I’m going out on a limb here, and posting this as part of a synchroblog introduced to me by Kathy Escobar, a blogger and friend who encourages me greatly. The synchroblog topic for November is seeing through the eyes of the marginalized. A synchroblog is a collection of similar articles or posts made by a diverse group of bloggers who have agreed to blog on the same topic on the same day. You can find a list of all the participants at the end of this post. If you’re a blogger & want to be part of future synchroblogs, you can join on facebook or go to our new synchroblog site and subscribe.
Have you heard Adam Sandler’s “Hannukah Song?” I first heard it in 1997, and I thought it was hilarious. There is a poignancy to it, though, between the jokes. One line says, “When you feel like the only kid in town without a Christmas tree, here’s a list of people who are Jewish, just like you and me…”
I had friends who were Jewish growing up, and close friends who were Buddhist and Hindu too. Yet it never occurred to me to ask them how they felt during the holidays when the whole country seems to start spinning around the axis of Christmas.
I got to find out how it felt to be a foreigner during the holidays during my eleven years living in Bahrain. Now that I am back in America, I want to use my experiences to learn to better love those who are not from the majority culture.
There are two sides of this coin. One side is feeling like an outsider during majority holidays. The other side is not having the comradery, familiarity, and festivity of a whole culture celebrating your holidays with you.
Let me flesh that out a little more. As a foreigner, I never resented the majority culture for openly celebrating their holidays. On the contrary! As a family, we always tried to participate, and we really enjoyed taking part in customs that were different from our own. It can be really embarrassing, though, to try to show respect to your friends by celebrating with them, and to have your efforts go awry. For example, I knew that to visit someone on the first day of Eid shows that they are high on your priority list. So I would go visit someone I wanted to honor, only to have them not prepared to receive guests because they were getting ready to go visit the family patriarch. Or I would take a gift, but it would be the wrong kind of gift—best case, it’s strange; worst case, it turns out to be a bad omen. Oops.
To turn this into something practical, I would say, by all means invite and include internationals or people from different backgrounds in your holiday activities. But be a cultural informant for them when you do that. Be specific about things like what to wear, what to bring, when to come, how long to stay. The problem with holidays, and why I made so many mistakes despite asking tons of questions, is that holidays are governed by a complex and unconscious set of rules, and the proverbial fish finds it hard to describe the water it lives in.
Sometimes the best way to become aware of the rules that we follow is to contrast. Ask your friend about the details of their own holiday traditions, and then follow up with what might be different about your own holiday. (e.g. Americans don’t call or visit all their friends on Christmas day. They do send Christmas cards in the month leading up to Christmas. Well, I don’t… but more organized people do.)
Also, invite them bring a friend or family member. It is infinitely less awkward to have another foreigner feeling awkward along with you. Being the only different one is hard.
Including someone from another background in, say, Christmas, is a good way to show love to them. But honestly, the essence of Christmas was not about God inviting people to where he was; it was about his going toward people in every way possible. That was how he loved us.
Personally, being a foreigner in Bahrain was harder during my own holidays than being an outsider during theirs. I think it shows more love to someone from a minority culture to honor their holidays than to invite them into ours (doing both is even better J).
Our cultural traditions for holidays are an integral part of us. We really enjoyed all the little things that we were able to do to make December “Christmasy” for our family, but I also remember the dreariness that I felt when I saw everyone else heading off to work on Christmas morning. I did not expect my Muslim friends to take part in my holiday, but it really meant a lot when they made gestures to show me love at those times. One Muslim friend was studying in America, and she brought me back poinsettia placemats and red and gold towels for Christmas. Other friends called or texted their greetings or even gave Christmas presents to me or my kids. They came to Christmas parties to be with us and showed an interest in our customs, even when it was not a convenient time for them.
I am new back to the USA, so I am just starting to feel out how I might make these kinds of gestures to love those around me. Eid Al-Adha, a very important Muslim holiday, will start on November 16 or 17 this year. There is a Muslim family in my neighborhood that I have not met yet. I’m planning to make a cake and take it over to their house on the 17th.
Do you have neighbors, coworkers, friends, or acquaintances from other cultures? Don’t be shy to ask them what things would make them feel warm, loved, and a little more at home during their holidays. What do they miss, what foods and decorations do they use, what traditions do they follow? What can I do to bring a little more festivity to their special days?
We have songs about being “home for Christmas.” I think being on the margins for whatever reason is like not having a home. That longing for a home is something we have all experienced…no one is a foreigner when it comes to needing to be connected and to belong. In seasons when foreignness is most highlighted, I hope that I can be one thread of connection for those who feel like outsiders by inviting them into my home or going to theirs.
Here are links to the other bloggers taking part in this synchroblog:
- George at the Love Revolution – The Hierarchy of Dirt
- Arthur Stewart – The Bank
- Sonnie Swenston – Seeing through the Eyes of the Marginalized
- Wendy McCaig – An Empty Chair at the Debate
- Ellen Haroutunian – Reading the Bible from the Margins
- Christine Sine – Seeing through the Eyes of the Marginalized
- Alan Knox – Naming the Marginalized
- Margaret Boehlman – Just Out of Sight
- Liz Dyer – Step Away from the Keyhole
- John O’Keefe – Viewing the World in Different Ways
- Steve Hayes – Ministry to Refugees–Synchroblog on Marginalised People
- Kathy Escobar – sitting at the rickety-card-table-in-the-family room at thanksgiving dinner
- Andries Louw – The South African Squatter Problem
- Drew Tatusko – Invisible Margins of a White Male Body
- K.W. Leslie – Who’s the Man? We Christians Are
- Jacob Boelman – Seeing through the Eyes of the Marginalized
- Peter Walker – Through the Eyes of the Marginalized
- Cobus van Wyngaard – Addressing the Normalized Position
- Tom Smith – Seeing Through the Eyes of the Marginalized
- Annie Bullock – Empty Empathy