Normally around this time of year, I hear people talk about The War on Christmas. I hate that phrase. I am used to hearing it at work, church, and out and about. In my new surroundings I am less exposed to it, though I still read about it on Facebook from time to time.
As a Christian I believe that this holiday is a celebration of the birth of Christ. I enjoy the celebration, remembering the birth of my Lord and Savior, and rejoicing with other Christians. And I merrily wish my brothers and sisters in faith a heartfelt Merry Christmas.
And the thing is, I haven’t expected people who believe differently to share my sentiments. To some, Christmas is Santa, cookies, and time with family. To some it is nothing. Many don’t celebrate. I have had a hard time with and honestly tried to avoid the people who complain about holiday greetings. People that get angry over why others don’t say Merry Christmas. Or the discussion that taking it out of schools or public places is somehow disrespectful.
This year more than ever I am realizing the lack of thoughtfulness that drives our language, especially with regards to this season. Looking at someone with Muslim faith and happily saying “Eid Mubarak” or a follower of Hinduism and saying “Happy Diwali” doesn’t mean that I believe in the same things, but it is respectful of their culture, beliefs, and joy. And that respect is a product of love.
In my short time here I have had some eye opening experiences. In celebration of National Day, I wore a kandora to school (a semi-traditional dress of sorts). My students seemed confused and asked my co-teacher why I didn’t have my hair wrapped. She quickly (and surprisingly) explained that only Muslim people covered their hair. On a different day, I wore another kandora and a fellow teacher told me I should have worn a more traditional kandora for this particular celebration. It seemed like she was more intent on fixing my behavior than taking into consideration my thought behind wearing the outfit.
Its not a natural for us to think about what another person means. This is something that has to be intentional.
A friend recently told me of her experience in the States as a Muslim parent. Her kids were in the school choir and were singing hymns for a Winter Celebration. She didn’t want to offend anyone or embarrass her kids, so she didn’t say anything. But she said to me, “Why should my kids have to sing hymns in school?” I didn’t have an answer. I do know it is challenging to navigate the relationship of religion and culture, especially as a minority viewpoint. I doubt that the people afraid of losing Christmas in schools thought about her feelings in this matter.
As a Christian I have a duty to love. I want to do that by looking at what people mean instead of making them say the right thing.