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The Mass Media

Renaming Christmas break doesn’t remove its Christian roots

A+Christmas+tree+at+Snowport%2C+a+market+located+in+the+Seaport+District.+Photo+by+Saichand+Chowdary+%2F+Mass+Media+Staff.
Saichand Chowdary
A Christmas tree at Snowport, a market located in the Seaport District. Photo by Saichand Chowdary / Mass Media Staff.

Thanksgiving, Christmas, Columbus Day—these holidays have tumultuous histories, many stemming from religious colonialism ranging from missionaries to genocides. For example, most everyone knows by now that the story of Thanksgiving is just that—fiction. According to Business Insider, by 1621, the year largely regarded as the first Thanksgiving, 90 percent of the Native population had already been wiped out. [1] Disease, war and death followed the first Thanksgiving, and a long history of oppression, expulsion and genocide followed. Our only retelling of Thanksgiving Day is from the white settlers—we have no perspective from the native Wampanoag people, whose land was stolen to become New England

The story of Columbus Day is identical. In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue—kicking off a history of pillaging, raping and murdering native Americans when he landed in what he thought was India. The history of Christopher Columbus is long, wrought with bloodshed and widely known, to the point that many organizations and even some states have officially renamed it Indigenous Peoples’ Day. [2]

While Christmas has little of the baggage associated with true, patriotic red-blooded holidays like Thanksgiving, it is undeniably a Christian holiday. Without negating the very real Christian roots of Christmas, it’s impossible to secularize these times of year, even when Christmas Break gets renamed to Holiday Break. The fact of the matter is the number of Christians in America is rapidly shrinking—according to NPR, 90 percent of America identified as Christian 50 years ago, and that number has fallen to just 64 percent. If trends continue, the population of American Christians could fall below 50 percent in the next few decades. [3]

Why can’t we fully secularize our breaks, and detach them from their loaded histories? The answer is simple: This problem goes all the way to the top. Federal holidays have a nearly unilateral Christian bias; according to the POTUS website, every single U.S. president has been some denomination of Christian, with only three declaring no official affiliation to any one church. [4] God is baked into our Pledge of Allegiance, our legal system—and, crucially, our calendar. The separation of church and state has always been a myth.  

Other religions and holidays receive no such fanfare. Some federal holidays, like Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Juneteenth, recognize and celebrate the history of Black Americans in, ironically, their fight against the U.S. government. However, these recognitions fall flat next to holidays like Columbus Day, which has still yet to be renamed federally.  

Every year, millions of Americans uncritically celebrate these holidays, while simultaneously having no knowledge of other religions’ holidays. If you’re lucky, there will sometimes be Hanukkah celebrations paired with Christmas, even though Jewish celebrations follow a different calendar, and Hanukkah is weeks away from Christmas. Other religions and cultures get the same treatment.

At UMass Boston, students can request an excused absence for religious reasons, provided the exemption does “not create an unreasonable burden upon [the] school.” It’s up to the student to reach out to their professors and request a makeup, and they are still responsible for all of the work they missed during the holiday. Additionally, the student must request any breaks off two weeks in advance. For Christian students, their holidays are prioritized and considered the norm; however, non-Christian students must decide whether they can risk missing weeks of school to celebrate their religious holidays. 

Even though this bias stems from the federal government, it is the duty of UMass Boston to provide better accommodations for non-Christian students. Its attempts to honor the Native American land the school is built on, and to secularize school breaks in the name of equality, fall flat when faced with the reality of the situation: these breaks are the same old holiday with new, progressive paint.  

 

SOURCES: 

[1] https://www.insider.com/history-of-thanksgiving-2017-11 

[2] https://www.newsweek.com/columbus-day-still-federal-holiday-indigenous-peoples-day-explained-1832778 

[3] https://www.npr.org/2022/09/17/1123508069/religion-christianity-muslim-atheist-agnostic-church-lds-pew 

[4] https://potus.com/presidential-facts/religious-affiliation/ 

[5] https://www.umb.edu/campus-life/current-students/policies/right-to-excused-absence-because-religious-belief/  

About the Contributor
Elijah Horwath, Opinions Editor