Happy Whatever

Generic Holiday Decoration (now be festive...blah, blah, blah)

Image: Café Press

Anna’s elementary school has a new Holiday Policy that was put in place last September. We received a reminder email two days ago in advance of Valentine’s Day.

The first part I’m okay with.

To promote healthy bodies and minds we will only serve healthy foods during instructional time, foods that align with the district policy. We appreciate parent/family support in maintaining a positive climate in the classroom and ask that parents coordinate directly with the homeroom teacher before bringing any food in for the class for any reason. Unhealthy food will be returned to parents and not accepted in the office according to district policy.

The second part, however . . .

To promote an inclusive learning environment and honor differences we ask that you refrain from sending holiday cards and items of any kind for distribution at school. We will continue to create a fun, positive classroom climate in a variety of ways that simultaneously support our focus on learning.

I’m trying to understand how banning all holidays honors differences and promotes an inclusive environment. If anything, the holiday policy seems to stifle the very diversity it claims to uphold. It’s hard to say for sure, because I’m not in Anna’s class every day and I don’t know what cultural topics her teacher brings up. It just seems to me that this politically-correct leveling off of differences in culture and belief promotes a bland and inoffensive conformity rather than an open-minded appreciation of the differences between us.

"?" on candy heart

My elementary school was pretty diverse for it’s time and location—a fairly well-off East Coast suburb in the 1970s—and I think it served me well. I remember making holiday cards one December (don’t remember which grade). We were encouraged to celebrate the tradition we knew from home.

This meant a lot of Santas and snowmen. A few nativity scenes. And one Hanukkah card. (I remember the girl who made it, as I had a bit of a crush on her.) I remember everyone was fascinated about this different holiday.

“You light candles each night? Cool.”

“You get EIGHT days of presents? I wish I got presents for eight days.”

“What’s a dreidel?”

“What are latkes?”

We were all fascinated. It’s not like any of us would have given up Christmas, but it was something new (to us) and different. I think we learned so much more from her that day than we would have from a book.

Obviously, I stuck with me since I still remember it almost forty years later. But had my school enforced the same holiday policy that my daughter’s school does, I never would have had that experience.

And I would have been a little worse off for missing it.

Merry Christmas from Fatherhood Etc.

Evergreen branch with red berries covered in snow. (@2007 by Julia Ozab)

Photo: Julia Ozab (© 2007)

The Proclamation of Christmas from the Roman Martyrology (traditionally chanted before the Gloria at Mass on Christmas Day):

Today, the twenty-fifth day of December:

Unknown ages from the time when God created the heavens and the earth, and then formed man and woman in his own image.

Several thousand years after the flood, when God made the rainbow shine forth as a sign of the covenant.

Twenty-one centuries from the time of Abraham and Sarah;

Thirteen centuries after Moses led the people of Israel out of Egypt.

Eleven hundred years from the time of Ruth and the Judges;

One thousand years from the anointing of David as king;

In the sixty-fifth week according to the prophecy of Daniel.

In the one hundred and ninety-fourth Olympiad; the seven hundred and fifty-second year from the foundation of the city of Rome.

The forty-second year of the reign of Octavian Augustus; the whole world being at peace,

Jesus Christ, eternal God and Son of the eternal Father, desiring to sanctify the world by his most merciful coming, being conceived by the Holy Spirit, and nine months having passed since his conception, was born in Bethlehem of Judea of the Virgin Mary.

Today is the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh.

Amen.

Gloria in excelsis Deo!

Today is also the last day of the Online Advent Calendar. I hope you enjoyed it:

December 25

 Advent calendar graphics by Oh My Gluestick. They are intended for personal use only and may not be used commercially.

Decorating Day

Anna with reindeer hat and Christmas tree

Photo: Julia Ozab

The First Sunday of Advent in our house doubles as “Decorating Day.” This is a compromise between the prevailing culture and my own tendency to procrastinate.

