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Is “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” Religious?


A kindergarten Christmas show at the Murrayville Elementary School in Wilmington, N.C., generated an unlikely church-state controversy when a mother at the school complained about its inclusion of the song “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” The parent objected to the song’s “religious overtones,” reportedly complaining in particular about its use of the word “Christmas.” As a result the song was temporarily pulled from the program line-up.

After many other parents complained about the decision, however, school officials give the matter further study. “School board members, administrators and attorneys listened closely to the song's lyrics and decided the song was secular,” according to local news station WRAL.

“Rudolph is a secular song,” proclaimed assistant school superintendent Rick Holliday. “It was about a flying reindeer, not a religious symbol.”

School officials decided to return the song to the kindergarteners’ holiday show, a decision that sat well with many parents.

“I think it's great that they let the kids sing because all the kids love that song,” said Anne Vanslyke, a parent of a student.


The interesting question here is why the opinion of ONE person should trump the opinion of the majority. If a majority of the parents approve of the song (that even sounds stupid as I type it, but it's the world we live in), then good for Rudolph and whatever other songs they approve of.

But the opinions of a minority should still be considered, and majority rule should not be the basis for all decisions. I'm not saying this person was right (what in Rudolph is religious?) but I'm just saying in another more valid situation I could see a minority view still gaining acceptance even despite the majority opinion.

As an Elementary Music Specialist, part of my job is to expand the musical horizons of my students.

All year long, we sing and play multicultural music (multicultural includes our own American culture, too).

Christmas songs are not taboo as long as one is not proselytizing. We value the beliefs and opinions of every student.

One does not have to "believe" in Rudolph to sing about him! Nor must one believe the Chanukah story to sing about a dreidel. We are not trying to convert anyone--we are gently exposing them to the world around them while teaching the music standards and trying to add a little joy to the world.

I can hang a quote from Harry Potter, Mark Twain, Benjamin Franklin, Khalil Gibran, Mahatma Gandhi... but if the quote is from the Bible, it is banned.

People talk about "according to Dr. Phil" or "according to Dr. Ruth" or "In Oprah's magazine", but if you say "according to the teaching of Jesus Christ" you are spreading religion....

That is discrimination...

WE the People.....BY the People..... FOR the People.... majority rule...
What is it that some don't understand..?


Yes, students are allowed to sing holiday songs. But we are also a multi-cultural society and Christmas is a Christian holiday. Yes, we should teach about the different holidays that occur throughout the year and discuss traditions from different cultures. Can't we just sing winter songs and keep Christmas where it belongs in the church and in the home. Children who are in public schools and do not celebrate Christmas should not be made to feel uncomfortable. Adding one song about a dreidle does not help.

I agree that we are a multicultural society but if by not singing Christmas songs we don't offend one or two that are not Christian how about the many that are Christian and are offended because they cannot fulfill their right to sing a Christmas song. If those who are not Christian want to sing or do something different we have a responsibilty to help them fullfill their right to perform their request. We need to stop this nonsense that by singing a Christmas song we are infusing religion on someone else. If we don't sing it are we infusing an atheist point of view?

Stop it already and let us all get along and enjoy this "Peace on Earth and Good Well Toward Men" attitude or is this too religious for some? Our great country was raised on these principles and has existed for over 200+ years - Why are we trying to change something that is not broken? Oh Yeah! One other person may be offended! Do you not think that over those 200+ years someone was not offended for some reason or another? I as a Christian respect others beliefs and hope and pray that others respect mine. Is this not what our Wonderful Men and Women in Uniform are fighting for our right to have?

Should we take down our decorations all over the USA because some people don't believe? No decorations for Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, Father's Day, etc because some don't agree? Come On People - Get a life and enjoy what we have - FREEDOM TO LIVE THE GREATEST LIFES IN THE WORLD.

A lot of Christmas songs can be sung as they are not religious. Rudolph is one of them. Deck the Halls, Have a Holly Jolly Christmas, etc. are not religious songs. There are two main groups at Christmas. There are those who keep it a religious holiday and those who think of it as a winter festival. After all supposedly Jesus was born in the spring and was celebrated then until a pope decided to change it to Dec. 25 so it would go along with the Winter Solstice celebration practiced by the Romans. This was one way the church tried to conquer a pagan holiday and trade it for a Christian holiday.

Why are we letting the minority rule. 1 parent complains and we all have to suffer? My children have as much right to sing these songs in school as her child has not to sing. It's not about the Holiday as it is about childhood.

