So why am I still so frustrated with the whole thing?
Was it the guy in the Santa suit in the foyer getting his picture taken with some of my scholar's classmates? Was it the fact that that the other two songs in 1st grade set were Rudolf the Red Nosed Raindeer and All I want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth and it was hinted that the school was somehow being noble for our benefit by singing 'secular' Christmas songs instead of religious ones? Is that I'm still bitter about being sent to the principals office in 4th grade for not singing even "secular" Christmas carols in a school assembly? I don't know. Mostly it's that this country is confused about how to deal with religion that no matter what anyone does their wrong.
I can think about it from two perspectives, neither of which give me much help. First, I can think of from a community perspective because, after all, the school is focal point of the community. Its part of how the community's children are raised and part of the community's pride and identity (9 out of 10 newspaper articles that reference my town refer to a school sports event). And the this community has a dominant religion, with some variation (Catholic, Methodist, Baptist, and I think, Lutheran). Who am I to tell them to pretend they don't have one? But because of me they're forced to. They present Santa and Rudolf instead of Jesus and Mary because Santa and Rudolf are safe, secularized, cartoon icons. Honestly, I'd rather see Nativity scene on stage because that's what Christians actually believe and value. Now that this community has Jews too, it's nice that our traditions get included in the community events. Except that what's put on stage has as little to do with my real traditions and beliefs as Santa does to a Christian. The Chanukkah song the kids sang mentioned Hanukkah and a candle, but otherwise could have been about anything. It's not that being at an event that is so stridently Christian makes me uncomfortable or feel alienated. It doesn't. It's just that the whole thing feels like such a sham.
Another perspective, one encouraged by the National Assocation for Music Education (MENC) and the Anti-Defamation League, is to ask schools to justify everything they do in terms of their educational mission. A major portion of Western music is Christian religious music. Western music can't be properly taught without dealing with religious music and teaching music includes performance. This clearly justifies the inclusion of Christian religious music in performance in schools. But only, according to the Supreme Court as paraphrased by the MENC, if it can withstand these questions...
"1. What is the purpose of the activity? Is the purpose secular in nature, that is, studying music of a particular composer's style or historical period?
2. What is the primary effect of the activity? Is it the celebration of religion? Does the activity either enhance or inhibit religion? Does it invite confusion of thought or family objections?
3. Does the activity involve excessive entanglement with a religion or religious group, or between the schools and religious organizations? Financial support can, in certain cases, be considered an entanglement."
I like this test because it implies that a holiday concert could put a Nativity scene up on stage along with the redication of the temple by the victorious Maccabees and have it meet the criteria. Even at a first grade level, having a bunch of first grader's sing a Chanukkah song at least teaches them that there are Jews out there. But the concert as presented, I feel, violates, 1, 2, and possibly 3. It's not that my scholar was asked to sing a Christian song. I, and she, have no problem with that. The problem is that there was no awareness of any educational mission by anyone. What was the educational reasong for having Santa in the foyer posing for pictures? Making everything educational would make a museum of our lives.
So I'll continue to struggle, as will lots of other Jews and Christians, with the question about how to deal with religion in school and in school concerts in particular. But it's alright. I love my town and my religion and the one is accepting of the other. That's enough for now.