MOM Waltspaper
MOM, Why can't we call it a Christmas Party at School?

The question was posed by my daughter as she handed me the note from school. A tactfully worded, politically correct, try-to-offend-no-one letter explaining what type of festivities would be celebrated in each class before the December break. Not the Christmas break. Not the Hanukkah or Kwanzaa break -- the December break. Chances are your school-age child will be bringing home a similar note this month.

Chances are also that you, like me, can remember back when we were in grade school and it was simply called a Christmas party and a Christmas break. It did not matter what religious affiliations comprised the classroom, the majority simply ruled, and the silent few who did not celebrate the holidays with Santa and the North Star were still made to draw Christmas trees, sing carols and help make paper chains to decorate the classrooms.

We've come a long way, baby. Or have we?

The holiday season is ripe with opportunities to talk with your child about the differences that make the world an interesting place to live. But how to discuss with your child why Santa may stop at your house but not at your Jewish neighbors? Why amenorah and dreidel are significant to some children but not others? Or why his African American best friend celebrates not only the birth of Jesus but the seven principles of Kwanzaa?

For some reason, leading a discussion of another faith, religion or ideology is frightening to many people, especially parents. Perhaps it is the feeling of being disloyal to their own belief system. Perhaps they are afraid they will inadvertently cause their child to question the way they are being raised.  Actually, the most likely answer, is ignorance. Human beings are inherently afraid of that which is unfamiliar, new or different -- especially in the realm of religion. So instead of doing some research and becoming educated, they will cling even stronger to that which they know. Unfortunately, this is exactly how prejudices are developed and perpetuated and passed on to our children.

As Sept. 11th illustrated so graphically, nothing good comes of ignorance, intolerance, and zero respect. And while that violence was so unimaginable, so unspeakable, and nearly three months later, still so hard to fathom, perhaps it is 9/11 that will give people the courage to talk, discuss, learn about one another.

In answering my daughter's single question, I was amazed to see how many more tumbled out of her. She was genuinely intrigued and wanted to learn more about other celebrations. I admit that my personal knowledge was limited, so we hopped onto the Internet and both began to explore and educate.

I am happy to report that my daughter's scope of the world has been widened and, I hate to admit it, but at 35 years of age, mine has been, too. I realized that in teaching her about other religions and celebrations, I had not weakened her beliefs, I had simply expanded her understanding of other people.

So this holiday season, give your child the gift of knowledge. When they ask the questions, don't be afraid to give them the answers. Children are not born with prejudice, just beautiful, open minds. And diversity, tolerance and respect just may be the "GOLD, FRANKINCENSE and MYRRH" that we give to their generation.
(If you agree, please copy & forward to ALL America)