A Modest Proposal for Resolving the School Holiday Debacle

I don’t know about the school system you live in, but the schools here in Fairfax County, VA are in an uproar over which religious holidays qualify for school closings. Is anyone surprised that religion is the root of yet another completely unnecessary war.

Back when I was a kid, America made no bones about having a national religion. Christianity. Nothing was open on Sundays and schools closed only for Christian holidays. Even my school, in the heart of a huge Jewish neighborhood, was open on Jewish holidays. Given the reality of Christian hegemony, the school board dealt with this in the most intelligent manner conceivable. It gave Jewish kids excused absence on their holidays. ( As best I can tell, there were no other religions represented in our neck of the woods at the time.) Kids were still required to keep up with their work, but exams were not scheduled for those days.

Lo and behold! The Fairfax schools, just narrowly, adopted such a solution. Still, several Board members objected to it complaining it stigmatized non-Christian kids, and there were letters published in the Post by people who insisted their sacred days are as sacred as the Christian ones and deserve school closings. To my mind, the question is not whether their holidays are as sacred. The real question is whether religious holidays should be linked to school closings in the first place.

The Jews celebrate a cluster of holidays within about a 6 weeks span in autumn. Several, as is the case with most Judea-Christian holidays, correspond with older pagan festivals. The pagan versions included bacchanals and orgies. Unfortunately, in the Jewish versions the booze was replaced by seltzer and the sex was replaced by braised brisket and noodle kugel.

Like our ancestors who fled from servitude in Egypt (and wandered into Canaan, under the orders from the just, loving and merciful God to rape, pillage, plunder and enslave its occupants) we Jewish schoolmates, week after glorious autumn week, basked in the glory of our own release from bondage. We ran wild, never considering stepping into a house of worship. Don’t say I was without faith. Jewish holidays go by a lunar calendar. If one of them, God forbid, fell on a weekend that year, they all did. I prayed ardently as those holidays neared—- that they would fall on weekdays.

The school holiday debacle is based on a valid concern. It’s now politically incorrect to marginalize any religion, so adherents of all religions understandably feel, notwithstanding the fact they are sacred only to them and meaningless to everyone else, schools should close for their particular sacred traditions.

In our country, devout Christians have always asserted, and persist in asserting, that everyone should kowtow to to their particular brand of mumbo-jumbo. It may be that the hand of the Lord was at work, or perhaps it was just my bad luck, to have gotten on the elevator, several Easter Sundays in a row, with one of my very devout Christian neighbors. He in his impeccable Sunday best and I in my running gear. The conversation was always the same:

“Lookin’ sharp today, George.”

“Yeah. Today’s a special day. You ought to come to church with me.”

“Well, I know it’s special to you, but I’m not a Christian, so it’s not special to me.”

“Oh, no. It’s special to everyone.”

“Oh? So Ramadan is special to you, and the Jewish holidays and the Buddhist ones and the Hindu ones as well? I guess you go to their churches on their holidays, don’t you?” To this I received a perplexed stare.

As the elevator, mercifully, disgorged us, I wished him a happy Easter.

Because school holidays so often revolve around religious holidays, we are faced in this era of inclusivity with the prospect that if schools are closed for every religion’s holidays, we might as well save our education dollars altogether and just do away with school.

As with most matters, if you can divest yourself of an absurd pre-conceived notion– that school holidays must be based on religious holidays to begin with–the rational and fair solution becomes clear. School holidays should, by intention, not coincide with religious ones. If students and their families insist on prioritizing worship and observance of their particular holy days, they should be permitted to do so without penalty.

In the more likely event that society doesn’t have adequate common sense to simply separate school vacations from religion, there’s another, maybe even better alternative. The dates of all religious holidays could be changed to fall only on weekends the way many federal holidays do. For example, Christmas can be the third Saturday or Sunday of each December. Nobody knows Jesus’s real birthday anyhow. December was chosen by a pope in the fourth century to coincide with the pagan rites of the winter solstice. He figured he’d get a lot more converts if the people could just party on as usual for a different excuse. Blessedly, seltzer had not yet been invented. That made sense since Christmas and Hanukkah are both recycled versions of that pagan solstice festival. Their symbolism parallels its theme concerning the promise of the return of the sun to the heavens just when it looked like it was going to drop out of sight forever. Since his birthday is arbitrary anyway, I don’t think Jesus would mind if it were celebrated on slightly different weekend dates each year. Maybe the fact he was crucified and resurrected over a weekend should be taken as a sign that my proposal meets with divine approval.

This system would have other benefits besides eliminating yet another unnecessary political struggle cloaked in the guise of religion. For starters, our ski mountain wouldn’t be a zoo during Christmas week. Another would be a huge decrease in traffic fatalities and airport hysteria during those traditional times when families feel obligated to get together with loved ones living afar, whom they otherwise rarely see or care to see, in order to argue politics, resurrect long simmering sibling rivalries and family feuds and receive unwanted gifts that compel recipients to go through the inconvenience of returning or exchanging them.

What do you think, readers? Should I offer this plan to our Board of Eduction?

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