Is Santa coming to town…again?
Schools hope to avoid last year’s controversial Christmas at Calabro
by Amanda Palasciano
Reporter staff writer
Dec 02, 2012 | 4683 views | 2 2 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
HAPPY HOLIDAYS – Will Santa cause controversy in the Hoboken schools this year?
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’Tis the season to be jolly. However, last year at this time, many were not. In December of 2011, a Kris Kringle-clad county election worker showed up at Calabro school for the annual Santa photo-op with the children. A Jewish parent complained about the lack of representation for other holiday symbols, and school officials told Santa to pack up his sleigh.

This sparked debate between parents on the internet, which ultimately caught the attention of CBS and other media.

Other school districts had debated the use of religious and holiday symbols in schools for many years, but it was only last year that the Hoboken Santa tradition was questioned.
“You can’t have 90 percent of decorations for one celebration and only 10 percent for another” – Mark Toback
School administrators eventually invited Santa back to Calabro, but the jolly man shared the limelight with other holiday symbols, like a menorah for Hannukah.

Last week, Schools Superintendent Dr. Mark Toback said he plans to equally promote all religions and holidays this year.

“It’s important to remember that this was not a school [sponsored] event, it was a PTO event,” Toback said, of last year’s pictures with Santa. In that event, students had to get their permission slips signed, then had their picture taken with Santa Claus for a dollar.

Last year, a debate on the Hoboken Moms’ Group elicited a response from Superintendent Toback in which he encouraged moms to take their children to the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, in order to help children understand the Constitution in everyday life.

“The Santa photo shoot postponement was not as simple as school administrators unceremoniously telling Santa to leave Calabro School,” he wrote in a letter. “Many people have since recognized that the Santa photo shoot is a surprisingly complex situation with legal, educational, religious, and cultural ramifications.”

An article in “Jewish Week” saw the Santa debate as part of a larger picture in Hoboken.

“In the past decade, Hoboken has changed as a wave of redevelopment launched in the late 1980s and 1990s. The resulting economic and ethnic diversification has generated strain between the so-called ‘newcomers’ and ‘born-and-raised’ that some see playing out here over the role of Santa in the public schools.”

During the postponement of Santa, the PTO held a meeting and school administrators sought legal advice on how to best go forward and incorporate other customs.

Ultimately, the traditional format of the photo shoot was updated to include pictures of a menorah to represent Hanukkah and a kinara to represent Kwanzaa.

“Representing one holiday more than another one isn’t fair, even if it’s just in decorations,” Toback said last week. “You can’t have 90 percent of decorations for one celebration and only 10 percent for another.”

Amanda Palasciano may be reached at

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December 04, 2012
Come on people! First of all, since when is Santa part of a religion? Second, not everyone celebrates Halloween, Thanksgiving, Valentine's Day, and Easter but the city still acknowledges it! There are more pressing societal issues than SANTA CLAUS! Personally, if I want my faith included in something, I volunteer to help rather than exclude someone else because mine isn't present.
December 02, 2012
Was it really necessary for the Reporter to reopen this particular fight before christmas even gets underway? The fight, last year, was particularly nasty and should be left to die. And let's be clear: this wasn't about "new" Hoboken vs. "old" Hoboken. This was the same fight that happens all over the country at this time of alleged "peace and love." i.e., my religion trumps your religion. the compromise of Santa plus a menorah or a kinara was falactious. What static object can challenge the Coca cola Santa in a young child's eyes? No matter what, children of minority cultures feel the pressure of commercialism and the "gimmee" culture, at this time of year. especially, this year, when Hoboken has been hit so hard by Hurricane sandy, wouldn't it be better to teach our children the real meaning of all these holidays and the hallmark of every true religion: charity and giving to those who have less. every culture, every religious practice focuses on welcoming the stranger, giving (anonymous) charity, and helping those who have less than we do. If we can start teaching children these principles of all religious practice, we could retire the religious war and make a difference in our community and world. Remember that change in the world begins with change in the individual. I wish everyone happy holidays. I beg everyone not to revive this particularly vile fight in our community.