This is ridiculous. Apparently noone has cancer or anything to worry about??? We need to fill our lives with helping people who need help, not creating ridiculous problems!!!

This is plain silly. I feel for people who do not believe in a higher power or, if they do, think the mention of One may somehow taint children! Use your energy on ridding the world of pornography and other social ills. Having Christ in Christmas can only bring love to this world badly in need of it. I thank God I taught and now am an administrator in a Catholic School where we can express our faith and sing religious songs and pray!

And to think...I got in trouble for not calling my Holiday Concert a "Christmas Concert"! (And I teach in public school.)

Majority rule? Or rule by those in power? As in Nazi Germany? Just because a group is in the majority does not mean discrimination or teaching religion (in a public school) is permissible. I'm not saying that Rudolph is teaching religion, I agree with the music teacher and I feel an inclusive curriculum broadens horizons, BUT, it is worth looking at to be sensitive to the concerns of others, and that is what the school district did. It is also a valuable lesson for children toward acceptance of the beliefs and values of others different from themselves. If we cannot listen and be sensitive to those in our own backyard, how will we relate to those in Iraq or Afganistan? How will we teach that to our students?

Like it or not, the majority rule is the democratic concept our nation is based upon. The minority should not be allowed to take over every aspect of every holiday every year. This is nothing less than discrimination against Christians. At lease, every other year, I and my children should be able to sing about Jesus in their schools, in the open, not furtively under cover as if it's a crime.

This is another example of how something seemingly insignificant is inflated to a major incident. Those of us in public education should be committed to multicultural education. This is especially important on holidays and other cultural days. However, if we include Chanukah songs, winter songs about the change of seasons, and songs about Santa Claus and Frosty the Snowman, we should also include songs about Christ and that aspect of the season. That is true multiculturalism. Anything less than that is discrimination--against Christians, against Jews, or against those who do not celebrate the religious aspects of the holiday. We cannot allow our students to graduate from high school with such narrow world views that their initial reactions are to protest everything that doesn't neatly fit into their notions. We need to expand their horizions and encourage them to tolerate (and maybe even accept!) the views of others. Then, we will have achieved true multiculturalism.

It’s great to see the response to this Web Watch. In our newest First Person article, "'Tis the Season for Teaching Globally," a principal weighs in on the connection between public education and the holidays.

Josh Cohen
Teacher Magazine Editorial Intern

In response to HJ above:

Your requesting reverse discrimination.

It's okay for those of us to not perform what we feel is right because: "....it is worth looking at to be sensitive to the concerns of others...." How about those others looking to be sensitive to the concerns of us? It should work both ways.

My understanding is that there is a fundamental principle that our government is meant to be neutral in the matter of religion. But I worry sometimes that it has become, instead, anti-religion. I don't know how we can teach about our own history, current political issues, and the reality of the bigger world today if we do not also teach--in some depth--about religion...and I do think something as simple as a "holiday concert" that can't acknowledge the holidays from which it springs is emblematic of the problem. I don't think this has anything to do with "majority rule". Sing songs from all religious traditions, and secular ones, too. Let everyone know and celebrate the diverse beliefs and practices that make us the country that we are.

What happened to the days when teachers were allowed to teach values and morals to school children. What I don't understand is how some people can complain about subject matter that teaches about tolerance, love, being good to humanity in general, and not to mention saying the "GOD" word. But yet, it is ok to allow subject matter that uses fowl language, sexual content, witchcraft of all things, and violence, in every facet of media (music, TV, etc.) What are we really teaching our children - good is bad, bad is good. I for one teach my child to be tolerant of others and accept their differences, but I also teach her to stand up for what she believes - and always have faith and trust."The Golden Rule"! I keep a penny taped on my computer monitor to remind me "In God We Trust"... isn't that what our country was built on. And now, poor, little Rudolph is being dragged through the dirt...lol. I agree with "H. Delsigne" above, people are dying all around us from disease or hunger. Should we worry about that instead? Happy Merry Christmas and a Blessed New Year!!!

I am tired of one person being able to violate the other children's rights to sing the song. Do the children who want to sing the song have right's? It is time that people who want to celebrate Christmas, Jesus, Easter, etc. Stand up for your rights to celebrate the birth of Jesus.I refuse to say Happy Holiday's. My words are Merry Christmas because I celebrate the birth of my Savior. If I am denied the right to say Merry Christmas then you have taken away my rights.

