January 23, 2014

KLITZMAN: Remembering history for what it is

Robert J. Klitzman
Guest columnist

---- — Years ago one of my doctoral professors introduced me to the term “Recreating History.” In other words, changing what actually did happen to fit today’s (or tomorrow’s) purposes. In my opinion, this concept totally fits what some are trying to do in terms of religion and its place in our country’s history and development. I have been reflecting on how this recreating of history has impacted our celebrations.

I think of the time span of mid-October through early January as the “Holiday Season.” During this time frame, we enjoy a mixture of “civic” as swell as “faith-based” holidays. The term “mixture” may be a bit generous given our country’s roots and the basic, fundamental concepts by which we became a country which were most certainly interwoven with religion.

It is well documented that the United States was founded in large part to allow for freedom of religious expression. The term Judeo-Christian comes to mind! Many of the wonderful holidays we celebrate have religious overtones and actually were started as strictly religious holidays. The civic part came about later.

Halloween has become one of the biggest civic holidays of the year. There are near-record sales for candy and costumes, cards, decorations, etc. This very popular civic holiday has its roots in the religious observance of All Hallow’s Eve which was originally established to recognize and remember the dead, including saints, martyrs, and the faithfully departed believers. Today Halloween is primarily celebrated as a civic holiday. That is OK as long as we understand its religious roots.

Some of my fondest memories of Thanksgiving depict the Pilgrims and Native Americans sharing a meal of thanks, each praying to a Being/Spirit greater than themselves. Were they saying the same prayer? No. Were they expressing the same basic concepts of belief? I have to say yes. Today Thanksgiving is a well observed civic holiday; but, again, don’t forget its roots are faith-based.

The biggest holiday of the entire year is of course Christmas. The Christmas Season, according to the business world, is from mid-October through early January when you include the after-Christmas sales. A lot of money changes hands on this civic holiday. There is no question however that the root of Christmas is totally religious. For Heaven’s sake, just look at the name of the day — CHRISTmas. And don’t worry about those who abbreviate Christmas as Xmas. X is the Greek symbol for Christ, so it all works out.

Here is what it all boils down to. For whatever reason there are individuals and groups who want to recreate history and deny the religious components of our holidays. It appears their goal is to wipe out all reference and connotations of religion in holidays and actually make it illegal to observe the religious part of the holiday. Freedom “of” Religion to them is Freedom “from” Religion. History is history, and we must not allow it to be recreated to mean something other than what it is.

I don’t claim to know what all our founding fathers had in mind years ago, and I certainly do not propose to speak for them; however, based on what some of my great teachers taught me years ago and what I have read over the years, our country was founded with religious overtones and a guarantee set within the plan for religious freedoms. My interpretation is that we were guaranteed freedom of religion, not the establishment of laws against religious freedom. There have been religious references throughout our documents, history, oaths of office, printed on our money for hundreds of years. There is no mention of which religion we must practice nor that we should worry about a lawsuit for expressing a religious concept in public. How can certain groups now say that any reference to religion in a civic setting is illegal? To express a religious concept in school or a civic forum does not mean one religion is promoted over another or that forced conversion to a religion is promoted. Offering a prayer does not require nor mandate that all must take part. If a person has strong convictions against participating in the religious expression contrary to their convictions, they can simply not take part. No harm, no foul! I can’t think of anyone who at times does not have to be tolerant of what someone else is doing that may be contrary to their own beliefs or mindset. That is both our freedom and our obligation.

There have been countless times throughout history at times of great stress, adversity, exhilaration, monumental well-documented times when our fellow Americans have made some reference to the Deity, to some power greater than any one of us. That exemplifies our character, our philosophy of life, our core values, and the very fabric upon which our country was founded.

In recent history our astronauts, while sitting on the moon waiting to take the walk that represented such a great achievement for humankind, took part in religious expression and showed it world-wide. No organization told them it was illegal, nor was anyone forbidden or required to take part. They had the right, the freedom to do this.

Now for the educator coming out of me: In 1968 when Astronauts Bill Anders, Jim Lovell, and Frank Borman circled the moon, what did they read to the entire world?

Parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and friends, it is vitally important that you share the real history of our holidays with the children because, “Kids are Our Future!”

Robert J. Klitzman, Ed.D., is a former superintendent of Eastern Pulaski Community Schools. He can be reached through the newspaper at