Christmas is a magical time…cookies, reindeer, mistletoe, and please please please don’t forget the presents under the tree. As Americans, we are so caught up in the holiness and sparkle of the Christmas season that we simply don’t realize that for many non-Christians in the United States, and especially for many recent immigrants, the festivities surrounding Christmas are a means of solidifying their American dream. Many non-Christian immigrants use the secular magic of the holiday season to bond with their friends, neighbors and co-workers making assimilation easier for themselves and more so for their children. Remember the “Holy Day” aspects of the season aren’t celebrated, but the festivities surrounding it are.
Exact Christmas customs practiced by Muslims, Sheikhs, Buddhists, Hindus and other non-Christians living in the Unites States are rarely documented. Documentation is difficult because as Americans we treasure and promote what we have come to understand Christmas to mean in the United States, and as such, deviations from that norm, for the time being, are outside of the sphere of our imagination and thus interest. Documentation is further complicated because many newcomers fear backlash from their individual communities and religious leaders. However, irrespective of how the festivities are played out, it should be heartwarming not only to Americans, but to the world, that these newcomers are joyfully celebrating because they want to belong. They are making a conscientious but vulnerable shift during a season that is not necessarily “holy” to them because they want to be active characters in the American dream. They have left their respective countries, languages and cultures and they don’t want, need or have to melt into a pot, but sincerely want to become part of a mosaic of colors, cultures and religions.
Humankind should be moved because today’s world is so caught up in the myth of superiority, power and the divide that it produces- … “I’m better than you because my God isn’t Allah”… “You are inferior because you only go to church on holidays”… “My skin tone is lighter and therefore I’m prettier and more feminine” – that people fail to see two things. First, there is only one world. Second, we are all in this one world together. As such, in order to peacefully coexist and thrive, please remember that we can’t thrive if there is not peaceful coexistence, we must understand that we are all interconnected. You and your environment are one. In other words, my lack of empathy and respect towards you can cause havoc in an entire community, and your kindness and understanding towards my negativity can sow the seeds of peace for the entire world. It doesn’t get more Christmas than that!
I’m working on a new book and last night as I was diligently attempting to decode the process of peace in diversity, a string of thoughts, like sugarplums, kept dancing in my head. That dance conveyed that diversity speaks of understanding and developing identities, identifying adversities, incubating empathy and believing in thriving cultural gravity. If that isn’t merry then what is?
PEACE & BLESSINGS
Dr. Dilshad Dayani