’Tis the season to be jolly. However, last year at this time, many were not. In December of 2011, a Kris Kringle-clad county election worker showed up at Calabro school for the annual Santa photo-op with the children. A Jewish parent complained about the lack of representation for other holiday symbols, and school officials told Santa to pack up his sleigh.
This sparked debate between parents on the internet, which ultimately caught the attention of CBS and other media.
Other school districts had debated the use of religious and holiday symbols in schools for many years, but it was only last year that the Hoboken Santa tradition was questioned.
“You can’t have 90 percent of decorations for one celebration and only 10 percent for another” – Mark Toback
Last week, Schools Superintendent Dr. Mark Toback said he plans to equally promote all religions and holidays this year.
“It’s important to remember that this was not a school [sponsored] event, it was a PTO event,” Toback said, of last year’s pictures with Santa. In that event, students had to get their permission slips signed, then had their picture taken with Santa Claus for a dollar.
Last year, a debate on the Hoboken Moms’ Group elicited a response from Superintendent Toback in which he encouraged moms to take their children to the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, in order to help children understand the Constitution in everyday life.
“The Santa photo shoot postponement was not as simple as school administrators unceremoniously telling Santa to leave Calabro School,” he wrote in a letter. “Many people have since recognized that the Santa photo shoot is a surprisingly complex situation with legal, educational, religious, and cultural ramifications.”
An article in “Jewish Week” saw the Santa debate as part of a larger picture in Hoboken.
“In the past decade, Hoboken has changed as a wave of redevelopment launched in the late 1980s and 1990s. The resulting economic and ethnic diversification has generated strain between the so-called ‘newcomers’ and ‘born-and-raised’ that some see playing out here over the role of Santa in the public schools.”
During the postponement of Santa, the PTO held a meeting and school administrators sought legal advice on how to best go forward and incorporate other customs.
Ultimately, the traditional format of the photo shoot was updated to include pictures of a menorah to represent Hanukkah and a kinara to represent Kwanzaa.
“Representing one holiday more than another one isn’t fair, even if it’s just in decorations,” Toback said last week. “You can’t have 90 percent of decorations for one celebration and only 10 percent for another.”
Amanda Palasciano may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.