Yesterday, I dropped Benjamin off at school, and was delighted to see that part of his classroom had been decorated for the holidays. The corner of the room usually decorated as a grocery store was decked out, instead, as a Christmas market. There were evergreen boughs, ornaments and other festive decorations.
It was very cute, and B took me over to check it out. I looked it over appreciatively, gave him a hug and a kiss, and went to leave. Standing by the door, slipping my shoes back on, I overheard the teacher correcting the students who had mistaken the hat she was holding as the Pope’s, when, it was, in fact, apparently St. Nicholas’.
Wait . . . what?
It wasn’t until that moment that I realized I hadn’t been looking at “holiday” decorations, I’d been looking at Christmas decorations. And, coming on the heels of B telling my mother on Skype last week that baby Jesus died, “but not when he was a baby”, I had the startling revelation that my child has effectively been attending a Catholic school for over a year.
And I hadn’t noticed.
Austria is a very Catholic country, and they don’t have separation of church and state. So, this shouldn’t have been surprising to me, and it certainly shouldn’t have taken me so long to realize it — I’ve been learning about, and celebrating, St. Nicholas and St. Martin, right along with B, all this time.
It doesn’t bother me at all. In fact, it seems pretty apropos of living in Vienna. I grew up Catholic, and although I don’t consider myself as part of any particular religion these days, my spiritual beliefs are pretty compatible with the kinder aspects of Christianity. Besides, he so far seems to have been exposed to some pretty good information — principally about St. Martin, St. Nicholas and Christmas. Sounds good to me.
But, coming from the US, where separation of church and state is held nearly as sacred (ha ha), the teaching of anything religious would simply NOT happen in a state-run preschool (or, if it did, all hell would break loose — ha ha again).
It’s another one of those things — and we’ve encountered many of them — that we just didn’t see coming because it’s so far outside of our idea about the way things work. Living abroad is an endless lesson in breaking down assumptions and revealing different possibilities. This one just caught me completely by surprise — and it took nearly 15 months for me to even see it.