The holiday season

Mark Bahnisch in Larvatus Prodeo has a post celebrating the start of the festive season (for political junkies, who had to get the election out of the way before they even noticed that the decorations were up in October). In passing, he comments that:

it’s interesting to note, just quietly, that it’s almost always business groups not the dreaded Maoist teachers or socialistic councils who do the “kill Xmas for multiculti thing”.

It struck me how true that is. Ten years ago, I was one of the people at my company agitating for non specific seasons greeting cards, rather than our traditional Christmas cards, because we were expanding into Asia (particularly Malaysia) at the time, and it seemed sensible. (I am ashamed to admit that until writing this post it didn’t occur to me that there were quite a few non Christian members of our own staff at the time, including one third of our celebrated team which contained a Bosnian Muslim, a Bosnian Serb, and a Bosnian Croat – only one of them an actual war refugee, the Serb, from memory).

And the reason that it makes good business sense to be non specific about Christianity at Christmas time is that there are real people in Australia who are not Christian, who would prefer not to be marginalised by everyone just assuming that they are Christian.

In contrast, at Chatterboy’s government school, his Year 1 concert contains two dreary modern Christmas songs, which have led to us having to explain the whole Christmas story in great detail, something we’d avoided till now.

Of course one of the things that education does is indoctrinate (all business is trying to do is sell things), which is the reason that there is so much passion from the Christian side complaining whenever a specifically Christian celebration (such as the end of season school concert) is watered down by a school recognising the diversity of cultural backgrounds that might exist there.

For me, I love the choral aspect of Christmas – Handel’s Messiah, the four part a capella Christmas carol singers you often get around town, and the traditional english carols (God Rest ye Merry Gentlemen is a personal favourite) which were part of my anglican childhood. And even though it makes little sense in our climate, those decorations which invoke the cosy winter cottage bulwarked against the snow always give me a warm inner glow.

But evangelical Christians are trying to subtly influence our school. The local Anglican minister is having an influence over the Christmas concert by maximising the religious content, and minimising the more traditional carols that are harder to understand and might therefore lead to less religious conversion. As an atheist, I find it slightly irritating, but it’s a good opportunity for the comparative religion lesson that we wish was available at school*. And our boys don’t seem too fazed by their difference from the mainstream that comes from us explaining to them that we don’t believe in God. But we celebrate an essentially secular Christmas anyway (with presents and decorations). It must be much harder if your religion precludes you from general participation.

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* The Education Act (1990) requires religious education to be available to all students of NSW government schools. This Hansard question and answer on how it works expands that

Under the current provision for special religious education it is not possible for schools to provide alternative subjects in time set aside for special religious education. Only approved religious persuasions can operate lessons during this time.

So Chatterboy general gets to sit in the library and read his current book, which suits him down to the ground.

  7 comments for “The holiday season

  1. suzeoz
    December 9, 2007 at 6:12 pm

    Whenever I’m reminded that other schools do scripture, I’m relieved that our school doesn’t. (Actually, they have only one religion giving a lesson – I’m told that 2 kids out of the 50 in my boy’s year attend, so it has virtually no impact on the rest and they keep on with their normal tasks.)

  2. December 9, 2007 at 7:24 pm

    “Approved religious” persuasions! That’s appalling! B came home from nursery singing a song about Divali the other week and even in a Catholic school (23 years years ago!) when I was acting as a substitute RE teacher (long story), I was supposed to give lessons on Hinduism, Islam etc in addition to the regular dose of Catholic doctrine. Mind you, that was in London, I suppose.

    We’ll be putting up the crib/buddha combination for the second time. We’ve also had an advent calendar which is obviously all about the chocolate. Any awkward questions will get “This is a story that some people think is true and some people don’t…” spin.

  3. December 11, 2007 at 12:06 pm

    I was in a queue at Luna Park with the five year old and drifted off a bit into fluteworld. When I stopped daydreaming I saw a young adult talking to my sprog (I was still holding her hand, so no need to call DOCS) about how when we die we have a great big party with Jesus in heaven. I was so proud I would have bought her a pony when my little one said “But there’s no such thing as heaven or God. When you die, there is nothing”. Of course when I tell that anecdote to some acquaintances I get told “you have to give her the chance to make up her own mind” and I then have to justify why there is no way I’m going to let my kids get brainwashed by any brand of fantasy horseshit. Like I’m the bad guy.

  4. December 12, 2007 at 10:33 pm

    Suzeoz, you are indeed, very lucky. My reading of the regulations suggests that your son’s school should not be providing any educational content during that time (in case the poor religious children miss out!), so it sounds like they are quietly deferring to majority will. I wish we could do the same!

  5. booshkie
    December 17, 2007 at 11:37 am

    My daughter’s best friend is a christian. Her parents go to church. Anglican, I think. Booshkette came home declaring she believes in God! I just explained some people do, some don’t. I’m with the don’ts. I’m hoping she’ll grow out of it.

    I’ve recently realised the enormous amount of Christian blather my kids have missed out on (compared to my Catholic upbringing) when I sing “Silent Night” or “Hark the Herald Angels” as bedtime songs. They sound nice and nostalgic to me, but how do you explain “round yon virgin” and “god and sinners reconciled” to a 5 or 7 year old who haven’t the foggiest?

  6. kate
    December 31, 2007 at 10:19 am

    My little sister’s (Victorian state) primary school had ‘philosophy’ classes, where they did talk about religions, as well as non-religious philosophies. That was 15 years ago(ish), as were my Catholic high school lessons in Judaism.

    We were even allowed to talk about aethism. It was just generally agreed by the class that I was a wack job for bringing it up. The discussion was respectful though.

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