In 1979, I was teaching second grade in a little community in Wyoming. Things were quite different back then. I don’t recall ever seeing or hearing of any content area standards the school district had at the time and the state definitely didn’t have any. Teachers had the autonomy to exercise their professional judgment in their instructional program. There were no curriculum police and political correctness was an unknown expression. Christmas break was called Christmas break and we wished our students and their families a Merry Christmas. Winter break was not on the school calendar.
In the spirit of the Christmas season, I put up a real Christmas tree in my second grade classroom. The tree was not yet considered a fire hazard and did not require treatment with a fire retardant. No one complained and no one protested. The students decorated the tree with hand made items. A gift exchange was organized for those students who wished to participate. If I remember correctly, all but one student participated.
On the last day before Christmas break, my class sat around the Christmas tree. Under the tree were many packages. There were the gifts for the gift exchange plus presents I had for each student—a gift-wrapped bottle of soap bubbles. Who doesn’t enjoy blowing bubbles? In an orderly manner, the students opened their gifts from me and from the gift exchange. Gifts still remained under the tree. Those students who had brought presents for me wanted to see me open them. When I finished opening the presents from the students and expressing appropriate appreciation, one unopened present was left under the tree. That present was to me from our wonderful custodians. I started to open it and wisely decided to let it wait until the students weren’t around.
Since I told you I didn’t open that one package, I do need to tell you about it. The two custodians were great ladies that I got along well with. I would often pull pranks on them, usually when they were vacuuming and couldn’t hear me sneak up behind them and say boo to see them jump out of their skin, or step on the electric cord making them think it was hung up on a desk leg, or quickly unplug the cord and duck out of the room before being detected. I hesitated about opening their gift because I thought it could be payback and could possibly be something inappropriate for my students to see. I knew those custodians. Boy, was I ever glad I waited until the kids weren’t around. The custodians gave me a “boob” mug. I can only imagine what would have happened if I would have opened that up in front of my class of second grade students.
It was common in those days for students to give their teacher a gift. It was also common for teachers to give each student a little Christmas gift. That year, I remember Carla, a fourth grade teacher, had bought gifts for all of her students. She took pride in finding a great deal on snow globes and bought enough for each of her students. Unfortunately for her and her students, she left the snow globes in her car over night. Remember, this was Wyoming. Twenty to thirty degrees below zero, typical night temperatures that winter, did not do wonders for those snow globes.
As the students walked out the door to begin Christmas break, I wished each individual a Merry Christmas.
Fast forward to today. Political correctness has served as a sanitizer washing the spirit of the season away from school hallways and classrooms. I would never be able to have a Christmas tree in my classroom for a number of reasons—-it is not politically correct to acknowledge Christmas and it would certainly violate the fire code. Rather than taking time for a gift exchange, I am sure we would be using that as test prep time. Rather than saying, “Have a Merry Christmas” as they walked out the door, I would have a hard time saying to each, “Have a Happy Winter Break.” Today, I would have to justify my 1979 activities and I am sure no justification would suffice. It’s possible the custodians would lose their jobs in today’s work environment. Who knows what would happen to me but I am sure my holiday time would have been filled with lots of explaining on my part. You just never can tell. We might all have been praised for promoting breast cancer awareness.
I wish you and yours a Merry Christmas. Whatever you find yourself doing this time of the year, enjoy the people around you and help infuse joy into their lives. As you have a Merry Christmas, I hope you will help politically correct victims put Christ back in Christmas and put Christmas back into the Holiday Season. The time has come.