As a teacher of music in my public school, I must say that I was deeply disturbed by the fact that the comments of one uncultured, clearly attention starved philistine, would garner such attention and fear. If a parent does not want their child to participate due to religious affiliation, that's fine, but to deny the performance of any piece of music that is considered to be of artistic or historical value (Rudolf fits in the second catagory as one of the best selling country music melodies of all time), is both asenine and dangerous. When select uninformed, untrained, and uncultured individuals begin making decisions about artistic expression (even on a scale such as this), we run the risk of turning into that apocolyptic world of Orwell's 1984, where such individuals were responsible for limiting what the their corner of the world saw and what was considered censored. The role of programing a concert should be up to the lead artistic professional in charge of the ensemble. If a parent objects to having their child participate in Handel's Messiah, or Lauridsen's O Magnum Mysterium, on the grounds of religous issues, they clearly do not care about the musical and artistic education of their child but should be allowed to forbid their child from participating. The beginning of censorship and artistic limitation starts small - as in this case. Thankfully, the situation was averted, but the fact that it was treated with such high attention should be upsetting to all of us who work everyday toward the goal of true musical and artisitic expression for students, community, and world.

Any of you majority rule types taken a civics class? Our country was not founded on majority rule--it's majority rule *AND minority rights.* That's why we have a House of Representatives, where representation is based on population, and a Senate, where every state has 2 representatives.

That said, in our push to appear tolerant and multicultural, our schools have pushed Christmas out the door. The last "winter" concert at my sons' elementary school the children sang a Chanukkah song, a Kwanzaa song, a winter song from Africa but no Christmas carol, unless you count them singing about a "Snowy Night" to the tune of "Silent Night." As I told the only Jewish girl in my high school choir who refused to sing about the crucifixion, "Singing Judas Maccabaeus didn't make me a Jew."

As I write this post an auditorium full of high school students are enjoying a series of stage acts that are drawn primarily from the American Hip-Hop realm. The majority of the inner-city students are young black and Latino Chicagoans. I can clearly hear them through three floors of solid concrete. They are NOT singing anything
about Christmas. This is supposed to be a Holiday talent show. It's very secular and at times borders on the r-rated theme in lyrics, but I guess that's Hip-Hop. Chicago teens have been vicitims of gang violence in rather alarming numbers this 2008 school year. We are very secular. Two Mexican-American girls just ran into my room to report that gang signs were flashed and fights started because the Mexicans wanted to sing a song in Spanish, and the blacks objected to that with booing and gang signs. The concert was paused and in the lull a stern warning was issued to cool it. To be fair, many of these children will sing in church traditional Christian high holiday songs. Realize there won't be many if any blacks inside the Hispanic or Mexican churches and there won't be few to none Mexicans inside the Black churches celebrating the birth of Christ Jesus. Multicultural doesn't always mean we'll get along. Teaching tolerence of all others is an on-going process. Happy Kwanzaa ya all.

As a Music Specialist I've been advised that the whole idea of Christmas songs has all ready been tested in the courts and the courts have stated that as long as Christmas is treated in the context of a cultural and historic rather than religious setting there is nothing wrong with performing them. Every year our Music Supervisor sends out this information so that some paranoid principal won't get upset when we bring them the program. Sorry I can't quote the case law but it's out there.

I work in a public school district. Recently I passed a young student sitting alone in the hallway just outside the door to the music room. I asked him why he was there, and he explained that his religion didn't permit him to participate in the celebration of Christmas, and his class was singing Christmas songs. I asked, "You can't even listen to the songs?" and he said, "I'm not supposed to." (as the sounds of children singing within drifted clearly past the door)

What struck me about this incident was how this child was sent to the hallway, alone and neglected, because he was in "the minority". Does that mean he is not entitled to the same access to educational programs as his peers? Would he have to sit out of Language Arts during the class Christmas party? Would he have to miss out on Art class when they painted Christmas trees? Did anyone consider, even for a second, the educational rights and needs of this child? Why should he have to sit out in the hallway, by himself, with nothing to do ... completely excluded ... just because his parents have raised him with different religious beliefs than those of "the majority"?

