We should all know much better than to believe schools are getting rid of Christmas
This week began with the end of Christmas.
Reports in multiple publications warned that schools in Dublin were fearing the death of Christmas, Easter and many other traditions if the schools were to leave the dominion of the Catholic Church.
"Schools claim all religious events to be scrapped under new ethos," one headline read.
The story garnered more than 1,200 reactions on Facebook (with more than 500 'angry' reacts, in case you were wondering what the public mood was like). It generated 1,400 comments. All this is by way of saying that it was one of the most discussed issues of the week. But was the central claim at the heart of the story true?
Minister for Education Joe McHugh forcefully said no.
In a statement published yesterday, McHugh wrote: "A considerable amount of inaccurate information is being shared about what will happen if a school changes patron. These assertions have not been helpful. They are also creating fear and uncertainty.
"Just to be clear - Christmas will not be cancelled. Neither will any other typical school holiday like Easter or St. Patrick’s Day. Pancake Tuesday won’t be banned. Nor will holidays or celebrations associated with the ancient Celtic/pagan festival of Halloween.
"It is a bad example to be setting, particularly from those of us who are working to educate our young people."
A strong statement, especially coming from the office of someone who is required to confine himself to the most parliamentary language possible.
Elsewhere, on Newstalk, Pat Kenny was joined on air by David Quinn — Director of the Iona Institute, and Irish media’s go-to guy for matters concerning the perceived wane of Catholic influence on Irish life. Even he conceded that Educate Together schools "celebrate religious festivals in their own way," though non-Catholic schools might not do things like pray during the Angelus.
Educate Together themselves were forthright in their dismissal of the claims, noting that their festive celebrations "are inclusive celebrations that incorporate elements of Christmas, Hanukkah and the Winter Solstice as well as other belief systems and philosophical convictions".
"Christmas is, of course, marked in Educate Together schools nationwide; just as our schools endeavour [to] mark Diwali, Eid, Vaisakhi and other religious festivals throughout the school term," a statement read.
Of course, Educate Together have years of evidence to back this up. The organisation has operated in Ireland for 41 years. There are just under 100 such schools in the country. We have not yet lost Christmas. Indeed, most seem to agree that we have more Christmas than ever before. Don’t people say it gets earlier every year?
It is entirely legitimate for stakeholders in a school - staff, parents, kids - to worry about what will happen to the school if it were to change owners. To use the most and least appropriate phrase I can think of: sometimes its better the devil you know than the devil you don't.
There can be valid, non-religious reasons why these people would want the ownership structure of their school to remain in place. The discussion around divestment - the government's long-term plan for more multi-denominational or non-denominational schools - is a tricky one. It is not helped by demonstrably false claims that such schools do not celebrate Christmas and Easter, or teach things like celebrating one's grandparents.
Similarly, the focus of the media should not be to frame news in the way that fans the flames of ignorance.
The narrative is reminiscent of America's fictional "War on Christmas" — the myth that Christmas trees and phrases like "Merry Christmas" were being banned all across the country because people were getting offended. Donald Trump campaigned on the promise to be a President who would say "Merry Christmas" again, even though Obama had said it every single year.
This week's coverage of the divestment issue could land us in that same myth, complaining that if we don't have Catholic schools then we don't have Christmas, Easter and St. Patrick's Day. It won't be true, but in comment sections across the internet, one can see it take hold. The idea that Ireland as we know it is being eroded for the benefit of the non-Irish.
The notion 'If you don't want your kid to attend a Catholic school, then don't send them to one' is much easier said than done.
Approximately 90% of Irish primary schools are under the patronage of the Catholic Church. The government estimates that 91% of children attend a Catholic school. These details alone should spell it out in no uncertain terms that Ireland remains utterly dominated by the traditions we know.
Divestment brings with it many valid problems: Should the government simply build new schools instead? Which schools should change their patronage and why? Just how many Catholic schools should a modern Ireland have?
Christmas will be around long after we've gotten to the bottom of those problems.
And trust me, it's going to take us ages.