Oslo area mum Karianne Haug told Aftenposten that she could scarcely believe her own eyes when her child came home from Lesterud School in the western suburban municipality of Bærum with a slip asking permission to let her child sing and dance around the Christmas tree.
“It's fine to ask [for one's child] to be exempt from the religious service, that has worked fine for years, but to have to check off permission to dance around the Christmas tree? What will be next? Where is the limit for how many considerations we should take? Who makes these considerations, and for whom?” she said.
School official Gry Hovland said that several area schools have for several years had a joint set of rules for which types of activities kids can participate in. She said the guidelines are based upon recommendations from the Norwegian Directorate for Education and Training (Utdanningsdirektoratet), which references a European Court of Human Rights decision a few years ago that recommends schools be “especially cautious” about religious activities amongst young students.
“We interpret going around the Christmas tree, which includes singing Christian songs, as an event that tends toward religious content. We want to protect ourselves and not cross any boundaries. That's why we ask parents and guardians to give permission to go around the Christmas tree,” she told Aftenposten.
She said that very few students opt out of the ritual, while more parents opt to not let their children participate in the religious service.
Loveleen Brenna, who heads a consultancy firm focused on diversity in the workplace, told Aftenposten that while she is sure the school had the best intentions, the Christmas tree exemption was misguided.
“One must be careful not to wipe out part of the cultural foundation in Norway under the guise of respect for diversity,” she warned.
That sentiment was echoed by concerned mum Haug.
“Norwegian traditions are important, that's how I see it. We live in a society with rapid changes and families that are splitting up. Traditions help to protect our children. I think it creates a problem if all students, regardless of their believes, can't gather around the Christmas tree – how harmful can it be?” she asked Aftenposten.