Bah Humbug, Yet Again: Or, How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love "The Holly and the Ivy"
What-- you say it's not even December yet? Tell that to all the local merchants. Because things are gearing up already.
Hence, forthwith, the FIFTH installment of our esteemed annual "Bah, Humbug" series. Said series aligning more or less-- no, wait, exactly!--with the number of years that the Mermaid Girl has been in public school in the Pacific Northwest/Western Canada/A Place Far From the Greater New York Metropolitan Area Where I Grew Up and Where School Staff Would Be Less Shocked At A Suggestion That They Teach The Flat-Earth Doctrine Than One That They Drag a Tree and Wreaths and Santa and Reindeer, Never Mind The Little Baby Jesus, Into the Public Schools In December. (At Least That's How I Remember It.)
Our story (this year) begins back in early October, when the Mermaid Girl's Special School Choir started its rehearsals. The official name of the Special School Choir is actually-- I finally learned last week when I saw the permission slip, which never made it home last year due to the mysterious paper-eating qualities of MG's backpack--"The Christmas Concert Choir."
I mean, I knew from MG's experience last year that that's what it actually is, but in my home country we don't say that. Even in Seattle they'd call it the "holiday choir" or some such.
MG was hot to be in the choir, and no way was I going to be the bad guy here. I asked her if she minded singing songs about baby Jesus, like she did last year. "No," she said, "As long as there aren't too many. And as long as I don't have to believe in him."
I asked her if she wanted me to talk to the choir teacher, as we'd talked about a little last year after the concert, and she did. What did she want me to say? She wasn't sure. Did she want me to ask if the choir could sing a couple of songs about Chanukah, or at least not about Jesus or Santa? Yes, that was what she wanted. And should I say that if they do a Chanukah song, she would rather it not be the Dreidel song? YES YES I HATE THE DREIDEL SONG MOM.
Okay! So, I went in to talk with the choir teacher. I'm always anxious about being an obnoxious demanding parent (having dealt with a few from the other side of the desk) so I practiced in the shower before I went, and even typed up talking points so that I could keep them in my pocket and refer to them if need be.
And it went...okay. I've learned from some of my previous experiences and finally understand that much as I am stunned at the Christmasmania in the public schools out here, the people running said public schools honestly don't see anything wrong with what they're doing and really aren't going to transform their December celebrations into a replica of those in public schools on the Upper West Side or Northern New Jersey just because I told them they should. "Park Slope wasn't built in a day" is my new mantra.
So I started by telling the choir teacher how much MG loves choir, which is true, and how excited she is to get to be in Special Choir, which is also true. Then I said, "Um...did you know that MG is Jewish?"
And, no, actually, the choir teacher hadn't known that!
So I talked a little about my surprise about the repertoire last year, and recounted much of my conversation with MG about it, and added my own observation that she actually seemed to be more affected by the Santa stuff than by little baby Jesus references, and the poignant (and true) detail that every year around Christmas she gets very upset and goes on and on to me about how she wishes she wasn't Jewish. And I do understand that Christmas is important to a lot of people at the school, but we are also a school and a community with a fair bit of cultural and religious diversity, did the choir teacher think she could maybe tone down the Santa and Jesus a bit? And maybe include a Chanukah song, or at least one that's not specifically about Christmas per se?
And the choir teacher was very nice and listened very well and wasn't defensive and then said, well, of course we have to do Christmas (which, why??? Everyone seems to think so, and I've finally learned not to argue, but I still don't truly understand why), and the choir does sing "Silent Night" and "Away in a Manger" every year because they perform at Downtown Hotel and the old people there really like to hear it, and the choir is optional and is called the Christmas Concert Choir just so there won't be any confusion, and she's had concerns before from Jehovah's Witness families.
BUT she could certainly look into including a Chanukah song, especially as she'd also had a question from another parent (the other Jewish family!) about the repertoire.
And lo and behold, afer several weeks of rehearsal MG is going around warbling about "LIGHT the candles, SPIN the dreidel," and complaining genially that most of the kids don't know how to pronounce "Nes Gadol Haya Sham." Warms the cockles of my heart, it does.
And even the Christmassy songs seem less... Christmassy this year. She's been singing Jingle Bell Rock, which isn't actually about Christmas at all if you think about it, and The Holly and the Ivy, which is so old that it's practically pagan and which actually, according to RW, references paganism.
AND the for the Big Annual Christmas Show this year, they are doing NOT some made-up Santa-extravaganza, but an adaptation of "A Christmas Carol," which at least is, hey, Dickens! And as far as I can remember has no Santa in it! (Though Scrooge does I think dress up as Father Christmas at the end.)
So: I am happy.
On the one hand: It seems like such a pathetic incremental amount of change to be happy about.
On the other: I am happy. Pretty much. And Park Slope was not, after all, built in a day.