By Anjali Nayak
Heading into December, I had one thing on my mind – Christmas break. Words cannot describe how grateful I am for the two weeks I have off from school. Finally, two weeks without writing APUSH notes, sprinting to school, and procrastinating The Shield articles. But one thing made me uneasy: I never celebrate Christmas.
Across the country, students are given days off of school for Christian holidays such as Christmas, Easter, and Good Friday. Although many people in the United States are Christian and celebrate these holidays, people of other faiths are excluded from being able to celebrate their own holy days. The government practically assumes that all citizens practice Christianity, when present day America proves that is clearly not the case. If schools give days off for Christian holidays, they should also provide days off for other religions. But what counts as a religion? Is it all or nothing?
The situation is a smaller part of an ongoing debate surrounding the separation of church and state. Having time off of work or school almost encourages citizens to celebrate such holidays. A governments’ recognition of specific religious holidays clearly violates an American citizen’s right to the free exercise of religion.
Generally, public school districts should avoid establishing religious preference by steering clear of religious observances altogether. During the winter season, abstaining from any semblance or religious observance becomes increasingly difficult. While sleighs, elves, and reindeer hardly evoke religious overtones, the presence of Advent wreaths, nativity scenes, or Christmas pageants within schools must be closely scrutinized. These overtly religious overtones present challenges to school districts desiring to include them in their festivities while maintaining an environment in which a student does not feel a particular religion is being advanced. A simple rule should guide districts: schools should aim to educate, not celebrate. Unless a part of a larger, secular curriculum (such as religion’s place in history), direct references to religious texts should not be a part of school curriculums—especially before a holiday affiliated with a certain religion.
Furthermore, students should not receive unexcused absences for missing school due to the celebration of religious holidays not already incorporated into the school calendar. Not all students practice Christianity, school districts need to stop acting as if they do.