What began as one Italian school official's attempts at inclusion ended with a public rebuke from his country's top leader and the official's resignation.
Concerns about a "war on Christmas" have gone global.
It all began when Marco Parma, a 63-year-old Italian headmaster, decided to push his school's annual Christmas concert to January, dropping religious music from the event and renaming it a "winter concert," according to several European publications.
Parma also denied a request from two mothers to teach Christmas carols to students during lunch breaks at the Garofani school near Milan, the Guardian reported.
“Last year we had a Christmas concert and some parents insisted on having carols," Parma reportedly said. "The Muslim children didn’t sing, they just stood there, absolutely rigid. It is not nice watching a child not singing, or worse, being called down from the stage by their parents.”
An estimated one-fifth of the 1,000 students at the school are non-Christian.
Parma's decision sparked a national backlash that spread overseas.
"GUERRA AL NATALE," Breitbart declared.
Parents showed up at the school last week seeking an explanation, the Telegraph newspaper reported from Rome. And several Italian politicians weighed in, too, including Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.
“Christmas is much more important than a headmaster being provocative,” Renzi told Italy's Corriere della Sera, according to translations.
“If he thinks he is promoting integration and coexistence in this way, he appears to me to have made a very big mistake.”
The leader of Italy's right-wing Northern League, Matteo Salvini, described Parma's decision as "a favor for terrorists," according to the Telegraph, and the Catholic newspaper Avvenire called it "a mistaken choice resulting from an excess of laicism and ideology," according to the Associated Press.
Even a Muslim parent of students at the school criticized the move.
"Who are us Muslims to say what can happen at an Italian school? We are guests in this country," Egyptian immigrant Mahmoud el-Kheir said in an interview with Corriere della Sera, translated by the Independent. "I hope the public understand that the decision was not made because of a request by Muslim parents."
In the end, Parma handed in his resignation, though he still defended the decision.
“I believe that respecting the sensitivities of people of different religions or cultures is a step forward towards integration,” the headmaster said, according to the Telegraph. “This is a multiethnic school.”
Barbara Agogliati, the mayor of Rozzano, where the school is located, said she would urge the school to bring the Christmas concert back.