Tomorrow morning, I have to go buy a Christmas gift for Muhammad.
Mark’s daycare is hosting a Christmas party and each kid was assigned a Secret Santa. Now I am tasked with the responsibility of finding a small gift for his three-year-old classmate… Muhammad, messenger and prophet of Allah.
I find it fucking awesome.
Not the whole Secret Santa gift chore, but the daycare’s approach to the holiday season.
Mark’s daycare is a representative demographic cross-section of any large Canadian city. I don’t know everyone’s exact cultural background, but judging by the names on the coat hangers, there are kids with ties to India, China and the Arabic world. Their skin tones range from the very pale red-haired girl who is always parading with pink accessories to the little boy with a deep ebony skin and a toddler-size Afro. As for the teachers, some are born and bred Canadians, some are from the South-East Asia, a couple look South Asian and many women wear the hijab. The director is a black woman with an Arabic name and she wears the hijab as well, so it’s fair to assume she is Muslim.
I love it. I didn’t have many criteria for daycare other than “please don’t declare bankruptcy” and “be nice to the kids“, but a multicultural environment was important to me. I want Mark to grow up playing with kids from all backgrounds and cultures. I strongly believe that the more we are exposed to diversity, the more inclusive, accepting and curious we become. Beside, we are a multicultural family as well, we fit right in!
That said, because of this cultural diversity, I had fully expected the daycare to tiptoe around Christmas, for the sake of political correctness and neutrality. I was fine with that. I get it, not everyone celebrate Christmas—it’s presumptuous to assume otherwise, unless you live in Vatican City—and even among those of us who celebrate, there is no consensus on traditions. In my atheist family, we skipped Jesus and the Midnight Mass. Instead, we celebrating generosity, sharing, giving, receiving, family bonds, etc.
Feng never had Christmas as a kid but since we don’t have any reason not to celebrate, we adopted it as a tradition in Canada. We do Chinese New Year as well. Like many multicultural families, we choose our traditions.
On December 1, when I picked Mark up at daycare, I noticed the big Christmas tree in the hallway. In case I had somehow missed it, Mark pointed it to me and turned around it shouting “I want to touch it!” for about five minutes.
On December 2, the Christmas party was being planned and notes were posted for parents to bring food.
Then, one of Mark’s teachers gave me the note explaining the Secret Santa system.
“Anything small under $5,” she instructed.
I wasn’t sure how to say what had been on the tip of my tongue for a few days now.
“I think it’s great that you are doing so much for the kids. Is… everyone happy about celebrating Christmas? The parents?”
This was awfully awkwardly phrased; fortunately, she understood what I meant—probably because she spends her day deciphering pre-schoolers language.
“Oh yeah!” she said. “It’s… it’s Christmas! Everybody likes Christmas! We have foods and presents. We celebrate the Christmas spirit, not religion.”
I nodded, one of the kids started crying and she rushed to deal with the latest drama.
I stood there. What I really wanted to say, to shout even, was: “FUCK YEAH, IT FEELS SO GOOD TO DEAL WITH SMART AND REASONABLE PEOPLE!”
This tolerant and commonsensical approach meant a lot to me in light of the recent geopolitical events. These days, every time you turn the TV on, all you see is a bunch of crazy people. Anytime a Muslim is interviewed, he looks like he reads “GQ: Special Edition How to Dress Like a Terrorist” and either he promises to kill everyone, either he already did. Meanwhile, Christians in the spotlight seem to devote all their free time to hating gay people, Darwin, abortions, civil rights and anyone who doesn’t own a copy of the Bible. As for Jews, they are invariably killing Palestinians and, of course, are that close to take over the world they already somehow control.
Such bullshit is fucking exhausting. A few fundamentalists are doing their best “look at me and my insane ideas!” routine and they attract all the media attention.
And I’m blaming atheists and agnostics too, because we look at the circus and we think smugly that the world has gone crazy because of religion and believers, and we are so much better, right?
It doesn’t have to be like that. We can all fucking coexist peacefully, ‘right?
It’s very easy, really. A bit of empathy, a bit of common sense. When I contribute to a potluck at Mark’s daycare, I don’t make ham croissants because I know that many of the kids don’t eat pork or meat and excluding half of the class from my lame attempts at cooking is just ridiculous. Mark can eat an entire ham at home if he wants too; at daycare, we go with the flow. Meanwhile, parents who don’t worship baby Jesus are fine with the idea of their kids decorating a Christmas tree and exchanging presents.
Nobody has to celebrate Christmas. But nobody has to be offended by it either—and nobody should be offended by the fact that some kids don’t eat pork, some women choose to wear a hijab, some people would rather not work on Shabbat, etc.
Bottom line is, there are reasonable people in this world. People who don’t feel the need to make everything more complicated than it should. People who aren’t constantly offended, constantly trying to put their agenda forward.
I have faith in mankind. Again.