All I Want for the Holidays… is Pluralism!
When I was in second grade, a classmate’s mother handmade Christmas stockings for every student and hung them on shelves near our desks. There were two stockings too many to fit the shelf space, so they were put up against the wall on the other side of the room, disconnected from the rest of their brethren stockings. And in that little corner of the classroom, next those two lonely stockings, were three sad little Hanukkah bags. To add a level of irony, the school I went to was the American School in Japan. In a country where American Christians are in the minority, it was considered acceptable to sideline my religion.
I recall this memory often this time of year, when the world explodes in holiday cheer, and we all try to draw reasonable and respectful balances between the many expressions of faith and non-faith. This issue, broadly known as the “December Dilemma,” affects children in school, employees at businesses large and small, government functions and daily activities like watching TV (think of how many holiday-themed commercials you’ve seen since Thanksgiving).
As a country dedicated to the separation of church and state and religious pluralism, we often struggle to draw the line between appropriate representations of the majority and the minority. Over the course of the past few weeks, we have been following different efforts to reconcile all of these important questions. If we as a national and international community are committed to celebrating religious freedom and religious pluralism throughout the year, we should amplify that support in the month when it can be hardest, not just the easy eleven.
- What is the place of Santa and other religion-specific holiday figures in our public schools?
- Guantanamo Bay has been in the news as the NDAA was debated but who knew sectarian holiday decorations on a military base would also garner coverage?
- Lawmakers in Oklahoma are advocating for legislation that promotes greater presence of Christmas in public schools.
- 46% of Americans prefer to be greeted with “Happy Holidays” in stores over the holiday season, according to the Pew Research Center (This sentiment was also confirmed by the Public Religion Research Institute).
There is nothing simple or easy about feeling marginalized in political, social, or cultural life because of your religion. Treat others the way you would want to be treated. Elementary school kids learn this lesson, but it is just as relevant no matter what your age may be. And it would have made a world of difference in my second grade classroom.