Navigating the “Holiday Season”: Observations and Perspectives

December has sprung and the “holiday season” has begun. Or was it Thanksgiving or Halloween? No matter the start, what is clear is that the concept of the “holiday season” has evolved in the United States. Is it because of political correctness, an actual change in the dominant culture about their meaning, or something else? For unknown reasons, the Christmas and New Year’s holidays have become increasingly secular in terms of religion.

I have noticed that in my lifetime, December holidays have become more of an American holiday that people of many faiths practice without having any religious connotation. Everyone wants to have a tree, take a picture with Santa Claus and open presents. A few non-Christian countries also have people celebrating Christmas too. Once what was a time for Christians to celebrate Christmas and New Year has become a generic holiday cheer. Although the behaviors of Christmas and New Year continue like the Christmas tree, Santa Claus, mistletoe and ringing in the New Year at midnight.

I also have noticed that Christians don’t say Merry Christmas in public anymore like I heard growing up and even into the 1990’s. What happened? Has it been the rise of Hanukah, the Winter Solstice celebration and Kwanza that influenced a change? Political correctness or what? Who is offending whom? Was it the retailers, consumerism, the rise of religious harassment laws designed to keep out the Christmas tree because we won’t allow a menorah? Has December become tit for tat by throwing out the religious baby out with the bath water as it were? Let’s not speak of religion for fear offending people?

Another thing I have noticed is the rise of the holiday cheer, the holiday season, etc. language in public and in the media. For example, starting after Thanksgiving we begin to hear “We are in the holiday spirit or in the holiday season”. And then you only hear Christmas songs and see Christmas themed messages. If holiday season is indeed meant to include the Jewish Faith and African American religious traditions why not include their songs and traditions too?

There is also the “holiday party” issue. Some companies, institutions and organizations host parties that include the sharing of gifts, holiday food, holiday decorations and/or Secret Santa activities in December. They are called winter luncheons, winter parties or just plain holiday parties. Should employers host these activities? These activities are challenging if one practices a different faith. It can also be interpreted that the company is putting pressure on their non-Christian employees to participate or the employee may be seen as a Grinch who stole Christmas if they don’t.

Could reviewing religious statistics shed light on this change? According to two researchers Pew and Gallup we have more religious diversity than ever before. A summary table includes:

Christian Other Religions No Affiliations
PEW (2007) 78.4% 4.7% 16.1%
Gallup (2012) 77% 5% 18%


The most interesting finding is that there is increasing diversity within all groups. In fact, the no affiliation group, under 30 age group, is the most diverse of all and has no interest in finding a religion! This group keeps growing. The Harvard Pluralism Project delves deeper into the diversity. They state that 6% (17 million people) of the United States practice what they call a diverse religious tradition. This group continues to grow as well. Overall the data indicates that change is occurring in the religious sphere in this country and may be playing a small part in the change of meanings.

In the spirit of the “holiday spirit”, I asked my friends of many faiths or not to weigh in how they interpret the holiday season.  I won’t identify the belief or non-belief orientations of my friends. Some of my friends didn’t realize there was an issue. Some are offended by the “holiday Season” terminology and believe Christ has been taken out of Christmas. In fact, a few believe that thought comes from the elder generation. Their children no longer associate Christianity with Christmas. Others believe that once this holiday season ends, there simply isn’t any interest in the other religious holidays. The holiday spirit drops off the map. One person said that her parents told her she couldn’t say Merry Christmas because it offended people.

Some have told me to get over it because they believe these holidays have morphed into American holidays and are not seen as religious.  They have become secular holidays. Some are offended when others assume that everyone has a holiday in December.

So what is a person to do in this “holiday season”? A thought is to embrace it no matter one’s belief or non-belief. I say, enjoy it if it is your tradition and welcome that others may have another belief. Employers could consider an inclusive method of figuring out how to celebrate the holidays of their employees. I learned from educators that they purchase a diversity calendar and highlight the holidays of their students in a spirit of celebrating diversity and inclusivity throughout the year. Another thought is to be grateful that we have freedom to believe or not to believe. Many countries do not allow freedom to think or believe outside the dominant belief or practice. That is a lot to be thankful for this holiday season.

