A Christmas tale by Eric Buehrer
‘Twas the night before Christmas and the kids were all in bed. Mom, a teacher at the local elementary school, went downstairs to finish wrapping gifts under the big pine tree the family got from Mr. Cheever’s Christmas tree lot. Just as she finished putting the last red bow on the last red box, she heard the scrape, scrape, scraping of something in the chimney. No sooner had she turned around when down the chimney came Santa with a bound.
“Oh,” he said with surprise. “I’m usually pretty good at not being seen.” Then he laughed a big, round laugh and put down his bag.
“Let’s see,” he muttered to himself as he pulled out a list of what to place under the tree. “Oh, yes.” He cleared his throat. “You’ve all been very good this year. Especially you...even with Tommy Wigglebottom in your class. You’ve been a wonderful teacher!”
“Thank you,” she said as he pulled brightly colored presents from his bag.
Quick as a flash, he was done with his deed. He looked at his list for one last read. Then he made a “har-umph” sound to himself and got a puzzled look on his face. “There is one more thing...”
“Yes?” said the teacher.
“Why haven’t I heard any singing at school?” Santa asked with a sorrowful look.
“Singing? Why, we’ve been singing. Haven’t you heard the children’s rendition of Frosty the Snowman and Jingle Bells? I know it’s a long way to the North Pole but I would think you have some way of tuning this sort of thing in.”
“I mean Christmas carols,” said Santa. “Where are the carols?”
“Oh, I loved to sing carols when I was a child in school. But, we can’t sing those now,” she said as she shook her head. “I teach in a public school.” She was surprised that Santa didn’t already know this since he knew about Tommy Wigglebottom.
“Of course you are in the public schools. But Christmas is Christmas no matter where you are. And if you’re concerned about the law, well, have no fear. Don’t you know about the Federal Appeals Court ruling in Florey v. Sioux Falls School District? It ruled that the school district's policy is fine and students may sing religious Christmas carols!”
The teacher had never heard this before and was quite surprised. “What about the separation of church and state?”
“It doesn’t apply,” said Santa. “The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that singing Christmas carols does not violate the Constitution if the purpose is the ‘advancement of the student’s knowledge of society’s cultural and religious heritage.’ I just wish I could hear them singing real Christmas songs.
“And while I’m thinking about it, why haven’t you told the children the real Christmas story?” he asked.
“You mean about the baby Jesus?” the teacher asked in disbelief.
“Is there another Christmas story that I’m not aware of?” Santa said with an impatient twitch of his mustache.
“But, we can’t promote religion in the public school,” she retorted.
“Who’s promoting?” said Santa. “You’re teaching about your culture. May I remind you of the Florey case in which the Court ruled that as long as education about the religious holiday is ‘presented in a prudent and objective manner and as a traditional part of the cultural and religious heritage,’ it is permitted.”
By now the teacher was quite confused. She had never heard this before. She always assumed that recognizing the religious aspects of Christmas at school was off limits.
“We can’t even call Christmas by its name. We have to call it ‘Winter Break,’” she said with regret in her voice.
“A tragedy of modern times,” Santa said with a sigh. “And it’s not even consistent with other public practices. The Supreme Court acknowledged in Lynch v. Donnellythat ‘Executive Orders and other official announcements of Presidents and of the Congress have proclaimed both Christmas and Thanksgiving National Holidays in religious terms. And, by Acts of Congress, it has long been the practice that federal employees are released from duties on these National Holidays, while being paid from the same public revenues that provide the compensation of the Chaplain of the Senate and the House and military services. Thus, it is clear that Government has long recognized—indeed it has subsidized— holidays with religious significance.’ ”
Santa added, “The Lynch case dealt with the public display of a nativity scene, which the Court said didn't violate the Constitution. And, in its ruling the justices actually assumed public school children are singing traditional Christmas carols. The Court wrote, “To forbid the use of this one passive symbol while hymns and carols are sung and played in public places including schools, and while Congress and state legislatures open public sessions with prayers, would be an overreaction contrary to this Nation's history and this Court's holdings.” (emphasis added)
“How is it that you know so much about United States law?” asked the astonished teacher.
“I’ve been around a long time,” he replied. “And I’m saddened to see so many children think that Christmas is just about getting video games and toys. For that matter, it’s not just about ‘Love’ either. It’s about the baby Jesus as a gift from God. When I give gifts it is only to remind people of The Gift from God to all of us. I guess I just want kids to turn off the TV and look up from their smart phones long enough to realize that there are deeper things in life—things that we carry with us from generation to generation. We have a culture with deep roots and I want to give children a little depth...then they can go back to the TV if they must.” Santa scooped up his bag, and then added, “I guess I’ve given you the best gift I possibly could. I’ve given you freedom.”
“What do you mean?” the teacher asked.
“For years you’ve lived under the burden of self-imposed censorship about Christmas. You placed a gag order over your own mouth. Now you can be free from that! You can give to your students what you had as a child in school.” He turned and started up the chimney. With a jolly chuckle, he said as he went, “Like the baby Jesus said when he grew up, ‘You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.’”