My fellow English Language Assistants and I have been set the challenge of discussing Christmas in the UK without mentioning any element of religion. Actually, I lie. The law in France prohibits us from talking about religion in the classroom, and any other part of the school for that matter. While I consider myself areligious and agnostic, it did get me to thinking about the commercialisation of Christmas and wondering just how many religious elements truly remain. How am I supposed to discuss the origins of Christmas without mentioning Jesus Christ himself, or the nativity, or Christianity at all? It’s in the name for goodness’ sake! CHRISTmas. The French word “noël” isn’t exactly void of religion itself…
Has French secularism gone too far in this respect? Am I supposed to promote and perpetuate that ever-worsening greed and extravagance that seems to only worsen during the holiday period? Granted, family is an important element that I will discuss with my pupils, and particularly my family’s secular traditions and the importance of spending the holidays together. But after that, what’s left? Should I disclose exactly how much I spent on presents for my family? Do I introduce them to Monty the penguin? Should I incorporate some maths into the English lesson and ask them to calculate the exact length of time a 4kg Turkey should be roasted for at 180 degrees celsius? I certainly wouldn’t dare share an example of the Queen’s speech for fear that a “god” or “lord” might slip through the net!
Here is a list of just a few taboo topics and traditions for my English Christmas lessons. Could you imagine your primary school days without a single one of these? I know I couldn’t…
The birth of Jesus Christ
The rest of the Christmas Story
Nativity plays and scenes
The etymology of the word “Christmas” (or indeed of the word “noël”)
Midnight mass (and mass in general)
Advent and advent calendars
Christmas cards with anything vaguely religious on the cover or insideAngels
Stars (if they’re deemed to bear any connection to the Star of Bethlehem)
Donkeys (because they’re only discussed in relation to the Nativity Story)
Although many of us no longer follow a religious life, the core values we take from religion are vital. In France, faith, love, peace and possible mythical figures are not to be discussed, but capitalism, gluttony and a make-believe man with flying reindeer are all fit for educational establishments. Bravo France. The roots of your social problems are becoming clearer to me everyday.