Nothing like the pre-filing of bad legislation in the State Assembly to awaken this blog from its slumber. I have not yet reviewed all of the pre-filed legislation but a few caught my eye as a clergy person. The house and the senate have pre-filed the “traditional winter celebration” act as HB-15 and SB-18. The bills, identical wording in both houses is sponsored by State Representative Weaver, State Senators Allen, Fielding, Hightower, Marsh, Waggoner, Glover, Reed and Orr.
This act would “allow school district[s] to educate students about traditional winter celebrations and offer traditional greetings.” The word “traditional” is code for Judeo-Christian religions. This act would allow three greetings to be used in schools, including but not limited to 1) Merry Christmas 2) Happy Hannakuh 3) Happy Holidays. This act would also allow for displays on school property of “traditional winter celebrations” as long as such display includes more than one religion and/or there is a secular display as well. The “traditional winter” displays cannot encourage people to adopt the religion expressed.
My concern isn’t the display of religious paraphernalia on public property. There is nothing more Unitarian than the celebration of Christmas. The conservative Protestant Christians had outlawed the celebration of Christmas until 1681. And then it was not until the Unitarians of the early 19th century began celebrating Christmas in Boston that Christmas began to gain popularity. Prior to that Christmas Trees were not used much in the States nor was Saint Nicholas visiting them. The conservative Christians were opposed to such distractions of merriment and good cheer. Yes, if you want to blame who put Christ back into Christmas it was those liberal Unitarians in the early 19th century who revived Christmas celebrations from Europe. They wrote the hymns that many cherish today as “traditional winter celebration” songs: I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day, It Came Upon a Midnight Clear, and Jingle Bells.
My concern is with the term “traditional.” Alabama is increasingly becoming a state with many religions celebrated. What defines “traditional”? Is celebrating the Winter Solstice a traditional winter celebration in Alabama? Is Kwanzaa that celebrates African culture and values a traditional winter celebration in Alabama? Is Pancha Ganapati, the Hindu festival, considered a traditional winter celebration in Alabama? Is Dōngzhì Festival, a solstice celebration of Chinese and other East Asians, considered a traditional winter celebration in Alabama? What about Eid-al-Adha, the Muslim commemoration of Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his son?
Is Las Pasadas considered a traditional winter celebration in Alabama and therefore taught in our schools? It is Christian but it is celebrated in our Latino immigrant communities. Alabama has not been kind to its immigrants. Will Alabama value their religious traditions enough to recognize them as “traditional winter celebrations”? Will any of the religious observances I mentioned above be taught in our schools?
Some of these celebrations are relatively new in their creation like Kwanzaa and Pancha Ganapati but they are winter celebrations nonetheless. Kwanzaa was created to instill pride in being African American and to counter the microaggression of white privilege on their children. Pancha Ganapati was created to counter the Christian micro-aggressions felt by Hindu children. In my tradition of Unitarian Universalism there is the recent creation of Chalica; created as a winter celebration again, in part to counter the Christian micro-aggressions felt by our children from the culture in which we live. So would these winter celebrations not be allowed to be taught because they are, in the history of religions, relatively new?
I find this bill to be an attempt towards codifying Christianity as the State Religion. It is a means to let the rest of Alabama, those who do not share the “traditional” religion of the state, that Christianity is the respected and correct faith of the State. Focusing on the “traditional” elevates the esteem of those who follow the “traditional” faith and it demeans those who do not follow that faith simply by the absence of teaching about them. If on the other hand, all of these winter celebrations were to be taught and not just the Christian celebrations, then this act could be seen as an attempt at teaching multi-cultural appreciation which would strengthen Alabama’s acceptance of people whose cultural and religious backgrounds are different than the “traditional”. But I suspect this is not the case. That would be too liberal for this State Legislature to even imagine.