Arlington Schools Taking Inclusive Approach to Holidays


(Friday, December 15, 2006 8:41 AM EST)

Merry Christmas! Happy Hanukkah! Happy Kwanzaa!

Should all these greetings be combined into the all-encompassing, “Happy Holidays,” when spoken in public schools, parks, libraries and government offices?

Arlington lawyer Doug Welty doesn't think so, and has joined in a national campaign called “Merry Christmas - It's OK to Say It,” backed by the Alliance Defense Fund.

“Christmas is a piece of our heritage,” Welty said in a recent interview. “As well as being a religious holiday, it's an American, state and federal holiday. And most importantly, it's a fun holiday. It's sad to see kids miss out on fun when they don't have to.”

Attorneys who participate in the campaign seek to educate schools and other public institutions on their rights and responsibilities with regard to publicly celebrating Christmas.

Welty said it bothers him that schools seem to be de-emphasizing Christmas and replacing it with an “amorphous winter holiday.”

Arlington's public schools try to expose students to holiday traditions of different countries and cultures in an educational way, officials said.

“We do not focus on any specific holiday, but we do celebrate what other cultures do around the world,” said Corina Coronel, the principal of Carlin Springs Elementary School. “It's important we know about each other, and to have an open mind. It's easier to accept what you know and understand.”

Carlin Springs does not devote any instructional time to teaching about holidays, but students can read and learn from the library's holiday book display. Family members of students also are invited to come to class and discuss their holiday traditions.

Based on their comments, students seem to enjoy learning about other cultures' seasonal celebrations.

“It's fun to learn about people's celebrations, and how they do it,” said Dimonique Brandon, a fifth-grader at Carlin Springs.

“A lot of people judge other cultures,” said classmate Karim Ezzirati. “I like to learn so I don't judge.”

Glebe Elementary School approaches the holidays similarly.

“We're extremely diverse. Our approach to the holidays is to celebrate all that diversity,” said Jamie Borg, Glebe's principal.

This year, Glebe Elementary also is inviting family members to share their holiday customs.

Additionally, they are collecting gift certificates to give to needy families as part of their “giving tree” project, stuffing stockings for the poor, writing cards to soldiers and presenting a holiday concert.

Religious references are kept to a minimum in all these activities, but “if we go with any religious-based holiday, we try to make it as equal as can be,” said Borg.

And, at least at these two schools, there is no rule forbidding students to use religious holiday expressions.

“In general, we keep it to Happy Holidays, but if a student says, ‘Merry Christmas,' no one will get mad,” said Coronel. “If we're going to teach tolerance, we can't tell them not to say ‘Merry Christmas.'”

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