school. I think for the most part Xmas has become mostly secular in almost every way (sorry xtians I think the war is over).

  14. I have two simple questions:
    1. Is there anyone here who seriously believes that it is better for a school principle to decide than a legislature? Does anyone seriously think that the child who is excluded is going to care from what level of government or school administration the dictate came down?

    2. For those of you who think christmas has been so secularized that it doesn't matter, would you say the same about the pledge of allegiance or the national motto? Do you think those have been secularized to the point that they don't matter, either?

  15. I don't care if they have Christmas celebration in public schools, but I don't think it is reasonable to force everyone to attend it. If I am one of the students, I would prefer to have a choice not to participate.

    I am an atheist and don't feel compelled to celebrate Christmas even though most people around me do. I often choose to celebrate it by playing chess with heretics, which is so much more fun than going to those mindless religious rituals.

  16. These twisted perverts want to expose innocent children to CAROLS!!!
    See here:
    for the awful truth.

  17. My father used to go carol-singing house to house (without me, I can't sing). Harmless community-building stuff. Some of the old English carols are pretty fun music (do you Murricans do "God rest ye merry, gentlemen"?) We in Norway have a tune that could make the hardest atheist cry ("Deilig er jorden"), though you need to be a pro soprano to do it properly. What I would prefer to see abolished are all Christmas carols and jingles loudspeakered in public places. (On the subtropical island of Madeira they do "Let it snow" incessantly along the main street of Funchal; quite maddening, and it never does anyway. They also do an indigenous tune that is more interesting but a formidable earworm.)

    How did we get to this idea that everybody must be deprived of silence at all times, whether they want to or not?

    Otherwise I ignore Christmas 100%, no compromise whatever.