Friday, October 17, 2014

A Modest Proposal, In Celebration of Harvest Day












Last year, I wrote a letter to my local school board about the elimination of Halloween and Valentine’s Day in our school.  I’m not going to share that letter.  It had a lot of typos, and I wrote it so quickly that I ended up sounding like a ranting lunatic.  "Sounding."  Anyway, nobody needs to see that.  (Except, of course, the school board.)

But no matter because, like a creepy Halloween zombie, the issue limps on!  And so, I post this cleaned up, edited, somewhat more rant-free version of that letter.  It is an homage to the bygone days of Halloween and Valentine’s Day.  And obviously also the great Irish writer, JonathanSwift.





Next week, my children will be having classroom parties to celebrate Harvest Day.  Hooray!!  

What, you ask, is Harvest Day?   That is an excellent question.  Harvest Day is like Friendship Day.  That comes on February 14th.  Growing up in this country, perhaps you had always understood February 14th to be Valentine’s Day.    You know -- that highly commercialized Hallmark holiday that’s all about eating sugar and chocolate?  It’s the wintertime version of Halloween, basically.  Except instead of spooky ghosts and costumes and sugar, there are hearts and valentines and sugar.    

When I first learned about Friendship Day, I was confused.   The holiday wasn’t removed from the local calendar while I lived in New York, was it?  Based on my recent trip to Walgreen’s to buy cat litter and glitter nail polish, I had to conclude that people still observe Valentine’s Day.  Even here in Middle America.   I saw the cards for sale. Right there.  Next to the Applebee’s Gift Cards.

Well apparently, people do.  But children DON’T.   Not in school, anyway.  And definitely not by that name. 

Last year, parents got a letter explaining how Halloween was no longer allowed in school.  Because of diversity.  Hmmm, mysterious.  On one hand, there are a lot of international families at our school.  On the other, I don't think anyone was forced to participate.   Families opt out of activities all the time at school, voluntarily, for religious or cultural reasons.  One time on a field trip, I bought rock candy lollipops for the whole class.  One kid didn’t like his, and threw it on the ground.    Do some children feel the same way about Mutant Ninja Turtle and Minecraft costumes?  I guess we’ll never know.   But just in case, the school cancelled the traditional costume parade, and renamed the holiday, Harvest Day.

Of course they did!  Because Harvest Day is totally a thing. Traditionally, of course, it was called Samhain.  The hard working Celtic pagan farm children of this Midwestern town have long dressed up in costumes (not at school), slaughtered the livestock, lit bonfires, and invited the souls of their departed Celtic forefathers over for brats.

Look, I realize that Harvest Day may SOUND like a meaningless, bureaucratically-invented, empty gesture.  But it’s obviously an important empty gesture. We can’t have popular cultural traditions in the schools that may – like that crappy rock candy, which belonged on the ground – not appeal to every single person.

I suspect the real issue is that Halloween is basically a religious holiday.  That is because several thousand years ago, the Catholic Church appropriated some of the creepy zombie-related customs from the pagans.  And it does occur the night before All Saints Day, which is a Catholic holy day.  Not that anyone knows that.  Even practicing Catholics.  And ironically, in many towns around this country, the Celtic pagan roots of Halloween have led modern Christians to oppose it.   On the grounds that it’s not religious at all.   There the Irish go again, screwing things up!

But isn’t Valentine’s Day IN FACT a Christian holiday, commemorating how St. Valentine was beaten with clubs and buried under the cover of darkness?   Can we also blame this on the Irish?   I'm not sure.  Valentine’s Day isn’t a real holy day at all.   In fact – funny story -- its origins were in Lupercalia, a Roman holiday in which young men would draw the names of young women in a lottery, and then keep the women as sexual companions for the year.  OMG, Romans, so inappropriate!  And also, SO WEIRD that my teachers never mentioned the Roman roots of Valentine’s Day when I was a kid.  Here we all thought Valentine’s Day was about eating sweets and trading 3D Pokemon cards.   The whole time, it was just a pre-Christian game of spin the bottle.  Good riddance.

Perhaps the real reason for banning these traditions, if not their religious roots, is the American Constitution.  As everyone knows, we have a Bill of Rights in this country, which guarantees the Separation of School and Culture.  That sounds a lot like the Separation of Church and State.  Except it’s different.  Because only one of them is real.

Still, I think we can do more at our school to suppress traditions that some people might not like or want to celebrate.   Therefore, I have come up with a Modest Proposal, which I hope you will all take seriously.  In the spirit of our great Constitutional separation of school and culture, I propose that the district spearhead an official Banning of All Traditional American Cultural Practices. These BANNED cultural practices should include but not be limited to:

The wearing of snowsuits; the watching of television, videos, the internet, and computers; the eating of corn dogs, hot dogs, popcorn, pizza, and hamburgers; the speaking of English and Spanish; the wearing of Nike brand shoes; New Balance brand shoes, and Converse brand shoes; the learning of roller blading or hula hooping or pogo sticking or jump roping in gym class, especially double dutch; field trips on orange buses to apple orchards; red dye 40 sprinkles, rice crispie bars (plain or peanut butter); Frozen princess t-shirts, mutant Ninja turtles shirts; Feminists who keep their names, Feminists who don’t keep their names, other Feminists; lunchroom volunteerism, playground volunteerism, book room volunteerism, and the entire Parent Teacher organization which, frankly (I think we can all agree) smacks of way too much democracy.

Just like Halloween and Valentine’s Day, these traditions should be seen for what they really are: Church.  

Even if they WEREN'T obviously opportunities for forced conversions, it is simply damaging to the fabric of community when child-citizens are allowed to come together and celebrate a popular cultural tradition in a public building.  Because some families might not be into them.  And it's too much to ask of a child, to sit quietly, while her classmates eat blatantly heart-shaped cookies, right in front of him.   Better that everyone just throw their cookies on the ground.  And then rename them.

A word from the Founding Fathers, in closing: "When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the cultural events that they have always observed, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare themselves in favor of Friendship Day, Harvest Day, and every other fake holiday that they have never heard of.”