We’ve all heard of The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. But have you heard of The Public School that Expelled Christmas? In Elkhorn, Nebraska, Jennifer Sinclair, an elementary school principal, issued a memo banning virtually all recognition of Christmas at her school. According to the Omaha World-Herald,
Banned items listed included Santas, Christmas trees, “Elf on the Shelf,” singing Christmas carols, playing Christmas music, candy canes and reindeer, homemade ornament gifts, Christmas movies and red and green items. Regarding candy canes, the notice said, “the shape is a ‘J’ for Jesus.” An ornament? “This assumes that the family has a Christmas tree, which assumes they celebrate Christmas. I challenge the thought of, ‘Well they can just hang it somewhere else.’ ”
After receiving a letter from the Liberty Counsel, the school board rescinded the ban. The principal sent a note of apology and has been suspended with pay, giving her an extended Christmas break.
To be fair, Ms. Sinclair was acting with good intentions, desiring to be inclusive to those who don’t celebrate Christmas. Ironically, I was first alerted to this situation by a Jewish blogger, Jeff Dunetz, who found the principal’s ban of Christmas to be silly. What Dunetz saw was that this principal, in the name of inclusion, was excluding the vast majority who do celebrate Christmas. She misunderstood that the separation of Church and State does not require the exclusion of Church from the State. To be inclusive, public schools generally include symbols and celebrations of all winter holidays, from Chanukah, to Kwanza to Christmas. And no one is forced to eat candy canes or Christmas cookies or to wear a red sweater with a green skirt.
Nevertheless, this small victory in the war against Christmas, is a great reminder that even the inclusion of Christmas in public settings is still secular. Even if a candy cane is shaped like a J and represents Jesus, most people remain unaware of that. We need to double down in our families to focus our celebrations on the incarnation, that God became a man. Here’s a few suggestions that I have found helpful in family settings.
First, focus on the Christmas story not Santa Claus. Santa is fun but he’s not essential to the wonder of Christmas. How exciting to think of presents delivered by a chubby guy in a red suit in a sleigh with flying reindeer. But it is awe inspiring to consider that the Creator of the universe condescended to be born as a helpless infant who would grow up to be the Redeemer of the world. So, we always smiled and laughed about Santa but we never expected our kids to believe in him. The amazing message of Christmas must always be about the incarnation of the Son of God (Phil 2:6-9).
Second, we need to choose ways to celebrate the incarnation so kids can understand it. My wife Eva always strings a “Happy Birthday” banner across the mantle of our fireplace, to celebrate the birthday of the King. She also always bakes a birthday cake, with the words, “Happy Birthday, Yeshua” on the cake. When our kids were small, Christmas morning was the one day a year when they could eat cake for breakfast. And before any present is ever opened, our family always sits together and reads the gospel Christmas narratives (Matt 1-2; Luke 2).
Finally, de-escalate the importance of gift giving. I’m no Grinch and I like getting and giving presents as much as the next guy. But this celebration ought to be about thanking God “for His indescribable gift” (2 Cor 9:15). Don’t overwhelm them with gifts and help them see the joy of giving to others. Let them know about our special Christmas gifts to church and to various ministries. We need to focus on God’s great gift to us not the accumulation of a pile of presents that will be forgotten by Valentine’s Day.
So here’s a shout out of thanks to Principal Jennifer Sinclair. I am grateful to her for reminding us all that we need to keep our families focused on the Messiah Jesus this Christmas even if public schools don’t really do that. Merry Christmas Jennifer.