The importance of holiday inclusivity: don’t ignore other religions this winter

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Yael Hanadari-Levy, Opinion Editor

If you turn on the news any time around Christmas, you’ll often see people (mainly Christians) complain about the “war on Christmas”. But I don’t see inclusion of other holidays as an attack on Christmas. Saying “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” doesn’t stop people from celebrating Christmas, it just lets other people celebrate their own holidays as well. Many times, the “attacks” on Christmas aren’t even inclusive towards other religions. They are just less explicit mentions of Christmas that still focus only on that one holiday, like the Starbucks cups that feature Christmas designs but leave out the word “Christmas”, or radio stations predominantly featuring secular Christmas songs like “All I Want For Christmas Is You” rather than religious ones like “O Holy Night”.

The amount of religious diversity in our region, although not much, is a lot greater than the rest of the country. More than three percent of people in Montgomery County are Jewish. About 1.3 percent identify with some Eastern religion and the same percentage is Muslim. 59.4% of Montgomery County residents don’t even consider themselves religious. At Walter Johnson, it’s very improbable that you aren’t friends with at least one person who isn’t Christian. This makes it seem a lot worse to ignore winter holidays that aren’t Christmas as there’s a very good chance you know multiple people who would be excluded by focusing only on Christmas. In the rest of the United States, Christianity is much more prevalent; people who don’t know as many non-Christian people may not understand why it’s so important to include other religions, but that shouldn’t be the case.

Even in more uniformly Christian regions, other religions and holidays need to be respected. In fact, it is arguably more important to include religious diversity in places where religion is less diverse.

As a Jewish person, I find it annoying when people erase other religions and act like Christmas is the only or most important holiday of the season, but fortunately many of the people I know are also Jewish, so I have someone to talk to about Hanukkah or complain to about Christmas. A few years ago, however, I lived in North Carolina, and it was very different. I wasn’t surrounded by fellow non-Christians. This was the South. This might sound like a stereotype, but it’s true that the South is much more religious and Christian than the North. I complain about the over-saturation of Christmas in public here, but back in North Carolina, I would rarely even see a tiny menorah in a shop window as an afterthought next to the Christmas tree. Pretty much the only exposure my community had to Hanukkah was from the decorations and parties that my family would have. If we didn’t personally know other Jewish families, we wouldn’t even know that there were non-Christian people in the area.

Inclusion of other religions is beneficial for everyone. For people who don’t often see their holidays being included, it can be comforting and can help them find a like-minded community in their area. For the members of the majority religion (in this case, Christianity), being exposed to other religions can educate them and help them become more tolerant.

So whatever holiday you celebrate, be it Christmas or Hanukkah or Kwanzaa or the Winter Solstice or anything else, have a good one, and respect other people’s right to celebrate something else. Happy (plural) holidays.

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