A few weeks ago I was walking through the “seasonal” section of Target when a little girl grabbed a bright blue and white gift bag and asked her mother, “What’s this?” When her mother answered that it was a gift bag for Chanukah, the puzzled kid asked “What’s Chanukah?”
To her credit, her mother said that it was a Jewish holiday celebrated around the same time as Christmas, rather than the old “It’s the Jewish Christmas” that so many of my Jewish friends absolutely hate. And yet, I was still surprised that her mother wasn’t able to give her the Reader’s Digest version of the Chanukah story that I assumed everyone knew…after all, I learned it in kindergarten, when Miss Laughlin, my very Irish teacher, asked us all to bring in empty paper towel and toilet paper rolls so that we could make a menorah for our bulletin board. Or maybe she could explain, but just didn’t feel like doing it right there in the middle of Target.
Now, the fact that this girl, who was at least 10 years old, didn’t know what Chanukah was, when I knew at age five, got me thinking about the “holiday bubble” that most of us Christians live in. The holiday bubble that some of my Jewish friends complain about, where they know much more about our holidays than we do about theirs.
And then I thought some more, and realized that we all live in holiday bubbles. My Jewish friends may know all about Christmas because they can’t avoid it, but how many of them know anything about any major Islamic holidays? How many of my Islamic friends know anything about any Hindu holidays? How many of my Hindu friends know anything about Kwanzaa?
And how many people have any idea what December 17th was?
Let’s face it, we all live in holiday bubbles where, if we’re part of the mainstream group, we pretty much just know our holidays, and the barest minimum about anyone else’s. And if we’re not part of the mainstream, we know our own religious/cultural holidays as well as those of the prevailing culture.
But not much about anyone else’s.
And that’s perfectly logical and normal.
That little girl and her mother, who knew next to nothing about Chanukah are no more to be disparaged than the Jewish girl and her mother who know next to nothing about Ramadan, or the Muslim boy and his mother who know next to nothing about Divali.
This country is home to so many people from so many different religions and cultures, that unless you’re an anthropologist (or a librarian), it’s next to impossible for any one person to know all there is to know about everyone’s holidays.
So I think we should all cut each other a little slack. I especially think that those of us who are in religions and cultures outside of the American mainstream should cut everyone a little slack, because as I mentioned before, it’s highly likely that they don’t know much about some other culture’s celebrations.
And yet…I wouldn’t be doing my duty, both as a former teacher and a current librarian, if I let that mother, or anyone else just go their own way without taking the time to learn a little something when the subject of someone else’s holiday comes up. So I recommended a book to them.
And to you…I recommend something as simple as just spending a few minutes with Wikipedia. Yes, I know what some people say about it being unreliable because “anyone can edit it”, but my favorite quote about it is “good enough to settle a bar bet, but probably not something you’d want to cite in your dissertation.”
Once again, I’m gonna say that we all live in “holiday bubbles”...or maybe cultural bubbles is the better term. So before you complain about someone from the mainstream getting the information wrong about your celebration, stop to consider just how much you know about the celebrations of the next group over.
And I hope you enjoyed Beethoven’s Birthday!