It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Christmas carols are playing everywhere you go, trees are wrapped with bright lights, and every store is boasting the perfect yuletide gifts for your loved ones. But wait - where are the other holidays?
Around the holidays, especially around New York City, people who celebrate less common religions, like Judaism, are not going to enjoy the festivities to the fullest because their holidays are overshadowed by the celebration of Christmas.
When America was first founded, there wasn’t really one main religion. There weren’t yet any churches, and everyone was spread out in separate houses- “[the] colonists were notably “unchurched” and “un-Christian.”
However, as America grew, so did the number of Christians in the country. At the peak, in 1960, 63.3% of Americans belonged to a Christian church and even more believed, if only casually, in this religion. Since then, this number has gone down slightly, but Christianity remains the primary religion in America.
Because of Christianity’s prevalence, come December in New York City, and everyone is getting into the “Christmas spirit”. If you really take a look around, you won’t be seeing any menorahs lighting the sidewalks or gelt filling the chocolate stores that are so abundant. It seems to be that the country’s largest city is neglecting to represent all religions and their holidays.
For fun, go ahead and type “New York around” into Google. The major search engine automatically suggests adding “Christmas” to the end of the phrase. If you do, it’ll bring up more than 100 million links to ways of celebrating Christmas around the city. On the other hand, Google doesn’t show you any options related to Hanukkah, much less any other holiday, like Kwanzaa.
A survey taken of students in grades 6-8 at Coleytown Middle School in Westport, a suburb of NYC, revealed that 85% of the students asked agreed, in varied intensities, that Christmas was better represented than others around holiday time. The majority of the people also said that this lack of representation made them feel annoyed or disappointed.
Generally, Christmas has become less about the actual religious portion, but more about the “fun” parts- cheesy romance movies, Santa Claus speeding around the world to eat cookies, and of course, giving and receiving presents. Scott Ashley states the issue quite concisely: “Christmas is driven by commercialism.”
On the other hand, it can be challenging to incorporate all religions into commercial brands, because there are so many different things that symbolise Christmas, but very few for the other holidays. An anonymous Jewish student who completed the survey said that he or she believes that their religion should be more represented, but “it is kind of hard when there are not any good hanukkah songs [or] good signature hanukkah decorations like tinsel or ornaments or mistletoe for christmas”.
Many brands and large companies are starting to include Hanukkah in their December sales campaigns. For example, Bed Bath & Beyond, has an entire section simply devoted to “making it a happy Hanukkah”. Other companies are also moving in this direction, like Amazon.
When it comes time for your next Christmas party, think about changing it to a holiday party instead to include all religions. So whip up some oily latkes, place a menorah next to the Christmas tree, and celebrate knowing you’re honoring somebody else’s religion in addition to your own.