10.26.2010

My Un-PC Holiday Statement

My kids are excited about Halloween, as am I. Thankfully, this year, there is no drama. Last year was a little bit tricky because, as we were reminded for the one millionth time, not everyone celebrates Halloween.

Before you start ranting about my cultural insensitivity, let me clarify a few things. I get that not everyone celebrates Halloween. I get that not everyone celebrates Rosh Hashanah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Eid, Easter, Passover, Chinese New Year, Yom Kippur... It is every parent's absolute right to celebrate (or not) the holidays that they believe appropriate for their children. I do not, however, believe that right should extend to crushing other celebrations and holidays so long as they are carried out in a respectful (and that includes voluntary) manner.

The reality is that whether we like it or not, our children spend more time at school during the week than they do at home. They learn about other people and other cultures just as much from their school chums as they do from our parents. I happen to believe that's a good thing.

We don't live in a homogeneous society. One of the things that disturbed me about many of the private schools that we toured was most of the student bodies did not reflect where we live. The City of Philadelphia is made up of all different cultures, ethnicities and religions: that's reflected in the public school that my children attend. This is a logical step for us. My husband and I come from different backgrounds and our extended families are even more diverse. We have attended seder dinners, celebrated Chinese New Year, broken fast over Eid and gone to Christmas mass. Honoring what's important to our friends and family has always been viewed as a positive thing, never a negative.

The funny thing is, these moments of panic that we have as parents, the feeling that somehow our children will be mocked for their beliefs or be driven to hide their own culture, those are moments that we create. Our kids don't feel that way until we make something of it. I realized this recently during a shared dinner at a Chinese restaurant. My daughter ordered her favorite dumpling and offered some to the girl sitting next to her. The girl politely declined, saying, "No, it has pig in it. Muslims don't eat pig." My daughter, not understanding, asked, "Why not?" The little girl shrugged her shoulders and said, "I don't know, we just don't." And that was the end of it. My daughter continued to eat her dumplings and chat and the little girl ate her noodles. No drama.

Contrast that with the school picnic two years earlier when one tray out of about ten happened to have a mix of cheese and meat on it. One parent started shrieking about how it was against her religion to mix meat and cheese together (something which, clearly, not everyone knew). It was uncomfortable for everyone - until one parent (who happened to be the same religion) popped a piece of cheese in her mouth and suggested that she relax.

I don't think that religion or culture has to be in your face to be celebrated or appreciated. I also think that hiding it leads to more insecurities and intolerance, not less.

I am appreciative of my school's attempt to make all cultures, religions and ethnicities feel welcome. I only hope that parents can hold onto the fact that allowing a celebration of someone else's culture or background doesn't diminish their own. There's no need to put others down in an effort to boost yourself up. Our kids are much smarter, much more open minded, much more tolerant than that. Let's not give them a reason to change.

1 comment:

  1. something's not 'kosher' here and it's not the milk and meat on the same tray. if keeping Jewish dietary laws is important to a person, they would only eat foods prepared under reliable kosher supervision or in the kitchen of someone they trusted. to make an issue publicly is not in keeping with any Jewish law that I know of.

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