This was a striking example of how we can get so consumed by our own beliefs that we fail to consider the needs of those who are a little different. I will never forget that young boy in the hallway. No child should ever have to feel excluded from school like that. All this talk about kids who are disconnected from schools, and how their parents really need to be more involved ... while we, as educators, are shutting doors in their faces. It's time we all took a good, hard look at what it means to be an "educator", and stopped arguing over petty differences.

spb, I'm going to wager the boy was not "sent" to the hall, but went on his own accord. I'm willing to bet it was his choice. Choosing not to participate is a viable option for religion. One that shows tolerance. I applaud him. He did not make a fuss nor try to change the celebration for others, he did not get a lawyer; he chose not to participate. I hope you won't forget him for the right reason. I applaud his parents. They taught him well.

I think we are carrying political correctness way, way too far..the parent was upset because Rudolph mentions CHRISTMAS EVE??? I wonder what they call it? Goodness, what if they had chosen Away in a Manger??? The Christmas program at our school was about as secular as you can get...it was called Santa Goes Green, all about global warming. However, it did mention Christmas. Bottom line, these days someone is going to find something to be offended about. There are also a few children where I work that do not participate in Halloween, or "Character Day" as it is now called..however, they go to the school library where they are given alternative activities, etc.

This topic, and the firestorm of response would be funny if it were not so sad. Some of us have become so immmersed in our own background and sense of rightness that we cannot even see others around who just as fervently believe and practice other things. We go through all kinds of backflips in order to continue to have a concert in December that reinforces the experiences of our memory. Here's a suggestion: move the mid-year concert to January. If that would change the whole character of the "winter" concert, then maybe the content isn't as universal as you have been thinking.

I grew up with elementary school Christmas concerts featuring Silent Night and Adeste Fideles--sung by all (especially the fifth and sixth graders who got to hold the battery-powered candles during the big finale)--including the one or two kids who were Jewish. In Junior High, this would have been laughable because so many more kids were Jewish. The concert was far more "integrated," although still a "holiday" concert. I grew up with an understanding of what it is to be a religious minority.

Even grasping at the isolated Hanukkah song, or inclusion of a Kwanza hymn does not take away from the holiday concert being a Christmas tradition for many. Some are embarrassed and throw in the obligatory options. Others (as above) staunchly defend the practice as either minimally religious but very good (don't we all believe the same thing "underneath?"), or invoke some understanding of majority rule that runs counter to a full understanding of Constitutionality and principles of our country. Yes--I would call Rudolph "Christmassy," although I would not want to include it in a church service. I would also include something like Handel's Messiah as a significant work musically, recognizing a whole lot of other themes that have also inspired great music--as well as other traditions than have inspired other kinds of music. There has always been a close relationship between the secular and the religious (someone knowledgeable could go through a hymnbook and point out the tunes that first made their appearance in bars and saloons).

A parent has cared enough about school to notice what is being taught and show up with questions about it. Rather than viewing this as an opportunity for dialogue, we reach for the rule-book. Can we get a ruling on the religiosity of Rudolph please? This does not change that this family was uncomfortable. Perhaps a better response would have been a more probing conversation. Have there been other sources of discomfort? Are there omissions from the musical content that contribute to the discomfort? What ways can we respond to the discomfort?

These are the kinds of responses that work to build inclusive relationships. Categorizing pieces of music as either acceptable or not doesn't get us there.

Response to spb - This child should have been sent to an area where others who had objections had alternative activities that should be supplied by the educational institution.

Response to Margo/Mom - How about the children who are enjoying the activity? How discomforting would it be to them to not be able to participate because one other person is not comfortable?
We have so many other major issues in this country that we should be focusing on rather than if we should be allowed to sing Christmas songs in our schools. What happens when that child goes to the mall and Christmas Caroles are being blasted on the PA? Does not that same student have the same feelings with all the music and decorations? Let us enjoy the season and remember that none of these activities are being performed in a negative attitude to admonish or degrade anyone else but to celerbrate what most believe - What MOST want to celebrate.

This whole situation is about as silly as silly gets, and this country will be regretting its folly at some point in the future. Our nation has serious problems to deal with and awaiting us on the horizon. This ridiculous selfishness is just part of the equation that is destroying this country from the inside out. We used to do great things and debate great issues; now we do nothing and debate minutia such as whether Rudolph, a fun loving kid's song is religious or not. We no longer make anything in this country, but buy the products of other nations as our corporations outsource in order to pay the CEO a bigger bonus. We have allowed our own infrastructure to deteriorate, while rebuilding the infrastructure of other nations. We allow our own citizens to sicken and die without benefit of healthcare while spending billions on the health of other parts of the world. We over tax our own citizens, while supporting unquestioned, those who have entered our country illegally. We seem to have compassion for the world and yet little for our own people. With all this, and much unmentioned,including world adversaries preparing to test the "metal of the president-elect and a divided nation"; we continue to debate self-centered issues and become ever more divided instead of thinking of the commonwealth of our nation.

