i hate christmas 2013: christmas in the public library

My annual I Hate Christmas post is a mixed bag this year.

Last year, I found Christmas less awful than usual, thanks to the absence of both commercial TV and my law-firm job. Those changes are permanent (at least I hope they are!), so I may never need to hide from Christmas quite as much, ever again.

On the other hand, Christmas at the public library is a grand opportunity for alienation. The decorations, the displays of children's Christmas books, the Christmas-themed storytimes... and everyone thinks it's all hunky-dory, as long as we stick to Santa and ignore Jesus. No crosses and no creche, but Santa's sleigh and Christmas music are everywhere.

How do our many Muslim and Hindi customers feel? Do they know they're not the only ones on the outside, looking in?

A colleague recently related how a customer asked if the library could do a Ramadan-themed storytime. My colleague was all in a huff. How inappropriate! Don't they know religion belongs at home? We are a public institution, we have separation of church and state! I said I wished that were true, and pointed out (or tried to) that the library does celebrate the holidays of one religion. She said she agrees that in our Christmas storytimes, we shouldn't use a lot of songs that mention Jesus. She said this without irony.

It seems that in this predominantly Christian country, the public consciousness makes a distinction between the religious Christmas and what is seen as a secular Christmas. Santa, elves, candy, and gifts are in; Jesus, Magi, and virgin births are out. But when you're not Christian, it's a false distinction. Christmas is a Christian holiday. And it doesn't matter that the form of the celebration has pagan roots. We're not celebrating solstice.

To my few colleagues (thankfully, not the majority) who are self-absorbed enough to recite the boring details on their shopping lists, I nod vaguely and make little pretence of caring. Perhaps they notice my blank expression, or how I'm not contributing to the "conversation" (really a monologue), and they ask if I'm celebrating Chanukah. One, Chanukah was in November this year, and two, Chanukah is a minor holiday. It's not "the Jewish Christmas", any more than Christmas is the Christian Yom Kippur.

In my vision of the public library, we'd celebrate winter and spring, not Christmas and Easter. We would acknowledge the most important dates of every major religion - Ramadan and Eid, Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah, Diwali, Solstice, Visakha Puja, Gantan-sai, and more - with displays and good cheer, just as we acknowledge Halloween and Thanksgiving. But we'd leave Christmas at home with Christians, where it belongs.

No comments: