Wyrd Words: Too Cool for Yule

Greetings, and welcome back to Wyrd Words. Keeping the Thor in… Christmas?

I decided to change things up and replace the post that was originally scheduled for today when I encountered an interesting piece of news coming out of Oklahoma.

Barnard Elementary School, based out of Tecumseh, Oklahoma, recently made the news when parents complained about a holiday display titled “A Wiccan Yule.”

http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x18n2nx

After several days on display and complaints from parents, the superintendent ordered a holiday display taken down at Barnard Elementary School.While the display at Barnard, called “A Wiccan Yule,” is now gone, the controversy it created still lingers.

“If you plant a seed, it’s liable to grow,” said Charles White, the great-grandfather of a Barnard student.

The bulletin board with pictures of candles and a pentagram was put up by a teacher so students could learn about Wicca and the religion’s holiday traditions.

Wicca is a religion based on witchcraft traditions that predate Christianity.

“I’m glad they took it down because I don’t believe in witchcraft,” said Everett Barker, the grandfather of a former student. “That’s more or less the devil worship.”

Not everyone in the small town agrees, including the mother of a Barnard student who asked not to be identified.

“I was actually pretty mad about it,” the mother said. “I think it should have been left up. It’s culture.”

The school superintendent declined to comment on the display’s removal.

http://www.koco.com/news 

I had a number of reactions to this, so let me just start off by giving credit where it’s due. To whatever teacher was culturally conscious enough to even bother putting up a Wiccan Yule display beside the other religious holidays: You are AWESOME, and thank you for trying.

I’d love to say that the rest of this story is surprising, but it’s really not. In the video, the reporters assure us that ALL religious displays were taken down. As sad as I am that some teacher’s attempt to be culturally inclusive got completely shut down, I’d be all right with that. I’m a passionate secularist. I believe that if you’re not going to represent everybody’s religion equally, then you shouldn’t represent anybody’s religion. That way you can just have a generic “Winter Break” and no one group feels ostracized. What KOCO failed to report was that Barnard Elementary really meant “All religious displays THAT AREN’T CHRISTMAS.”

Seriously? You didn’t even have Hanukkah on there. (Nov 27th-Dec 5th)

Now I understand that there’s a case to be made for a secularized Christmas celebration, and at least they’ve avoided the more religious elements of Christmas. However, I can’t help but note that this is still incredibly culturally exclusive. No other holidays are named, even in the fine print, meaning that any children who live in a household that doesn’t celebrate Christmas are going to feel a bit excluded.  What kind of message does it send to a child to find that all traces of their own holiday have been removed from school because somebody found them “objectionable”? To be told that your own holiday isn’t as important as Christmas?

One would think Oklahoma would have learned its lesson regarding religious pluralism, given recent events, but it seems like Oklahoma’s decided to go ahead with their new slogan:

Best Wishes from Barnard Elementary

 


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About Alyxander Folmer

Alyxander Folmer is a student of Anthropology at ASU, focused on analyzing and building religious communities. He is a devoted Heathen, and married to a Rabbi in training. Interest in Pagan interfaith relations lead him to join the committee for the formation of the Pagan Chapter at the Foundation for Religious Diplomacy, where he hopes to utilize his training in community building and cultural exchange. The majority of his work can be located at http://www.heathenhof.com/


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