I wonder just what this parent or any other atheist tells their children Christmas is all about. Do they give gifts? Of course, those of us who call it Christmas have also made it into a Corporate Fundraising Holiday as we over-spend and give little thought to what the holiday's origin is all about and why we celebrate and refer to it as CHRISTmas. Don't believe me, tell the family there will be no presents this year, you are just going to spend time together giving the gift of love by reflecting the love you have for one another and Jesus Christ...then see how important the secular part of Christmas is to you and your beloved ones.

President Grant declared Christmas a national holiday in an attempt to re-unite a divided nation after the Civil War. Why did he choose Christmas? Because it was a common denominator within our country after a civil war.

Today we have another civil war--a social civil war....

Abraham Lincoln said "America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves."

Looks like he wasn't off the mark with that comment. When only a few people can rule a decision it is no better than a majority over-ruling the minority in absoluteness. There has to be a balance...I think our Founding Fathers called it compromise when they wrote our Constitution!!

Thus, I would suggest some common sense and common courtesy on the part of all!!!

Go Jana !

Merry Christmas

As has been pointed out, this is America - a pluralist society. As such, we need to listen to the majority and the minority opinion. The school acted in the best interest of the parent who raised what she apparently believed was a legitimate complaint. The matter was taken seriously by the school and a decision was made based on reason and deliberation. I applaud the school's administration for dignifying an opinion, even though it was not a majority opinion, but making a decision based on consideration of the facts, on two dissenting points of view, and the beliefs of those in charge. Well done.

When I saw the headline, I thought it was about a devout Christian complaining because Rudolph, Santa Claus, etc., reflect "beliefs" (at least by children) that are not part of the Christian religion.

"Any of you majority rule types taken a civics class? Our country was not founded on majority rule--it's majority rule *AND minority rights.*"
Go Lessa!

rgc, the child or adult who is offended by the Christmas music at the shopping mall has a legal right to leave the mall anytime they choose. Not so at school, short of sitting in the hallway (imagine yourself or your child in that situation), unless the family has the money to buy an alternative education.

As a former Jewish child, I always appreciated the inclusion of a dreidel song. It may be nothing more than lip service, but at least it's that much! And as a Jewish parent, I appreciate when schools and teachers are thoughtful enough to keep the songs focused on the holiday rather than the religion. Personally I consider Rudolph a holiday song and not a religious song.

Finally, what I tell my children depends significantly on what they ask. Lately the questions have been why does the school celebrate Christmas with songs and decorations, but not Hannukah?

I always think it's important to remember that the First Amendment does not create the "separation of church and state" so often spoken of, although this may be a good idea. That quote comes from Thomas Jefferson in a letter intended to protect a Church from the state. What the First Amendment does prohibit is the establishment of a state religion, something that is not likely to happen.

The majority/minority discuss is an interesting one that probably should be done somewhere other than here. I understand that the majority is not only right because it is the majority, but I also know that the minority has no more claim on the truth than the majority.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all!

I am constantly amazed that we can teach about religious holidays from other countries without a single complaint, but Christmas is taboo. Whenever a parent complains about a Christmas activity, I wonder if their child learned about Hannukah or Kwanzaa or some other cultural holiday. Christmas IS part of American culture, whether you celebrate the holiday or not. Also another poster mentioned, as long as the musical selections are chosen for their cultural, historical, or musical significance they may be performed. I assumed all education programs required one to take a class regarding significant cases that affect educators, if not, they should. It might help them deal with parents who seem to be looking for something to complain about. As for the student in the hallway, he should have been given an alternative activity.

I would like to know, that if an educator is hired in the USA to work in an Early Childhood program,they should be able not to deny not to teach USA Social Studies, history of our nation's foundling fathers, such as: Thanksgiving's day and another USA legalized holidays; however due to religious beliefs, teacher did not want students to get involve in holidays such as harvest time, thanksgiving and christmas holiday activities. It should not be discriminating to teach our american rich history with the compliment of the holidays. please let me know. A teacher wants to state that she was fire due to this circumstance. And at no time was she let go for this reason. She did not want the children to participate in the learning areas and allow children to explore in creativity and getting involve in learning and needs help to succeed in their developing social-emotional learning process and get involve in cognitive activities as well as physical activities in their learning process.

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