You see, I’d like to attribute my reluctance to put up decorations early to my insistence to celebrate Christmas at Christmas and not four to six weeks earlier. I’d like to say it was a long-standing tradition in my family to respect the liturgical calendar and let Advent be Advent.

I’d like to say that, but I’d be lying. My upbringing was marginal Episcopalian (emphasis on marginal) and the decorations usually went up the Sunday before Christmas because my mom was as great a procrastinator as I am: and my dad didn’t care either way.

The decorations did stay up through the Twelve Days of Christmas. As lackadaisical as my mom was about getting the decorations up, she was equally insistent that they came down by Twelfth Night (January 5th). Leaving them up on Epiphany was unlucky.

Leaving the tree standing wasn’t unlucky, as long as the ornaments were down, so the tree was often up until March.

I continued this tradition when I moved out on my own. I had a little tree that I set on my end table and some ornaments and decorations from my childhood, and on the Sunday before Christmas (at the earliest) I would put them out. Once I started going to church regularly I claimed I was following the Liturgical calendar and resisting the encroaching commercialization of the season. My church decorated on Sunday afternoon—after the last Advent Eucharist—and so did I.

But really, I was just procrastinating as always.

Once Julia and I were married, we needed to find a compromise. She, like most organized people, put up her decorations the weekend after Thanksgiving. I, like most procrastinators, put mine up at the last minute (yes sometimes even as late as the 24th). Our original compromise: the Third Sunday of Advent—Gaudete Sunday—in keeping with the theme of the day: Rejoice!

We did this for a few years, but then I began to wonder: were we waiting too long? After all, Advent and Christmas are a set. Liturgically, they form what’s called the Nativity Cycle—Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany—one of the two major liturgical cycles of the year. The Paschal Cycle—Lent, Easter, and Pentecost—is the other. Each is a coherent whole, breaking into usual counting of weeks that the church calls Ordinary Time, each both should be observed as a whole: preparation followed by celebration. And decorating for Christmas is a way of preparing for Christmas.

So now we decorate at the beginning of Advent: The First Sunday of Advent to be exact: our Decorating Day.

The only caveat: Baby Jesus doesn’t arrive in the nativity until Christmas Day.

And the countdown to Christmas continues. Today’s selection is in honor of the Feast of St. Francis Xavier, and a reminder to prepare our homes and our hearts for Jesus’ arrival:

December 3

Advent calendar graphics by Oh My Gluestick. They are intended for personal use only and may not be used commercially.

Five Minutes, Five Thank Yous

It is said that the the simplest and most appropriate prayer is two simple words: “Thank you.” These are my five “thank yous” to God for today:

Julia on our honeymoon

Photo: David Ozab

1) For a wife that knows what I’m going to say before I say it and sometimes what I’m going to think before I think it. For a connection that goes beyond words; a connection between two souls.

Thank you.

Firefighter Anna!

Photo: Julia Ozab

2) For a daughter whose imagination never fails to delight me. I could listen to her play for hours with all the little voices she makes, and could watch her make faces in the mirror for hours too.

Thank you.

Photo: Ben Franske (CC BY-SA 3.0)

3) For a roof over my head and a refrigerator full of food. So many people don’t even have that much, and despite the rough stretch we’ve endured over the last few years we’re still doing ok.

Thank you.

Line outside Toys R Us on Thursday night

Photo: KEZI 9 News

4) For online shopping, so that Julia could get a start on Anna’s Christmas list in the comfort of our home last night while others waited for hours online. Just think: if the people who stood out in the cold all afternoon waiting for the doors to open at 8 p.m. had stayed home too, maybe the people who had to work last night could have had a Thanksgiving evening with their families instead. That would be something everyone could be thankful for.

Thank you.

RG3 fist-bumps with a kid

Photo: Getty Images

5) For the Redskins and Robert Griffin III, who finally gave me something to cheer about by beating the Dallas Cowboys 38-31. You don’t know how many Thanksgivings the Cowboys have ruined for me over the years. This was one I could truly enjoy.

Thank you.

Five Minute Friday