Different Holiday Traditions: Arent We Really More the Same than Different?
by Marjorie Dorfman
Its that time of year when, as the old song goes, "the world falls in love." Shouldnt it also be, however, an occasion to reflect on the warm and wonderful aspects of the holidays, and how they unite rather than divide us? Read on if you think so. If you dont, read on anyway. This may very well be the Christmas present you have been waiting for.
As a supporter of dis-organized religion (as well life style), its a bit mind-altering to think that I have chosen the topic of religious traditions to write about. I find zealots from all corners of the globe to be quite annoying, and most meet the standards of Winston Churchills own private dictionary definition. While this might not make Mr. Webster very happy, the brilliant English statesman had a point when he referred to a fanatic as a "lunatic with a hobby." This goes all across the board; my aunt and your uncle. No one faith has more or less zealots than the other. I do believe, however, that all of them, no matter what they believe and how much they would argue the point, are more alike than different.
And that is the point of this irreverent and impromptu treatise. Some words too, should be added here about a concept I have dubbed in the privacy of my own asylum as "ness." To those not in the know, this has nothing at all to do with a man named Elliot or any creatures that may or may not lurk in a strange but very deep lake in Scotland. It is much ado about birthright; an exaggerated pride about it, to be exact, which if one is not careful, could lead to hubris and Greeks who may not be inclined to bear gifts!
But how does it happen, this "ness-ness" thing, one might ask. Well, it occurs the moment one becomes convinced that the only people worth knowing or talking to are those who have been born within the confines of the very same ethnic background. Consider, for example: Irishness, Germanness, Greekness, Bulgarianness, Jewishness, or any other ethnic "ness." The exaggerated pride bestowed upon a birthright leads to the nationality+ness+ness (i.e., Irishness-ness! Thus the touting a mere accident of birth perpetuates ness. (I knew someone who even after living in the United States for his entire 50 years of life had never even tasted, nor desired to taste, Chinese food on the grounds that it wasnt, are you ready, American!)
Remember my friends, none of us can help what we are born. The only choices we are at liberty to make are in context of personal pride and achievement. A gene pool is fine, but how much did you contribute to yours or me to mine? (I know that I had enough trouble paying the homeowners association pool fee in the days when I lived in a complex that had a pool.) Seriously, too much time and attention is given to that which is not based at all on accomplishment. It is that and not who our ancestors were or werent that defines our personal fiber and character.
What gives me the right to say that we are all more the same than different? The answer derives from the simple observance of life in action over the years. We may all be of different backgrounds, but we all are part of a nation founded by immigrants and represent transplanted cultures. Even African Americans, who among us were the only ones to come to the New World against their own free will, brought with them their own proud traditions that refused to die even under the cruel and terrible yoke of slavery. No matter how or where we came from, we all bleed, work, pay taxes, live, have children and relatives, grow old and die. (Some of us may even gamble, drink and smoke during our lives as a way of not dealing with all of the above except maybe bleeding.)
Christmas has become much more secular over the years and for some (myself included) who might not share its religious significance, it has come to signify something different but just as important. It is a way of feeling. My gifts are an "end of the year way for me to say thank you" to those I might have missed during the year. We all know the things that make us different, but what do all of our different faiths have in common? And why cant we accept that which we wish to and leave all the rest by the prejudiced wayside (or riverside or wherever we feel comfortable)?
Many faiths share the same attitudes about the holidays as well as the trappings (albeit in different wrappings and from different points of view). For example, Christian, Jewish, and Kwansa celebrations all involve decorative lights, or candles, gift-giving and a general celebration of the spirit of family and fellowship. Some Moslem ceremonies embrace the decorations of streets and houses and celebration of the family and community as well, even though their ultimate goals are beyond rejoicing and concern the maintenance of a balance between spiritual life and material well-being (the concepts of din and dunya).
For those of the Christian faith, gifts are exchanged around a Christmas tree. For Jews, gifts are an integral part of an eight-day festival of lights and a menorah that burns brightly to honor the memory of Judah Maccabee and commemorate the miracle of the oil. Kwanza is a seven-day holiday based on African harvest festivals that begins on December the 26th. Gifts abound here as well, as well as a karamu or feast, and children are paramount in this celebration as they are for all of these holiday observances. (Its hard to say how kids fare better; one night with Santa Claus, eight nights under the menorah or seven days receiving gifts, feasting at the karamu and honoring their ancestors.)
The point is that there is a tiny thread of similarity that runs through all these traditions, even if the sewing needles utilized (symbols) are worlds apart. Once its seen, this connection can never be unseen, for it is a powerful and irreversible revelation. It is the attitude about our lives in relation to the singularity of all of our deities, whatever their sacred names, that is the same for all peoples. There is only one God, no matter what He (or She) is called. All the major religions of the world teach us to love our children, our traditions and our history. In the best of times, it is our humanity that makes us wish to leave the world a better place than the way we found it. That joins us all in a much greater cosmic plan than that of individual beliefs and nirvana.
Islam teaches the principles of material and spiritual significance as well as the need for education to acquire knowledge and use it for the benefit of others. How different is that from any concerned citizen helping his or her fellow man or woman? (For the answer, just look at the outpouring of aid whenever there is a disaster of great proportions.)
Its like that old guy from England once said about a bell. He told us not to ask for whom the bell tolls, because it tolls for thee. Well, my friends, thee is you and me and all of us together in the same big boat. The question is do we sail, land or sink to the bottom with all of the conflicts besieging our kind. (A recent news story about a sinking ship in India revealed that more than 150 people drowned because when a rope was thrown overboard, many would not touch the same rope as those from another lower caste.) Surely Benjamin Franklin had the right idea when he said: "We must all hang together, or most assuredly, we will all hang separately."
So instead of hanging, why dont we celebrate? Its more fun, less painful and so much more rewarding. Not only that, we can do it every year and get a lot of practice, which is more than can be said about hanging! Whether you practice one of these religions, all of them, some of them, none of them or something else entirely, remember that we are all one in the ways that really matter. We would do well to remember that not only at this time of year but all others as well.
Happy Holidays To All and To All a Good
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