John F. Kennedy Elementary School principal Ann Foley sent out an email to her teachers last week informing them that she was banning all fall holidays, claiming they are "insensitive". The teachers at the Somerfield, MA school had already been instructed to tell their students that there would be no dressing in costume on Halloween, which falls on a Monday this year. In the email she stated (via Fox News):
"When we were young we might have been able to claim ignorance of the atrocities that Christopher Columbus committed against the indigenous peoples," Kennedy School Principal Anne Foley wrote.
"We can no longer do so. For many of us and our students celebrating this particular person is an insult and a slight to the people he annihilated. On the same lines, we need to be careful around the Thanksgiving Day time as well."
Okay, get a grip.
Look, to be honest, I always thought it was sort of silly celebrating Columbus Day, considering the man never actually set foot on American soil. But honestly, couldn't this have been handled a little better? Just a hint to Principal Foley - use of the word 'atrocities' in an elementary school memo about holiday parties is a bit excessive. Perhaps raising the possibility that Leif Ericsson (or Polynesia or China) was the first to discover America might have been a better, less explosive angle. As for parents going to the school superintendent to get the ban lifted, they are probably in for a long slog:
Superintendant Tony Pierantozzi told The Herald that Halloween is “problematic” because of connections to witchcraft.
Yes, the roots of Halloween go back to paganism, but Celtic pagans were not witches. For them, Samhain (also known as the Winter Solstice) was a mystical night. It was the Celtic New Year's Eve - the end of the harvest, the end of the year. The work was done - crops harvested, herds culled, land fallow, flora and fauna easing into winter sleep. They believed that on that night, the wall between this world and the next came down and the souls of the dead roamed the earth. The Celts would leave offerings and say prayers for those lost over the preceding year and indulge in a little ancestor worship on the Solstice - a tradition adopted by the Romans when they conquered Celtic lands and, eventually, the Catholic Church, who changed the name to All Hallow's Eve.
Taking away the Halloween and Thanksgiving parties for elementary school children is just ridiculous. It's a real shame that the kids can't dress up. It is, after all, elementary school. My girls really looked forward to the annual Halloween parade at school, followed by a little "Monster Mash", cupcakes and juice in the classroom. It was, if nothing else, an hour-long oasis of fun from the monotony of the daily routine.
As for Thanksgiving, perhaps Principal Foley should google the origins of the holiday. According to Thanksgiving-day.org (emphasis mine):
In the summer of 1621, owing to severe drought, pilgrims called for a day of fasting and prayer to please God and ask for a bountiful harvest in the coming season. God answered their prayers and it rained at the end of the day. It saved the corn crops.
It is said that Pilgrims learnt to grow corn, beans and pumpkins from the Indians, which helped all of them survive . In the autumn of 1621, they held a grand celebration where 90 people were invited including Indians. The grand feast was organized to thank god for his favors. This communal dinner is popularly known as “The first thanksgiving feast”. There is however, no evidence to prove if the dinner actually took place.
How atrocious. The Indians saved the pilgrims and the pilgrims repaid them by sharing the bounty. The horror.
On a side note, am I the only one who feels a little sad for her that, instead of seeing a beautiful moment of outreach, peace and harmony between two very different peoples, she sees atrocities and insults? It must be stressful carrying around all of that anger and hate. Sounds like somebody needs a hug.
There will surely be a new memo circulating soon, detailing how Principal Foley is going to suck the fun out of the Winter Holidays, too (better not call it Christmas - her head might explode). Considering there are more religions observed in this country than just Christianity and some religions celebrate a special event - such as Hanukkah - in December, if schools want to call it a Holiday Party instead of a Christmas party, that's just fine. But let the kids have their parties, whatever PC name you pin to it!
They're kids - they don't care about the impact of Columbus' exploitation of the indigenous population of San Salvador, the religious puritanism at the root of the Salem Witch Trials or the separation of church and state issues that some use to attack Christmas celebrations. All they care about is that they get out of classwork, they get to eat cupcakes and maybe - just maybe - they get to play a few games and have some fun. At Halloween, they look forward to showing off their costumes to their friends, not recruiting a coven and practicing black mass. It's a break from the routine, a way to cut loose. Since many schools no longer offer music or art programs, recess or gym, these parties are some of the only outlets for fun left to them during school hours.
So Principal Foley, how about we keep the politics out of it and let the kids be kids and have some fun?