The holidays make everyone crazy, some more than others. One year, while doing my last-minute holiday shopping at Target, I overheard a woman shouting, “I am an American; I celebrate Christmas!” clear from the other side of the store. As I listened to this exclamation, two things crossed my mind. One: This lady needs a chill pill pronto. Two: People in this nation don’t appreciate religious diversity.
I come from a religiously diverse family. My father’s side is Jewish, while my mother’s side consists of several denominations of Christianity. I’ve attended Jewish, Catholic, and Presbyterian weddings, and a Dutch Reform funeral, all within my own family. Despite their differences, the two sides of my clan have held together because each side is tolerant of the other and respects their different beliefs. Though brought up in a Jewish household, I am nonetheless the joint product of two different religious camps. As a kid, I spent a lot of time visiting my Christian relatives, and we all played parts in each other’s traditions because Christmas and Hanukkah emphasize family togetherness. Because they respected my family’s Jewish traditions, I learned to respect their faith, and the importance of religious tolerance.
But some people in this country have been numbed to the idea that Christianity is the norm and no longer recognize diversity. Amidst the endless parade of “holiday” commercials (which put even election ads to shame) extolling a commercialized view of Christmas, the holiday has been normalized in the mind of the average American even though it is at heart a religious holiday. The Target shopper doesn’t realize that when she proclaims that as an American, she celebrates Christmas, it implies that people who don’t celebrate Christmas—including those who aren’t Christian—are not American.
America is a diverse country; that’s well known. We’ve been “the Melting Pot” since the 1900s, drawing immigrants from all across the world. Despite this national variety, our country’s largest religious group remains Protestant Christianity (divided among several denominations) which constituted 78.4 percent of the country in 2007 according to a study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. But America is not exclusively Christian. The same study showed that Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism also have a presence among faithful Americans, at 1.7, .6 , .4 and .7 percents, respectively. Perhaps more importantly, people can choose not to believe in any religion at all. With this variety, tolerance is necessary to keep the “United” in United States.
As the holiday season draws near, most of UA will be preparing for their family’s Christmas celebrations. But just because you don’t put presents under a tree and wait for Santa doesn’t mean you’re not American. In fact, America was first colonized by people seeking religious tolerance. It’s what millions of people of all creeds have been coming to this continent seeking for the last 300 years. The fact is, there are a wide variety of different religious views in this country, and they should not be ignored. If we can put aside our differences at this time of togetherness and love each other for our similarities, we can make these holidays truly meaningful.