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 2023, the local date of the holiday is expected to be Friday, May 5. Talk with your Buddhist families to identify dates of celebration.
The civil calendar generally reflects the Western Christian liturgical year, resulting in Christian families experiencing few scheduling conflicts.
Advent begins on November 27 and ends 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 22, some employees and students might be absent for at least part of the day.
Some Christian students and employees, throughout Lent, will have food restrictions that require alternative menus. (The Nutrition Services director is working with cafeteria managers to identify appropriate alternative selections.)
Holy Week, April 2 – April 8, 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 7), or on Easter Sunday (April 9).
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 7-9. The Nativity Fast will begin on November 28 and end on January 6. During this time, Orthodox Christians have dietary restrictions. Orthodox Lent begins on February 27 and ends on April 15. OrthodoxEaster (Holy Pascha) is celebrated on April 16. Orthodox Christian students and employees may not be present for school/work on Orthodox Holy Friday, April 14. 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 (October 23-27, with October 24 as the central night of the festival), Dussehra (October 5), and Holi Day (March 8). 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 (March 22 – April 21). 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 al-Fitr (April 22) 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 June 26 – July 1, Eid ul-Adha (Festival of Sacrifice) on June 28, and the Islamic New Year on July 18-19. Ashura is an important observance for Shia Muslims and will take place on August 7-8. Mawlid al-Nabi is the celebration of the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday and is observed on October 8. 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 April 4. 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 conversations 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 September 25, and ends at sundown September 27. Jewish students and employees will be unavailable for school-related activities. Yom Kippur begins at sundown October 4, and ends at sundown October 5. Jewish students and staff will be unavailable for school-related activities on Wednesday evening and absent on Thursday. Sukkot (Harvest Festival) begins at sundown October 9,and ends at sundown October 16. Students and staff will be absent from school/work activities during the first two and last days (Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah on October 16-18) of Sukkot. Hanukkah is from December 19-26. Students and staff are generally not absent from school/work for this holiday. Purim begins at sundown on March 6 and ends at sundown on March 7. Jewish students and staff may be unavailable for evening activities. Pesach (Passover) begins at sundown April 5 and ends at sundown April 13. 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 May 25 and ends at sundown on May 27. Some Jewish students and employees may be absent from school-related activities.
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 seafood.
Note: Throughout the school year, members of Jewish and Seventh-Day Adventist 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.