In response to the Bellview Elementary School "giving tree" controversy, I propose the following Christmas decoration policy for Ashland school districts:
1) Snowpersons must be multi-colored and gender neutral.
2) No decorations should be affiliated with "giving," as they may negatively impact the self-esteem of disadvantaged students.
3) Candy canes must contain only organic artificial sweeteners.
Walk in other shoes
I commend the principal for her brave stance in removing the Christmas tree. I wonder how the letter writers who chastised (or worse) the principal of Bellview Elementary would have reacted had:
1) Their own family's name (in need) been on that displayed tree, or
2) Had they been raised in a non-Christian home and were inundated as a child with all the surroundings of Christmas at their public schools, on TV and radio, and by stores' Christmas music and overzealous neighbors' decorations.
For those angry, closed-minded letter writers, I ask that you walk in another's shoes in one or both of the above scenarios for just one day during your Christmas season.
Merry Christmas, Happy Kwanza, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Solstice and Happy Holidays.
I am a Jewish parent in the Ashland School District. My three kids went through school here. Every winter I would come into their classes and explain the meaning of Hanukkah, give all the kids dreidels, play music and read a Hanukkah story. Every year my kids looked forward to me doing this so their religion could be represented.
Every year my kids saw trees in the schools, their stores, their friends' houses and their town. We did not have a tree. My kids would have loved a Christmas tree, but they were only allowed to decorate an outside tree because we are a Jewish family. They understood. Eventually they were proud, even though they were the only Jews in their classes. Living in Ashland, they understood what it's like to be in a minority.
People need to understand that a Christmas tree is no more than what it has come to mean. It has come to represent Christianity. What difference does it make how it started thousands of years ago? The letter writers made it clear how exclusive their mindsets are, reminding readers that we are a Christian nation after all, that a son did not serve in Iraq to have the Bellview tree taken down. I guess I really am a guest in a host country, just like my dad said, many years ago.
A secular nation
Whatever happened to schools taking advantage of "teachable moments?" These few complaints might have been used as an opportunity to expand the display to include winter holiday symbols from an even broader array of traditions. Our country was founded, in part, on the principal of religious freedom and, although I am not Christian, I am not offended by their symbols in the public square. We don't take votes in this country on questions such as "Should practicing Islam (or Wican) be allowed?" nor should we take votes on whether a Christmas tree display can be permitted in the public schools.
I dispute, however, some of the readers who referred to the founding of the United States as "a Christian nation." It was not. And as a non-Christian and very patriotic American, I am thankful that it is a secular nation, where we can all practice, or not practice, the religion of our choice.
Share good fortune
Reading the most recent letters regarding Michelle Zundel's choice to put up snowmen in place of a Christmas tree sent me running to my files. I remembered a piece I had read several years ago which seemed to speak to this issue.
"If we could, at this very moment, shrink the earth's population of 5.2 billion to a village of precisely 100 people, but all the existing ratios of human culture remained the same, it would look like this: 57 Asians and Oceanians, 21 Europeans, eight South Americans, six North Americans, eight Africans. Eighty-two would be non-white; 18 would be white. Seventy would be non-Christian; 30 would be Christian. Seventy people would be unable to read. Fifty people, mostly children, would suffer from malnutrition. Sixty would live in substandard housing . Only one would have a college education. Half of the world's wealth would be in the hands of 6 people ... and all 6 would be citizens of the United States.
When one considers our world from such an incredibly compressed perspective, the need for both tolerance and understanding becomes glaringly apparent."
So I am suggesting that we count our blessings, take a tag from the snowman (or snow woman) and share our good fortune with others who aren't doing as well right now. After all, isn't that the point?
Reflect all Americans
As a former Ashland resident and employee of the Ashland School District, I've been following the debate at Bellview with great interest. Christmas is a beautiful holiday with many wonderful traditions. As a parent of a Jewish family, I welcome invitations to the homes of friends and extended family who celebrate the birth of Jesus so that my young daughters can learn more about other religions.
I understand that living in a country with a Christian majority also means that my daughters will see Christmas celebrated in malls, grocery stores, and almost every other private institution we visit, and I have no problem explaining to them why this is the case. However, I do expect that when they enter a public school or other government building, that they should find an environment that reflects all, not just some, of the American people.
Why dilute our rich religious traditions? Let's display our beautiful menorahs, Christmas trees, Diwali lights, and all the other observances in our melting pot with pride and joy — in our homes, our places of worship and our private institutions.
And to those who believe that generosity can only be symbolized by a tree, I suggest it's time the public schools teach more about why giving to those in need is an American tradition, not limited to one culture, or one time of year.
Amy Meltzer Lepine
An Ashland treasure
In the dark of December, there is something mystical and magical in a majestic evergreen adorned with bright lights which reflect the glory of other cheerful colorful decorations. Does this mean that the tree symbolizes the light of the Christ? It does for me — but the beautiful tree itself will not mind if it is only utilized to symbolize cheer, the art of giving, generosity and kindness.
The Grinch has stolen the live, lovely, glorious green gift tree at Bellview School and replaced it with ugly Borg-like and soulless wire snowmen. Ugh! One wonders if the former principal would have asked a volunteer to contact all parents for their opinion, then informed the few fuming four, "Gee, sorry, but we're a democracy, and 96 of the other families want to keep our tree."
However, the Grinch didn't succeed in stealing the entire spirit of the season, because Ashland has been doubly blessed in an exquisite replacement by a church "¦ well, the Old Pink Church's offering of "Holiday Memories" (at the Oregon Cabaret Theatre).
The script, stage and music create an environment that reflects the simplicity of days gone by and our yearning for genuine, gentle generosity and affection. The play's director, Michael J. Hume, has brought a certain sacredness to the story.
The eccentric Sook is portrayed by the exquisite Brandy Carson; ah, if only a bit of that stardust might settle on our shoulders! The play's bully, Jerry Lee, stuns us with his pure voice in a haunting song. The boys Braden (Braden Day and Braden Fastidio), as Buddy, grant sweet glimpses of the innocent, affectionate child that is sometimes lost in the grown man.
And, if you love a little razzle-dazzle, that's provided by a lively song and dance performed by Mrs. Haha Jones (the bountifully talented Tamara Marston) wearing a shimmering red dress.
Yet, the glue that holds the play together is the magnificent John Stadelman as the mature Truman Capote, hovering over his childhood characters as a loving father, yet sadly telescoping his jagged future after he is yanked from this gentle environment. And, oh yes, he adds ornaments to the family Christmas tree that Buddy and Sook had braved a cold winter river to fetch.
This play should be filmed, because it is an Ashland treasure.
Jeanne Marie Peters