Thursday, 17 October 2013

Schools Out - And Here Come The Christmasians

I see there is a bit of a debate in the Metro letters pages of schools with significant numbers of Muslim students closing for Eid.

When I was young, my parents read the Daily Express and one of its examples of "loony left" (or "political correctness gone mad" as we'd call it now) was one of the teaching unions had produced a diary for its members for the academic year. It had the traditional holidays such as Good Friday, Christmas Day. But it also - and get the smelling salts for this one - had things like Eid, Diwali, Rosh Hashanah.

I lived for a while in Leicester, with its diverse ethnic and cultural population. And when I did temping work in factories I noticed one sign up informing us that people are expected to be in on Diwali - you practice your religion in your own time, not on company time. I wonder how I would feel if I saw a sign up telling me I needed to be in on Good Friday or Christmas Day (and I try, when possible, to have Maundy Thursday as a holiday).

My first office job after university led to me causing a bit of a stir. I refused to have my desk decorated for Christmas and chose not to attend the team Christmas lunch. My justification? - the staff handbook stated that this was a secular organisation, and religious festivals were not to be celebrated on company property nor on company time. But also, in the interests of being even-handed, I felt that people who were adherents of non-Christian religions should be treated equally - if tinsel can be put up for Christmas then why shouldn't a Jew bring in a menorah and light it for Hanukkah? Or a Hindu or Sikh decorate their desk for Diwali?

In any office environment, from late November till the end of the year you get the devout followers of Christmasianity, an interesting religion with its emphasis on tinsel and carol services (which have to be done "properly", i.e. have mulled wine and mince pies afterwards) and trees, with its adherents ramming their views down people's throats. For the Christmasians, nothing causes a scoffing laugh or a shout of "I've never heard anything so ridiculous in my life" than HR emails reminding that not everyone celebrates Christmas and that it can be a fire risk putting tinsel round electrical devices.

For Christmasians, everyone should be celebrating Christmas - after all "this is a Christian country" (an odd statement, especially when said by someone who rails against "religion" and "superstition") and "the Queen is Head of the Church of England" - and in addition, everyone should be celebrating Christmas in the way Christmasians do. Don't be a bah-humbug by saying that for you Christmas is a quiet religious festival. And never ever try to drag Christ into Christmas - other than the Little Baby Jesus (TM) who knows His place is on the sidelines.

If two of the three school holidays are focussed on Christian festivals, then is there space for closures based on non-Christian festivals? I think there is.

I have heard that some States in the USA have the concept of "snow days". If school is closed for, say, a week due to snow, then the summer vacation is delayed by a week. And the same principle could apply - either on a school-by-school basis or on an authority-by-authority basis. If there are a significant number of pupils from one religion, close for the relevant period time - and then postpone the end of the summer term to compensate. Parents will still have to find childminders for the same number of days and children will still have the same number of days of schooling.

With this, Hanukkah is the interesting one. In 2014, it is Wednesday 17 December. Should schools with a significant Jewish intake close then and come back for the Thursday and Friday before breaking up for the Christmas holiday? Or break up on the Tuesday and have the 3 days added on to the end of the Summer term (and let's face it, every year there is the controversy about the length of time between that and the start of the Autumn term)?

This is not forcing Eid or Diwali (which often coincides with the Autumn half-term anyway) down anyone's throats. No pupil is going to be dragged to the mosque for Eid. But it enables schools and/or authorities to be flexible with regards to schools which have a significant number of pupils from non-Christian religions, whilst keeping the major Christian festivals of Christmas and Easter as the spine of two of the three school holidays.

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