Thirty years ago, I was a fifth grade teacher in a small private Christian school. I was in my mid-20's and my 10-year-old students were excited for the Christmas season. I decided to let the students do a gift exchange, and I set limits and parameters as to how that particular act of giving would go. As many adults know, gift exchanges in classroom settings have a potential to cause issues. Suffice it to say, I felt that I had come up with a way that would allow everyone to be involved, and a budget wasn't even necessary.
The day after sending students home with a note about the exchange, a mother came into my classroom after I had finished teaching and she began to berate me about the whole idea. She told me that her family does NOT believe in the giving of gifts at Christmas (even though her children attended a Christian school) and that by setting up a gift exchange I was acting very improperly. Then, she said something to me that I've never forgotten. She said, "You're no better than Santa, and we all know that if you change around the letters in 'Santa' it becomes Satan! Think about that Mr. Staso!" I was in disbelief over what I was hearing.
She looked around my classroom where I had placed a small Christmas tree in the corner as well as some other festive decorations... most reflecting the story of Christ's birth. She walked over to the tree and told me that it has no place in education or the Christmas season and that if I were truly a Christian I would remove it immediately.
The woman was quite direct with her words, and quite harsh. At the time, I was new to teaching and wasn't a parent yet. Now, thirty years later and the father of four adult children, I look back on that moment and wonder what had happened in that woman's life to make her feel as she did. Obviously, she had experienced something that rooted in her a particular conviction about Christmas that she was determined to have others adopt. She told me that the ONLY element that there should be to Christmas is giving thanks to God for Jesus Christ's birth. Nothing more, nothing less.
I told the woman that we would indeed have our gift exchange, using the parameters I defined, and that the Christmas tree would stay in my classroom. I attempted to explain to her the heart with which the wise men brought gifts to Jesus and how all of us could benefit in our own hearts from giving to others. I shared that God Himself gave us the gift of His Son -- to die on a cross for our sins and give us a way to be with God for all eternity. My words turned out to be a futile attempt. She said that the only "gift" that people should give at Christmas is the gift of our hearts to God.
Ultimately, I gave her three options: (1) her child could participate with the other students; (2) her child could decline to participate; or, (3) she could keep her child home that day and I would prepare the day's assignments for her child in advance so that the child could do the work at home. She chose option three and stormed out of my classroom, stating that she would be speaking to the superintendent about the matter. I never heard from her again about it, and the administration didn't discuss it with me.
Since that time 30 years ago, I've never encountered another person with a perspective about Christmas as that woman had. In a way, that woman chose to build an "antas" between she and I -- defined in architecture terms as a portion of a wall. And for your knowledge, antas is what you get if you change around the letters of Santa. I wish I would have known that 30 years ago, because I just may have told her that!
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