In New York, that proudly multicultural city, “Happy Holidays” is in no way the anti-Christian phrase Bill O’Reilly has branded it. It’s simply the most sensible—indeed, the most courteous—way to say a cheery goodbye to the strangers we New Yorkers speak with in the shops, on the train, in the subway.

How do the many and varied non-Christians in New York feel about the long approach to Christmas? In his segment “Micropolis” on NPR, Arun Vandugopal gets into the cultural confusion.

He speaks with a woman whose family is Hindu. She vividly remembers her discomfort in her New Jersey elementary school classroom when she had no gifts to report at the after-Christmas tell-all. “I didn’t know who I was in trouble with,” she says. “Then I realized I was in trouble with Santa.” So the girl’s family brought Santa and gifts into the family tradition . . . leaving the girl, on a fifth-grade research project on religion, utterly mystified when she combed the index to the Bible and couldn’t find any mention of Santa (she assumed that he had brought gifts to the baby Jesus). She asked the librarian why Santa wasn’t there. The librarian just shook her head and remarked to a parent volunteer, “She wouldn’t know. She’s a heathen.”

One of Vanugopal’s guests points out that, believe it or not, in New York City there are  people who don’t even know that Christmas is coming. For instance, in Borough Park, in Brooklyn, an Orthodox Jewish enclave. “They don’t know that people all over are decorating with lights.” And Andrew Ross Sorkin, a financial columnist for The New York Times, describes his Jewish family’s tradition: “We do eight days of Hanukkah plus we do Christmas. We get the best of both worlds.”

Most enlightening about attitudes toward Christmas, perhaps, are the comments NPR’s “Christmas: Love It or Hate It?” crowd-sourcing segment elicited. The commenters run from atheist (“Raised Catholic now an atheist—but LOVELOVELOVE CHRISTMAS! The darkest part of the year screams for a holiday so full of light! Plus, food, drink, and presents make it all so sweet!”) to Christian (“A Christian should consider commemorating the incarnation an important season of the year; a time to reflect where Christian’s would be without it— stuck in our sins. Without Christmas, no Easter. That said, the family stuff is also good, and everything should be kept in balance.”) to “atheist, secular Jew” (I’m an atheist, secular Jew. I feel a sense of alienation from all the public Christmas stuff, but the truth is that I like feeling alienated. Plus, I have to admit I enjoy the festiveness of the city at Christmastime.”) to the thoroughly alienated (“I loath this materialistic farce. An embarrassing ritual.’) to the “not religious” ( “I love Christmas and everything about it but I’m not religious.”) What most commenters, secular or religious, like is the festiveness (especially the lights) of the season; what everyone hates is how early the commercial hectoring starts these days.

To hear the segment and see the comments:



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  • Lyda Cook December 21, 2014 at 8:02 pm

    A most profound narrative, many have had similar experiences. A guardian angel perhaps?