A Massachusetts school system voted Monday to adopt the name "holiday break" for its vacation that includes Christmas Day, a move that exposed tension between those who want to maintain tradition and those who want to emphasize inclusiveness.
By a 3-to-2 vote, the Marshfield School Committee upheld a September decision to make the name change for the vacation that this year begins Dec. 24 and lasts until after New Year's Day. However, the word "Christmas" will remain on the official school calendar for Dec. 25.
Marshfield certainly isn't the first school district to alter the name of its December vacation. And for a number of years, a broader debate has surfaced around now about usage of "holiday" and "Christmas."
Earlier this month, in Maryland, the Board of Education for Montgomery County Public Schools voted to remove any reference to religious holidays – such as Christmas or Yom Kippur – from next school year's calendar, a local NBC affiliate reported. The move stemmed from the fact that district schools are closed for Jewish holidays but not for Muslim ones.
In Marshfield, a predominantly Irish Catholic town of about 25,000 people, anticipation of the vote Monday elicited both support and opposition. A "pro-Noel" petition, supporting the Christmas label, collected more than 4,245 signatures prior to the school committee's meeting.
Committee chair Marti Morrison, who spearheaded the name change, said she still "loves Christmas" but wants to ensure that students are aware of differences.
"Supposedly our whole country is based on religious freedom," Ms. Morrison said, according to the Boston Herald. "I certainly appreciate when people feel very strongly about their religious background, but as a school committee member, my job is to make decisions I believe are in the best interest of our town."
Before the vote, dozens of residents spoke, including teachers, religious leaders, parents, and high school students, The Patriot Ledger of Quincy, Mass., reported. Those in favor of the change noted that it reflects a sense of inclusivity and diversity in the community. Those opposed said the vacation is timed for the federal holiday of Christmas, which promotes a message of peace, regardless of whether individuals may celebrate it.
Resident Elaine Taylor, who submitted a petition earlier this month asking the school committee to consider reversing its Sept. 9 vote, opened the public comments by discussing the historical elements of Christianity in the town.
"Christmas is the celebration of the birth of a baby, a message of peace.... Does that offend you? Does the birth of a baby offend you?" she asked, according to The Patriot Ledger. "Christmas is significant. It's what the people of Marshfield want on their calendar."
Conversely, town resident Anna Baker, who is Jewish, expressed support for the change and said it is important to embrace diversity.
"We live in an increasingly diverse world," she said, according to The Patriot Ledger. "To me, (the change) says Marshfield not only celebrates but embraces all of our differences."
Marshfield has not always had "Christmas" in the name of this vacation. Prior to 2007, it was called "holiday vacation break." But attorney Dennis Scollins, the school committee's longest-serving member and one of the two dissenters on Monday's name change, led the movement to put Christmas back into the vacation's title seven years ago, the Boston Herald said.
• Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.