The Children’s Museum of Manhattan likes to honor the holidays of Hispanics, Jews, Muslims and African Americans, but not of Christians.
For example, in October the museum featured Hispanic Heritage Month, as well as aRamadan in New York City Festival; the latter event meant that children were read stories about Islamic traditions. But there were no Columbus Day events for the city’s Italian Catholic community.
In November, there was an Eid in New York City Festival for Muslims, but Christians got nothing for Thanksgiving. Jewish and African-American holidays will be celebrated in December when the museum honors Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. But there will be nothing for Christians at Christmas. Well, not quite: there will be a “Festive Fruity Fondue.” For the uninformed, this means the kids will learn how to melt chocolate fondue berries sprinkled with shredded coconut.
The following exchange of letters says it all.
October 26, 2005
Dear Dr. Donohue:
I am in receipt of your fax of October 25, 2005 regarding the programs of the Children’s Museum of Manhattan.
The museum provides extensive programming about many different traditions, cultures and faiths for an extraordinary diverse audience. Please allow me to inform you about some of the programs past, present and future of which you are clearly not aware.
For example, people of all backgrounds and faiths will enjoy the upcoming a capella performance of traditional Christmas music at the Museum on December 30. On January 16, visitors will enjoy a lively performance by the Harlem Gospel Choir, and two days of Easter programming will take place on April 14 and 15. In addition, I am sure you would have enjoyed the two-day Easter basket making workshop last Easter and our celebration of St. Patrick’s Day with the Marie Moore School of Irish Dancing (who also performed at out annual benefit last May). Last Christmas visitors to the Museum had a lot of fun making Christmas Ornaments and Gingerbread Houses.
Further, it is disappointing that you had not read our information more carefully. You lead your press release with “Fruity Fondue for Christmas,” a misleading and unfortunate characterization of an important program series at the Museum. As you are no doubt aware, there is a serious issue among the youth of today in regard to obesity. This program is part of a larger “Healthy Living Series” (clearly so delineated in the brochure), and the activity suggests healthy treats during the holiday season. This is a response to many families who have asked us to help suggest alternatives to the unhealthy treats available at holiday time.
Finally, many of our programs allow visitors to express their own religious traditions in open ended workshops where they make cards or create other artwork with themes that bespeak of their own family holidays and traditions. We find that this allows for free expression and for parents to work with their own children to celebrate their holidays.
It would be appropriate and kindly for you to update the information on your website to let your readers know the full and accurate story.
Andrew S. Ackerman
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October 26, 2005
Dear Mr. Ackerman:
Thank you for your speedy reply to my letter that was faxed to you yesterday.
Your website lists only events for the last quarter of this year, so I cannot pass judgment on what might have happened prior to this time or what might be planned for next year. But from what you have said, the Harlem Gospel Choir scheduled for January 16 seems appropriate: that is the day when the nation will honor Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Honoring African Americans, however, is not something I contested: the museum does that very well.
You do not say what will happen during the two days of Easter programming, but if it is anything like this year’s event—when for two days the kids learned how to make Easter baskets—then this would hardly relieve my concerns. (The Irish dancers that performed for St. Patrick’s Day are not an issue.)
My principal concern, of course, is that children learned “stories about Islamic traditions” at the start of Ramadan and on Hanukkah they will learn songs “that celebrate the traditions of the holiday,” but for Christmas there is no such analogue. To be explicit, why aren’t the children, especially those who are not Christian, learning about the meaning of Christmas as understood by Christians?
Having an “a capella performance of traditional Christmas music” the day before New Year’s Eve is nice, albeit belated (and does “traditional Christmas music” include songs like “Silent Night,” or just ones like “Frosty the Snowman”?). Matters are made even worse when the Christmas concert is renamed the “Winter Wonderland Holiday Singers” performance, thus sanitizing the religious meaning of Christmas even further. More important, citing this event misses the point about the lack of an instructional element to Christmas.
As for your comment on “Fruity Fondue for Christmas,” it’s wonderful to learn that you are worried about obesity in children. But that doesn’t get to the issue I am raising: Why is Christmas being dumbed down when Muslim and Jewish religious holidays are being treated as a learning opportunity?
Finally, why is the fondue made of chocolate? Chocolate is loaded with sugar and there is a direct link between sugar and obesity.