Schools cognizant of religious sensitivity near holidays

Gamut of events lined up in the city; ‘winter’ themes in schools

At a time when governments try to be inclusive in their holiday celebrations, some believe the events are becoming too general and too politically correct. The holidays can sometimes spur controversy over whether symbols like Santa Claus or trees are religion-based and shouldn’t be included in public or educational ceremonies.
The controversy has extended to the private sector as well. This year, Starbucks faced some backlash when their annual holiday cup, which debuted in 1997 with a “jazz theme.” This year’s cup was simply red, without the customary designs like tree ornaments or snowmen. One person made a “Starbucks War on Christmas” viral video that amassed more than 16 million views.
Locally, the controversies have been largely quiet this year so far, although that hasn’t always been the case.
In 2011, the Hoboken school district drew national media attention during a Santa Claus photo event at Calabro School, a traditional fundraiser by a Parent Teacher Organization.

“I work to ensure that the brief timeline of secular celebrations [is] inclusive of diverse cultural practices…” – Christine Johnson
A parent took issue with the fact other traditions were not being represented, noting that Santa Claus is associated with Christianity. St. Nick was sent packing on his sleigh. The school re-scheduled the event to the following week and invited Santa back, but he shared the stage with a menorah (to represent Hanukkah) and a kinara (to represent Kwanzaa). Students were able to pick how they wanted their photo taken.
“Personally, just like other school superintendents and charter school directors, I work to ensure that the brief timeline of secular celebrations [is] inclusive of diverse cultural practices,” said new Hoboken Schools Superintendent Christine Johnson, “and that we understand that sensitivity and tolerance of any family’s beliefs are embraced on a daily basis; not just around holiday times.”
She said she wasn’t aware of any controversy this year, but may broach the matter at her monthly meeting to go over upcoming events with principals.
As for Santa, the superintendent said, “There are no Santa related events sponsored by the schools or the district itself” but, “the district is open to community agencies, churches, recreation, and even NJEA events on weekends.”
While it’s still being decided, Johnson said Calabro and Connors will likely have seasonal pictures for families, but with winter themes. Calabro has an annual Winter Festival, and Brandt is working to get Disney’s Frozen characters to come to the school.
On the college level, this year, the Stevens Institute of Technology termed their tree lighting ceremony a “Holiday Tree Lighting.” It was rained out on Tuesday so they postponed it until Thursday, Dec. 3.

Holidays events lined up

The Hoboken City Hall Holiday Crafts Fair, scheduled for Dec. 5 and Sunday, Dec. 6 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., will include three floors of handmade arts and crafts from local artists.
The fair will offer an array of unique items including jewelry, silk felted and leather bags, hand knitted scarves, shawls, hats, sweaters, and blankets, as well as candles, body products, fresh herbal teas, photography, holiday ornaments, hair accessories, pictures frames, mirrors, stuffed dolls, and fashion good for all ages.
The Green Pear Café will serve sweets and coffee, Jamie Fundinger will wrap gifts, Mrs. Claus will offer face painting and Girl Scout Group Junior Troop 12023 will carol.
The city’s free annual Menorah Lighting will be held Dec. 7 at 6 p.m. at City Hall with music, dancing, artisan goods, and a variety of traditional delicacies.
The event will include a children’s program at 5 p.m. inside City Hall and features magic from Joshua J Supershow, stunts and comedy. Kosher pizza will also be served.
A Chanukah soiree will take place at the W Hotel – at Lulu Bar on Tuesday, Dec. 8 at 7 p.m. for young Jewish professionals, Rabbi Moshe Z. Schapiro said in an announcement.
The next day, the city will host a Christmas tree lighting ceremony on Tuesday, Dec. 8 at 5 p.m. in front of City Hall.
Local school children and performers will sing Christmas tunes with Elvis the Elf MC’ing the event, appearances by two princes from Once Upon a Princess Parties, the Hoboken Fire Department and a visit by Santa Claus.
Apple Montessori Schools will serve hot chocolate and there will be performances from, but not limited to, the Hoboken Cheer Dynamics All Stars, Tiny Team & Mini Team, Hoboken Hip Hop, led by Jenn Eisenberg, Larkin Dancers of Studio L Hoboken, NYC Classical Training, The Hoboken District Select Chorus, The Hoboken District Select Band, Garden Street School of Performing Arts performing Songs from A Hoboken Tale and Junior Girl Scout Troop 12881.
City Hall is located at 94 Washington St. To learn more of the events contact Geri Fallo at 201-420-2207 or by email at

Steven Rodas can be reached at

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