“Mommy, is it okay if I read about religions?”
This was the question posed to me by my 6 year old daughter, Samantha, this morning.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Am I allowed to read a book about Kwanzaa?” Sam asked.
“Of course you are, why do you ask?” I asked with surprise.
“Because my friend isn’t allowed to talk about Kwanzaa or read a book about Kwanzaa. Her parents said she can’t because it isn’t her religion.”
Oh boy. Now no one in my family is black nor have we ever celebrated Kwanzaa. While Kwanzaa is a cultural celebration rather than a religious celebration, the observance runs at the same time as the Christmas and New Year holiday period so it is perceived as a religious holiday by many. As far as religions go, both my husband and I were raised Catholic but neither of us practices, goes to church on a regular basis, or is really affiliated with any particular religion. It is safe to say that we do not lean strongly toward any religious affiliation.
I firmly believe in the beauty and gift that religions contribute to this world. I believe that everyone has a place and should have a voice in this life in which we are all a part of. I have an uncle who is a Christian minister, an aunt who is Buddhist, relatives who are devout Catholics and relatives who are atheists. While the majority of my friends are Christian, I have friends who are Hindu and friends who are Islam or Jewish. All of these individuals, my family and friends, each have important views that contribute to the world as it is now and how it will be in the future.
My extended family is a mix of ethnic backgrounds, my children are a mix of ethnic backgrounds. I see my children not as mixed race children, but as my children. My aunts are not my Italian aunts, they are my aunts. My friends are not my white friend or my black friend, they are my friends. The teacher who held my child close after the latest school massacre is not the nice white lady at the school, but the wonderful human being who helps educate and care for my children.
The world is getting a little crazy. Schools are pressured to take God out of the Pledge of Allegiance, a symbol for which this country stands. At work, we struggled with the wording on our Holiday cards to our customers because of the recent heated debates about Merry Christmas vs Happy Holidays. Personally, I think it’s nice if someone says Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Happy Hanukkah or whatever their seasonal salute may be. It is a celebration of a joyous time of year. It is an honor for the salute to be addressed to me and I think that the proper response is “Thank you, to you also.” I also think that if I offer a salute, whether it be Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays, I should not be offended if I do not get a thank you back or even a response at all. After all, that person has their own story on what the season means to them.
So, this morning I turned to my daughter and explained that there are many different religions and cultures in this world and they all have a place. I explained that we should learn about these different religions and cultures because learning about different things and understanding them, even if we do not agree or is not who we are, is important to all of us getting along in this world. We are all different people with different ways of thinking and that’s a good thing – if we were all the same, we wouldn’t be able to tell each other apart and no one would ever learn anything new.
This holiday season, I have promised my children we will learn about and celebrate Kwanzaa in addition to our usual Christmas celebrations. They will also spend their winter break with a trip to church with my Catholic mother-in-law as well as studying Buddhist books from their aunt. More importantly, we will celebrate this coming season surrounded by a family that is diverse in both cultures and religions and rejoice in the true spirit of the season.
From my family to yours,
Merry Christmas and Happy Kwanzaa