A diary aimed at promoting Europe and its institutions in high schools is spreading controversy instead. After complaints from the governments of Poland and Italy, France has now officially criticized the complete lack of Christian references in the booklet, despite the listing of various Jewish, Hindu, Sikh and Muslim holidays.
"This omission shows that Europe does not accept its Christian roots and in doing so it's disowning itself," said European Affairs Minister Laurent Wauquiez of France. "We shouldn't be ashamed of Europe's churches, which are part of its identity. It didn't have to mention religious holidays. But if it does, then it should do so thoroughly."
Some 3.2 million diaries, which have been published by the European Commission for the past seven years, were sent out across Europe. "This diary is sent to the schools and the teachers who request it," says the Commission.
On the pages, footnotes guide students throughout the year, marking some key dates: International Women's Day – March 8; Valentine's Day – February 14; Halloween – October 31; European Day – May 9… Ramadan is in September and the Sikh and Hindu festival of lights is on November 5. The year is also marked up with riddles and quotes. For December 24, students get a little trivia: "The first public Christmas tree was set up in the central square of the Estonian capital Tallinn in 1441."
In the French version of the booklet, Easter, Pentecost and Ascension are not listed. Seeing the controversy it created in Poland and Italy, the Commission admitted to a "blunder" in December and apologized. "The authors assumed that all Europeans kids knew about Christmas," explains Commission spokesman Frederic Vincent, adding that a letter "recognizing the mistake" would be sent to all the schools involved.
A corrective page, listing all national holidays, will be inserted in the booklets. An investigation is ongoing to determine where the mistake was made in the chain of decision. The diary is created by a Brussels-based foundation, but validated by the Commission.
"Forgetting Christmas could alienate hundreds of millions of Christians and further deepen the current euroskepticism," says Johanna Touzel, the spokeswoman for the Commission of the Bishops' Conferences of the European Community. She believes this latest incident is part of a more general trend. "Today, holiday cards also avoid any reference to Christmas."
The Commission's educational choices are also put into question. "In this diary, there is not that much talk about Europe," says Wauquiez. "They mention Gandhi, the introduction of tomatoes in Peru, and Antarctica. Don't we have a culture, a history, common memories that are important enough to be emphasized? We'll have to think about that."
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