Friday, March 21, 2008

A Lost Opportunity?

There was a bit of a stink this past week in the Indian River School District here in southern Delaware. I take a mostly cynical view of it, but a story in Time this week suggests that there could have been a very positive learning experience, if we had only looked for it ahead of time.

The requirements of the settlement of the Prayer in Schools lawsuit against the District had teachers and administrators reviewing an updated Religion Policy and a set of real-world examples designed to help them avoid unconstitutional proselytizing. Somewhere along the line, it was suggested that the School District had commanded a cancellation of the pre-Break parties set for this week; parties that traditionally have a Spring/Easter theme.

This caused something of an uproar, even after the District issued a statement saying it had not commanded any cancellations. It doesn't even really make sense, given the status of "easter" as as much a secular holiday as a religious holiday. I don't think it diminishes the special and deeply felt meaning of this holiday for true Christians to see other folks mucking about with the bunny rabbits and the eggs that symbolize new-birth and spring. So there isn't really a lawsuit-based reason to cancel such parties.

My inner cynic suggests that someone angry over the settlement of the lawsuit planted the party-pooping story to generate parental anger and protest. It wouldn't surprise me to see someone try that as a way to gather support for making the public schools more parochial.

But that 's just the voice of the little Elmer Gantry perched on my right shoulder. On my left shoulder is an angel holding up a print-out of the Time story about the many religious traditions that celebrate this time of year and the curious convergence of those holidays this year.
...on this particular Friday, March 21, it seems almost no believer of any sort will be left without his or her own holiday. In what is statistically, at least, a once-in-a-millennium combination, the following will all occur on the 21st:
Good Friday
Purim, a Jewish festival celebrating the biblical book of Esther
Narouz, the Persian New Year, which is observed with Islamic elaboration in Iran and all the "stan" countries, as well as by Zoroastrians and Baha'is.
Eid Milad an Nabi, the Birth of the Prophet, which is celebrated by some but not all Sunni Muslims and, though officially beginning on Thursday, is often marked on Friday.
Small Holi, Hindu, an Indian festival of bonfires, to be followed on Saturday by Holi, a kind of Mardi Gras.
Magha Puja, a celebration of the Buddha's first group of followers, marked primarily in Thailand.
Yesterday would heave been a perfect opportunity for comparative religion parties in the schools using the many holidays, traditions, foods, dances, music and art to explore a wide variety of cultures.
"Half the world's population is going to be celebrating something," says Raymond Clothey, Professor Emeritus of Religious studies at the University of Pittsburgh. "My goodness," says Delton Krueger, owner of, who follows "14 major religions and six others." He counts 20 holidays altogether (including some religious double-dips, like Maundy Thursday and Good Friday) between the 20th (which is also quite crowded) and the 21st. He marvels: "There is no other time in 2008 when there is this kind of concentration."
The article points out that, in fact, it's only nine times in 800 years that "Good Friday, Purim, Narouz and the Eid would occur in the same week" and only one time that they would ever happen within a two-day period.

I guess we missed a chance to teach. Maybe next time?

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