Maybe this is what a country looks like as it is learning to get along religiously. There isn’t a text book on how we are supposed to behave. A thought to consider this holiday season, welcome everyone from their religious or non-faith tradition as they celebrate their holidays. Pay attention to all the days of the year as our friends and co-workers celebrate their days with genuine interest. Be curious. When someone says Merry Christmas, Merry Winter Solstice or Happy Hanukkah avoid being offended. One of my favorite quotes offers a perspective of inclusivity:

O people! Consort with the followers of all religions in a spirit of friendliness and fellowship. This will be helpful as this country achieves more and more complexity with religion and the people not affiliated with a religion.

The First Flute Meets a Suburban High School: Interview with Kevin Locke

Kevin Locke

What if you were the last person on earth that knew one special tradition? What would you do?  Would you have the courage to speak up and take a stand or would you step aside and let it die?

I know someone who had to make that decision and is spending his life standing for a tradition that no longer exists anywhere on the planet. That person is Kevin Locke and the tradition is the Dakota/Lakota flute. Kevin is committed to ensure that the Dakota flute tradition will flourish for future generations. Listen here for a sample of Kevin’s talent.

Kevin is a hoop dancer and award winning indigenous flutist who has traveled to over 93 countries as a cultural ambassador of Dakota traditions. He has a vision called the First Flute to educate students on the traditional finger patterns and musicology of the Dakota flute. Kevin is a national treasure who serves as an example by tirelessly working to keep a global treasure alive for all of us.

He is a master traditional artist who has made major contributions to preserve the traditions and cultural diversity of the United States. Specifically he has taken the time to meet with elder flutists when he was young to learn the songs, record them, perform them across the planet and is now taking the next step of preservation.

So what is the first flute and what is Kevin’s vision for preservation?

Kevin, what is the first flute?

It is the title of a workshop I created that emphasizes the universality of the flute. Wherever you go on the planet, everyone has one. I also share a definition on my website.

What is your vision of sharing indigenous flute music in America?

The flute is a great entre. The American Indian musical esthetic is so unknown in the world, especially the US and so we can use the flute to educate people.

So what do you do in schools with the first flute?

Students can make their own flutes so they can internalize and familiarize themselves with a type of music that otherwise they might see as foreign or exotic. They also then take ownership. Students learn the notes and the Indian musical scale and then move on to basic melodies. Soon they can play any style song. The first flute program builds capacity and to play authentic indigenous songs in concerts.

Kevin with BandKevin with Wind EnsembleRecently, Kevin brought the First Flute program to Eden Prairie High School in Minnesota. It is a Minneapolis suburban high school with about 3,000 students, 35% of which are students of color and .06% are native. The school created an opportunity to test the first flute project to great success. At first glance, one might think that that type of school would not fit the profile of teaching students indigenous music. Also, we might believe that indigenous music only for native people only and should only go to the native schools. Actually both are important and need to be nurtured. Let’s find out why.

The benefit for non-native students is to learn an authentic musical style is that it interrupts stereotypes they may hold about indigenous people and opens them to a whole new world of music.

The benefit for native students is that they also learn about a tradition that has been lost to them and it is a vehicle for them to connect to their native language. Specifically in the case of The First Flute curriculum, students learn the Lakota language through playing the flute. It is an ingenious method of revitalizing the Lakota language.

School music programs all across the country play music that is cited as “Native American” music and teachers, rightfully so, believe them to be authentic. They look professional, printed in a book or a website and state it is a native song. Many however, are composed by European American composers “inspired” by native music like the “Ojibwe Love Song” and the like.  They are not authentic. The first flute project counteracts that use by providing authentic curriculum and music for schools.

Kevin, what is your biggest take away for this project at Eden Prairie?

The main thing is how much interest the students had for playing the flute and then to realize there is no limit to what they can learn.

What are your next steps?

First I need to finalize the curriculum. There is also interest in sharing Dakota songs for school choirs. My main goal is to continue to use the First Flute as a springboard for keeping indigenous music alive and well.

Thank you Kevin for taking the time to share with us. Also, for opening our hearts and minds to how we can from you to be a steward of our great cultural resources such as the indigenous flute. The First Flute at Eden Prairie High School is an example of many cultures coming together in a common love of the flute. It is important to make indigenous music to be at the forefront of American music because it is the first music of this country. Why shouldn’t everyone take pride in the beautiful cultures that make up America?