It is becoming more and more a common practice for a school district to change the word “Christmas” to “Winter” on calendars. Even though the holiday is federally recognized, school boards cite political sensitivity while never exposing just who is offended by the use of the word Christmas. The latest to do so is a school district in Tewksbury, a community near Boston.
Officials insist it is not a case of political correctness run amok.
It is a simple name change in the Tewksbury school calendar from “Christmas vacation” to “winter vacation.”
Some residents see it differently.
“It is a way to be more inclusive and more reflective of 2010, where you have so many people from so many walks of life who donâ€™t necessarily observe Christmas,” said former School Committee member Richard Oâ€™Neill, who in March brought forward the change, which was approved unanimously. “There was a brief discussion about changing the identification. Political correctness had nothing to do with it.”
Superintendent of Schools Christine McGrath said it was a simple matter of giving the traditional holiday break a more generic designation, just like February vacation or April vacation.
“The School Committee thought it was a bit more sensitive to the diverse needs and cultural traditions of our community,” McGrath said.
The Byam Elementary School in Chelmsford became a lightning rod of controversy last year when parents Kathy Cullen and Kathy McMIllan argued that banning Christmas items from the schoolâ€™s annual holiday gift-shop fundraiser was taking political correctness to a new level.
Yesterday in Tewksbury, most of a group of people informally polled on the name change were unaware of it. But they all had opinions.
“I understand what theyâ€™re saying — not everyone celebrates Christmas,” said Linda Lambo, a
40-year resident of the town. “But itâ€™s getting to the point now where everyone is offended by everything. Iâ€™d like to go back 40 or 50 years when you could still salute the flag in school and sing â€™God Bless America.â€™”
Mary Firth, who has lived in town for 33 years, rolled her eyes to the heavens upon hearing the news.
“Theyâ€™re changing the name? Why? Who got offended now?” she asked. “Iâ€™m not against anyoneâ€™s religion, whether theyâ€™re Jewish or Muslim or anything else. I donâ€™t even have children in the school system. But it concerns me that you start with this and who knows where it stops. Once Tewksbury does it, all these other towns are going to follow.”
Willie Kresien, an 18-year-old Tewksbury resident, said he, too, understands the reasoning behind the change, and while he thinks it makes for an interesting discussion, he doesnâ€™t agree with it.
“I donâ€™t see the need for it, really,” Kresien said. “I donâ€™t believe in any religion, and Iâ€™m not offended by calling it Christmas vacation. Itâ€™s just a label. And I think that everybody is still going to call it Christmas vacation for many years to come.”
Basil Doucette Jr., a resident of Tewksbury for 43 years, says he is offended by anybody who is offended.
“Come on. Whoâ€™s it hurting?” Doucette said. “Theyâ€™ve called it Christmas vacation for years. Now all of a sudden weâ€™re telling the little ones that itâ€™s not all right? Iâ€™m too old to start changing now.”
Newly elected School Committee member Kristen Polimeno said the vote came before she came on board and she hasnâ€™t formulated an opinion about the matter.
Committee member Michael Kelley said Oâ€™Neill was the committee chairman at the time the motion was brought forward, and it stemmed out of a discussion that dealt with some of the Jewish holidays.
“The direction we were going in had to do with scheduling a meeting on the high holidays like Rosh Hashana,” Kelley said. “Obviously, our meetings are open to the public, and we want to make sure that everyone can attend. From there, it was decided that it would be a good idea to rename Christmas vacation and call it winter vacation.”