Legend, Falsehood, And Dumbness

The other day a friend of mine fumed to me about an event at her child’s public school. The grade-school teacher had invited a special guest, who came to inform the kiddies about a special treat; she explained that candy canes are white with red stripes to symbolize the wounds of Christ.
Of course, this took place in Alaska… (rim shot).
That’s wrong in so many ways. The idea that an employee of a public school wouldn’t have gotten the message that it’s inappropriate — unconstitutionally inappropriate — to use the public schools to advance a religious agenda stuns me. All the more, however, that someone was passing along the bogus etiology of candy-striped sugar canes, a derivation that smelled suspicious the moment I heard it. Then, on top of all that, my friend was troubled about the idea of filling (secular) children’s imaginations with the notion of Jesus bleeding sacrificially for their sakes. The whole deal compounds civic malpractice with whoppers with questionable child-rearing.
Now, I have this all third hand (“A friend of mine really experienced this”), so since urban legends constitute one motif in this post, I should acknowledge that this story may (in theory; I’m not doubting you, Tealin) itself involve exaggerations or even falsehood. And I like legends; this one just strikes me as a pretty shoddy attempt to press-gang self-indulgence into the service of catechesis.

4 thoughts on “Legend, Falsehood, And Dumbness

  1. There was a story on some NPR show last year on this general subject which affected my quite a bit.

    The focus was on a (Lebanese?) Muslim family living in an East coast suburb. They had a daughter in second grade who was outgoing and quite popular with her schoolmates.

    During the Christmas season the teacher told a similar story about the candy canes, and as part of the discussion said that those who did not believe in Christ were destined for hell. This led quite quickly to this particular young lady being labeled by her classmates as the Muslim outsider.

    Before long she lost every one of her friends and fell into deep depression. Her father, overwhelmed by his inability to do anything to help his daughter also fell into depression. His depression led to him leaving his family.

    The reason it affected me deeply is that I am, on a theoretical level, quite sympathetic to the teacher’s perspective on the exclusive salvific nature of faith in Jesus. But somehow it seems that such a “truth” claim is no longer truth when it is used to hurt someone.

    Anyhow, it’s something I’ve been pondering and discussing with my friends.

  2. Playing devil’s advocate for a moment this libertarian guest says:

    Why not talk about various religions’ beliefs and folkways in a supposedly impartial (not anti-religious) state school?

    I’d never heard that about candy canes and agree it sounds dodgy but if it’s a real legend somewhere in Christendom it deserves equal time with dreidels and latkes, yes?

    (Of course as you know the equal-time stuff for the Festival of Lights gives gentile kids the very wrong view that it’s Jewish Christmas when in fact, outside America, it’s about as important to Jews as the feast of SS. Peter and Paul is to non-church-nerd Christians. I also understand for many American Jews secular Christmas – Santa, Frosty, parties and gifts but no Jesus – IS Jewish Christmas.)

    Saying the red stripes are for the blood of Christ is at worst silly, is no more offensive than teaching children that Mexicans venerate the Virgin of Guadalupe and doesn’t necessarily teach them that non-Christians are going to hell.

    Hope your ‘Winter Light Festival’ (as the Oxford City Council renamed it this time in a fit of PCness) was a happy and holy one, Father. As for me, I tucked into my roast beast, enjoyed my worn-out VHS of The Armadillo That Saved Festivus but got creamed in the Feats of Strength. (And nipped off to Mass of course.) All the best in the new year.

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