A couple of weeks ago we had a visit from one of Z’s old friends. Since the fellow was a Jewish, atheist, Marxist, academic (which for me translates into probably-has-some-sense-in-his head), I thought I’d ask what he thought of the upcoming Christmas concert at Eila’s school, where her class will sing “He’ll be Comin’ Down the Chimney When He Comes” and “The Twelve Dogs of Christmas” (to the tunes you might expect). He told me, point blank, that when he was at school he’d sung all the traditional carols and they hadn’t done him any harm. Silent Night! he said. God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman! I responded.
Traditional carols: the tunes are good, and the mythology is rich. What’s more, these songs, music and lyrics, have meaning in the wider culture. There’s something there to sink one’s teeth into, to enjoy the lure of, and to resist and criticize. What will “Comin’ Down the Chimney When He Comes” teach Eila about anything? Is it in any sense a stretch for a growing mind?
Some time after this, I went in for my parent-teacher interview (about which more in an upcoming post) and found myself trying to explain my position to Mrs. M. The experience was surreal. If I’d been stating one of the two acceptable positions – either (a) that as a Christian I thought schools should teach Christian truths, or (b) that as a non-Christian I thought schools should be more inclusive, teaching Chanukah and Kwanzaa and the secular “happy holidays” – the sailing would have been clear. But how do I explain that I am emphatically not a Christian, that I am also not a fan of namby-pamby multiculturalism or recently invented traditions or DIY spirituality, that I thought the worst choice of all was all this Santa stuff without any religious backing, and that I saw no solution to the problem except teaching them to sing God Rest Ye — which, you know, is quite beautiful. I found myself veering around, saying things like “Santa without Jesus is materialism” (duh!) and also “I’m not going to give her Christianity, so I want you to [so I can take it apart at home]” (not so duh). Poor Mrs. M.
Another mother later told me that Eila is the only non-Christian in the class, and one of only three kids who don’t believe in Santa Claus (the other two being a Dutch Christian and a Jehovah’s Witness). She knows this because the small group of mothers who volunteer in the classroom (and who compare notes a lot) was asked at one point to help the kids write letters to Santa. Apparently all three of these kids were up front about not believing, and all three have been great about not bursting the other kids’ bubbles.
Meanwhile we are practicing “The Twelve Dogs of Christmas” every day. It is quite difficult, and I see that if it does not enable Eila to catch a cultural reference to lords a leaping, it will at any rate teach her to recognize eleven common breeds of dog. That’s something.