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Wishes for peace on Earth, good will rise above religion

By David Shapiro

LAST UPDATED: 2:22 a.m. HST, Dec 22, 2010

We had a lively discussion in my blog last week about the appropriateness of public displays of Christmas.

It started when I noted that the Christmas show at my granddaughters' school has been called Winter Fest in recent years in an apparent nod to PC sensitivities.

I thoroughly enjoyed their performances but couldn't help but notice that among the hula dances, Hawaiian legends and numbers from "The Lion King" and "Rent," there was scarce mention of the elephant of a holiday in the room.

I worry that sanitizing Christmas into "the holiday season" has gone too far; filling public school events with religious dogma would be inappropriate, but there's not a lot of that in "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer."

I'm not Christian myself, but I always enjoyed it when my grandson was in the same school six or seven years ago and the shows ended with a University of Hawaii music professor playing Christmas carols on the piano while the audience sang along.

How can you be offended by a little peace on Earth and good will to men?

Some who left comments on the blog agreed with me, and others didn't. One blamed it on a backlash against the politics of the religious right.

Another, who like me is Jewish, said it can "come across as very arrogant on the part of conservative Christians to assume that everyone celebrates their holiday and appreciates being wished 'Merry Christmas.' I certainly don't go around wishing people Happy Passover, Hanukkah, or Rosh Hashanah (Jewish new year)."

He flatly declared, "Religion should not be forced on people in public settings."

Another visitor responded, "If you were to wish me a happy Hanukkah, then I would happily appreciate your warm thoughts. It matters not if I attribute no personal or religious significance to a certain day on the calendar. The important thing is that you offer genuine good wishes towards me."

Some saw a double standard at work, noting that there is little objection to school shows including legends about Hawaiian deities or public observance of events rooted in Buddhism, such as Chinese New Year and the bon dance season.

Defenders say these are part of our culture, but it's disingenuous to argue that the same isn't true of Christmas.

While we adults debate the point, the kids who will carry our traditions forward are buying into the notion that it's the world's job to cater to the sensitivities of the most easily offended among us.

After showing my second-grader the video I took of her performance in the school show, I asked if she was looking forward to her Christmas vacation.

She gave me a scolding look and corrected, "It's called 'winter break.'"

David Shapiro can be reached at or

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