Criticism after Danish school cancels Christmas to avoid ‘preaching’ to non-Christian children
Parents of local children, education officials and leading Danish politicians have criticized a primary school after it chose to cancel the traditional Christmas service, due to the presence of students of immigrant backgrounds.
"We took the decision because we have children who are not Protestant,” Marianne Vederso Schmidt, the head of Gribskolen in Graested, a town of fewer than 5,000 people in eastern Denmark, wrote in an intranet posting earlier this month.
Schmidt noted that the decision may have been overdue, as the education law forbids preaching “and it must be left to the individual families whether they want to privately attend a service.”
Ten parents complained to the primary school, and the story was immediately picked up by national media, which speculated that the move was aimed at appeasing the sensitivities of Muslim students. Some accused Gribskolen of double standards, considering that last year it staged a 'Syria Week' in which Danish children immersed themselves in Middle Eastern culture, and were given lessons by immigrants.
“I don’t see why our tradition has to be taken away from us, just because someone else at the school believes in something else,” Mette Brüel-Holler, a parent of two enrolled daughters, told TV2. “I come from a small community, where the church is important, and these traditions are beautiful. I remember enjoying them myself as a child, and they are a fundamental part of Christmas.”
The cancellation has also been condemned by the local church pastor, who was due to perform the service and complained that Christmas was being “drained of its deeper meaning” and the mayor of the Zeeland town, who called it a “misguided decision.”
Politicians from across the ruling center-right coalition have joined in the chorus of criticism.
“Danish primary schools have a duty to spread education – and teaching the cultural values and knowledge connected to Christmas is an essential part of that,” Health Minister Ellen Trane Norby wrote on her Facebook page. “What benefits from this decision? Not the culture or level of integration within the country.”
“We have a critical lack of self-esteem. We are a Christian country with our own traditions. We should not sacrifice this in the name of multiculturalism,” wrote Marie Krarup, of the Danish People's Party, asking social media users whether similar initiatives had been undertaken by other institutions.
The chairman of the School Leaders Association, Claus Hjortdal, has said that there is no provision that there must be a church service at Christmas at the end of term, and pointed out that many schools do not have one at all.
Meanwhile, the local school board has called an emergency meeting for the upcoming Thursday, where a compromise may be suggested. The board pointed out to the media that they have no means of forcing Gribskolen into a decision.
The most famous native of Graested, current Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen, who himself attended Gribskolen as a child, waded into the debate when he took to Facebook to plead with his alma mater for a “re-do.”