Friday, December 25, 2009

May your days be merry and bright

December 25, 2009
Still life with pinecone and paint, with sequins and glitter, with felt and glue and lots of enthusiasm.

L brought this craft project home from school on Wednesday. It's MY tree! she declared, as she pointed to her tree with pride.  I love it. I love everything about it. I love her pride in her craftsmanship. I love that her teachers are always both so creative and so patient. (Can you imagine doing this project with 12 two-year-olds?) I love that she has a little Christmas tree.

I've told you of my support of their participation in Christmas activities at their school and elsewhere I've mentioned my own youthful ignorance of the holiday. Yet I've never told you exactly why their Christmas exposure satisfies me so much, and it centers on a college misunderstanding.

I grew up in a small, not-very-diverse city.  I knew what we were: white and Jewish. And because there was so little variety, I knew what everyone else was, too. You were black or you were white, because there were no Latinos or Asians or anybody else. If you were black, you probably were a member of an A.M.E. church. And if you were white, you were probably Catholic. There were three flavors of Catholic in my town. You might have been Polish Catholic; you might have been Irish Catholic; and if you weren't those, you were likely Italian, and therefore Roman Catholic.  There's a little more diversity there now, but it moved in after I moved out.

So I know this is strange, but without ever having been overtly taught so, I unconsciously believed most Christians (and therefore, most people) are Catholic.  And then a passing phrase in the midst of a history lecture I attended in college about an entirely different subject shook my entire world view: the lecturer mentioned the wave of anti-Catholic paranoia that swept the States in the early '60s when Kennedy ran for President: if a Catholic became President, would the Pope be our de facto President?

Who was paranoid and who didn't support Kennedy based on his Catholicism if most people are Catholic?  I had to re-form a lot of impressions that night. It's strange to learn that a simple fact upon which you base all your knowledge is wrong.

I went to a Jewish school through the end of eighth grade and must have formed all these impressions of the world at large during my public high school experience, since I left the city where I grew up right after graduation and have never lived there again since.  For our kids, we live in a much more diverse part of the country. This diversity includes, for us, some homogeneity. There is a very large Jewish community here, something very foreign to our own childhood experiences. As such, we have the opportunity to send the kids to a Jewish school straight through the end of high school, and we plan to do so.  In some ways, as sheltered and naive as I was, they will have the opportunity to be even moreso. And so I want them to know all they can of the world at large. I want for them this foundation of being the minority outsiders, because for most of their formative years they will be exposed to so very little of that important experience. I want them to know, even though we plan to tuck them gently into a very familiar and comfortable environment, that there are so many ways to see this world, so very many different sets of beliefs and values and practices. I want them to remember happily celebrating a little bit of Christmas so that they don't forget that their world is not an accurate reflection of the whole world -- something I didn't figure out until I was 20.

Many of my very favorite people in this whole wide world are celebrating what is for them a most important holiday today. To you, I wish you a very, very Merry Christmas. Thank you for being in our lives. Thank you for exposing my kids to what matters to you. Thank you for making our world more special by your presence in it.

For you, and for the rest of you, for all of us (because what better wish could there be?):  may all your days and all your nights be merry and bright.

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Nonnash said...

This story always makes me laugh. Who would have guessed that two girls from different parts of the country and completely different religious backgrounds would have the same experiences growing up. It’s such a shame that it took over a quarter of a century for us to be friends.

LazyBones said...

This is so funny! I remember in about eighth grade I tried to figure out the demographics of the entire world. I came up with: 50% Italian, 49% Black, 1% Irish. I was pretty sure I had it figured out too! My Catholic school through eighth grade experience, combined with my neighborhood had me convinced this was how it would play out everywhere.