As a public school division, Winchester Public Schools must be neutral regarding religion, but this neutrality exists in congruence with the division’s responsibility to be sensitive to the needs of individual students and their families so that students are able to practice their beliefs without penalty. Below is a list of the most common religious and/or cultural observances in the division, listed in alphabetical order, as well as helpful resources regarding religion in schools.
Buddhism was founded in Northern India by the Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama. He lived from approximately 566 to 480 B.C. Practitioners follow many different forms of Buddhism, but all traditions are characterized by the tenets of nonviolence, lack of dogma, and tolerance of differences. The most significant holiday in Buddhist communities is Vesak (Buddha Day), which celebrates the birth, enlightenment, and death of the Buddha. The date of this holiday is different in every cultural community, but the celebrations usually occur in May. In 2020, the local date of the holiday is expected to be Sunday,May 30. Talk with your Buddhist families to identify dates of celebration.
Because the civil calendar generally reflects the Western Christian liturgical year, Christian families experience few problems with scheduling.
Advent begins on Sunday, November 29 and ends Thursday, December 24. Some employees and students may observe dietary restrictions during this time. Advent is a time of preparation leading up to Christmas Day on December 25.
On Ash Wednesday,February 17, some employees and students might be absent for at least part of the day.
Throughout Lent, some Christian students and employees will have food restrictions that require alternative menus. (The Nutrition Services director is working with cafeteria managers to identify appropriate alternative selections.)
Holy Week, March 28–April 3, brings special responsibilities for some students, making it impossible for them to complete major assignments or to participate in evening activities or overnight trips. Schools having Christian students will want to avoid scheduling major events on AshWednesday evening, Good Friday (April 2), or on Easter Sunday (April 4).
Eastern Orthodox Christianity
The Eastern Orthodox Christian Church follows the Julian Calendar, rather than the Gregorian Calendar of the Western churches. Most local-area Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas on December 25, but some may observe the holiday on January 7. The Nativity Fast will begin on Sunday, November 15 and end on Thursday, December 24. During this time, Orthodox Christians have dietary restrictions. Orthodox Lent begins on Monday, March 15, and ends on Saturday, May 1. OrthodoxEaster (Holy Pascha) is celebrated on Sunday, May 2. Orthodox Christian students and employees may not be present for school/work on Orthodox Holy Friday, April 30. Please be aware that throughout Lent, Orthodox students and employees honor certain food restrictions and are at times required to attend religious activities in the evenings.
Hinduism is India’s indigenous religious and cultural system, followed today by nearly 1 billion adherents, mostly in India, but with large populations in many other countries. All Hindu denominations share a vast heritage of culture and belief: karma, dharma, reincarnation, all-pervasive Divinity, temple worship, sacraments, manifold Deities, the many yogas, the guru-nishya tradition, and a reliance on the Vedas as scriptural authority. The most important holidays in Hinduism are Diwali (November 12-16, with November 14 as the central night of the festival), Dussehra(October 25), and Holi Day (March 28-29). The exact date of celebration for these holidays can vary in each Hindu community. Students and employees may be absent during these holidays or unable to attend activities after school or work hours.
Important: Please note that the exact dates for Muslim holidays can vary by a day or two and are subject to local sightings of the new moon.
Islam is the complete submission and obedience to Allah (God). The faithful of Islam refer to themselves as Muslims. Every year, Muslims engage in a 30-day, sunup-to-sundown fast called Ramadan (April 13 –May 13, 2021). When Ramadan occurs during the school year, schools and offices can best support fasting students and employees by helping others understand the nature and purpose of fasting, by voicing their own support for the commitment to a goal, and by discouraging those who tease and challenge fasting students’ and employees’ commitment to the discipline. Eid ul Fitr (May 13, 2021) is a festival that celebrates the end of the Ramadan fast. Important Islamic observances that will take place during the school year include Hajj (Annual Pilgrimage to Mecca) from July 28-August 1, 2020, Eid ul-Adha (Festival of Sacrifice) on Friday, July 31, 2020, and the Islamic New Year on Thursday, August 20, 2020. Ashura is an important observance for Shia Muslims and will take place on Monday, August 31, 2020. Mawlid al-Nabi is the celebration of the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday and is observed on Thursday, October 29, 2020. Students and employees may be absent during these observances or unable to attend activities after school or work hours.
Jehovah’s Witnesses are a Christian group who avoid practices that have come down from ancient nature religions as well as celebrations related to earthly governments; practically speaking, that eliminates all the holidays observed by other religious groups and the culture at large. Each year, Jehovah's Witnesses commemorate the Memorial of Jesus' Death. The commemoration of theMemorial of Jesus' Death begins at sundown on Saturday, March 27, 2021. They take very seriously their responsibility to witness to their beliefs, so even the youngest children are taught to refrain from engaging in conventional school celebrations. Some children are permitted to participate in class activities that focus on teaching about celebrations as an integral part of the instructional content. Jehovah’s Witnesses place very high value on education, are eager to support the school, and deeply appreciate ongoing conversation with teachers.
Judaism is an ancient monotheistic religion. The Torah, Midrash, and Talmud are the central texts of the Jewish faith. Jewish holidays begin at sundown of the previous day. In addition to abstinence from work, people of the Jewish faith may observe some of these holidays with fasting, family gatherings, prayer, and attendance at synagogues.
Rosh Hashanah begins at sundown Friday, September 18, and ends at sundown Sunday, September 20. Jewish students and employees will be unavailable for school-related activities on Friday evening and through the weekend. Yom Kippur begins at sundown Sunday, September 27, and ends at sundown Monday,September 28. Jewish students and staff will be absent on Monday. Sukkot (Harvest Festival) begins at sundown Friday, October 2, and ends at sundown Friday,October 9. Students and staff will be absent from school/work activities during the first two and last days (Shemini Atzeret and Simchat TorahonOctober 9-11) of Sukkot. Hanukkah is from December 10-18. Students and staff are generally not absent from school/work for this holiday. Purimbegins at sundown onThursday, February 25and ends at sundown onFriday, February 26. Jewish students and staff may unavailable for evening activities. Pesach (Passover) begins at sundown Saturday, March 27, and ends at sundown Saturday, April 3. Jewish students and staff may be absent from school-/work-related activities during the first two and last two days of Passover. During Passover, dietary requirements can be extensive and make some activities difficult for Jewish students and employees. Shavuot begins at sundown Sunday, May 16 and ends at sundown on Monday, May 17. Some Jewish students and employees may be absent from school-related activities from Sunday evening until Monday evening.
Kwanzaa is an African American and pan-African holiday which celebrates family, community, and culture. It was created in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga, a professor of African Studies. Kwanzaa, a seven-day cultural festival begins December 26 and ends January 1. It joins communitarian values and practices of Continental African and African American culture.
Doctrinally, Seventh-Day Adventists are heirs of the interfaith Millerite movement of the 1840s. Seventh-Day Adventists are Christians who observe Saturday as their Sabbath, which begins at sunset on Friday and ends at sunset on Saturday. Adventists follow certain dietary restrictions that include not eating pork and certain seafoods.
Note: Throughout the school year, members of Jewish and Seventh-Day Adventists families value public education highly and accept the fact that some school events will be scheduled during their Sabbath; however, schools serving Jewish and Seventh-Day Adventist students will want to avoid scheduling major events, such as proms and graduation ceremonies, at any time on Friday evening or on Saturday before 9 p.m.