Christmas/Winter break: Does the name matter?

Yes: Winter break is a time to relax and Christmas has evolved

By Armand Yazdani

Winter break is a time to unwind after numerous tests and daily, intense homework. It’s also when many students can study uninterrupted for exams and when teachers can catch up grading tests and essays.

Yet many people criticize winter break because the two-week holiday centers around the Christmas, a Christian celebration. But what was once a religious and exclusively Christian season has become a time for families and friends, Christian and otherwise, to relax and rejoice. Muslims, Jews  and other non-Christians can and do enjoy the season as a secular holiday break.

In fact 90 percent of Americans celebrate Christmas, according to a 2013 Pew Research Center poll. But only half of them find the holiday mostly religious. If anything, those weeks of winter break are more commercial than holy. Many businesses “celebrate” the holiday – but by trying to sell us goods and make money. They want to sell their products to a large market, including non-Christians.

Winter break critics further argue  if Christmas comes with a break, Muslim and Jewish holidays should as well. Yet, no other holiday in the US is  anywhere as commercial as Christmas. For example, Jewish holiday Yom Kippur is a purely religious day of atonement, disassociating shopping and consuming. Public school students do not, and need not, get a day off for this religious celebration. A day off school for a religious holiday would violate our principle of separation of church and state.

Knowing this, why should Christmas be deemed religious ,and the winter break for public high school students condemned?

Stressed-out students near the end of the semester are in dire need of a respite, just  as the two-week holiday takes place. Research has shown  stress impacts grades: Relaxed students outperform anxious ones on tests, which can mean a letter grade. Opponents of winter break have ranted about the timing, inconveniently just before finals. In fact, the timing is perfect. Students can use the time to review material and be ready and relaxed for exams. Two weeks to loosen up and study are surely a boon.

I won’t spend the entire time studying- I shall instead decompress. The most devout object I have is a tree, as much a pagan custom as Christian. So, my holiday will be more agnostic than Christian.

Why are there so many foes to holiday break at Christmas? “It’s outdated,” critics harp. “No, it’s prejudiced,” others may say. “The holy days of Jewish and Muslim students don’t get recognized with school holidays.”

Non-Christians should feel comfortable celebrating what has become a secular holiday. Winter break also allows students to catch up on projects and study, while still enjoying themselves. Students, cherish the free time given. Happy holidays.

No: It’s religion in break’s clothing

By Kate Fin

Everyone looks forward to winter break. It’s two weeks off school, and that’s reason enough to celebrate. It would be cruel heresy to take it away – right?

It’s no secret that teachers and students are stressed. In fact, it’s an epidemic. A study conducted by the Families and Work Institute found that 35 percent of children in grades 5-12 reported they were stressed often or very often; and with teacher workload at an all-time high, it’s inevitable that the pressure builds up.

An extended break is the best remedy for that. It’s a healthy pause from the hectic cycle of work and sleep that regulates the lives of teachers, administrators and students alike. I’m definitely not condemning the break itself; I have been known to celebrate that last bell separating school from two weeks of freedom.  

My problem is with the timing. Winter break conveniently encompasses the most important Christian holiday of the year: Christmas. Not that anyone is trying to hide the break’s Christmas roots, but, in light of recent events, it seems ironic that Portland Public Schools upholds this tradition, even though they rename it “winter break.”

In October, PPS banned school-affiliated choirs from performing in the Festival of Lights  at the Grotto, a Catholic shrine in Northeast Portland. The decision followed a complaint by the group Freedom from Religion Foundation against the district.

If students can’t even perform in a religiously affiliated space with a choir, how can it be that the longest break of the school year centers around an exclusively Christian holiday? Important Muslim and Jewish holidays, such as Eid al-Fitr and Yom Kippur, are not even recognized with a single holiday.

“But,” proponents might argue, “Christians make-up the majority of PPS students, it’s only natural that their holidays be better accommodated than other religions!”

This is true; if we shut school down for any religious holiday, we’d never be in session. But a two-weeks-to-zero-day ratio hardly seems like separation of church and state.

If this is PPS’ argument, then let them establish a minimum population threshold to identify what religious holidays are celebrated by a sufficient number of people to shut down schools. That way, there would be an objective, bias-free method of establishing breaks.

Another argument that Christmas (sorry, “winter”) break-lovers tend to present is that it’s a convenient time for a break, being in the middle of the school year. While that might be true other places in the country where the school year starts earlier, here it’s just not. Winter break lasts just long enough to allow students to forget the content, but ends just before finals. That’s hardly what I’d call convenient.

While a two-week break is great for student and faculty health, our break is reflective of an outdated Christian-centric ideology and comes at a wildly inconvenient time for finals. Maybe it’s time to rethink our favorite time of year.