A friend of mine from New York, in town for a few days, asked if I wanted to do something tomorrow night. I was puzzled. His parents live right here in the DC Metro Area (that’s why he’s here in the first place) so why is he free tomorrow night, Christmas Eve!?
“Why are you free,” I asked, “it’s Christmas Eve.”
“So?” he answered.
I was still confused. . . . “Wait. ‘Cause you’re Jewish? So what? I’m Hindu, I have plans for Christmas, for gods sake!” I don’t think I’ve ever not had plans for Christmas.
My friend didn’t share my irrational need to celebrate the quasi-secular, Christian-American holiday.
You know, I’m a pretty darn self-reflective person (and not too dim when it comes to intellectual wattage), but it never really occurred to me, in my mostly atheist, sometimes agnostic, culturally Hindu life, not to embrace Christmas. Is it because I have a life-long love of carols and hymns as a result of childhood glee-club membership? Is it because tradition is seductive, even for reflexive skeptics like me? Is it because my Hindu parents put up a decorated tree in the living room and a wreath on the door (and eventually a menorah) out of a sense of thrill in the multiculturalism of their long-term host country? I don’t know. Probably a combination of all of the above.
Such is the power of socialization. Next time someone tells you we are free agents and socialization has nothing to do with the choices we make, take it with a grain of salt. . . or a stein of beer; whatever floats your dreidel or cross, or shiva statue (you know we hindus really need more succinct symbolism in our totems).
Yes, yes, I know, a dreidel is not a “totem” and it may not have any religious significance at all. Give me a break, I do this when I have leisure. I’m not one of those who manages to get paid for blathering on their blogs — anyone know how I can get such a gig, by the way? Let me know! Lawyering is hard! I want to be one of those pretentious talking heads who get paid to make specious arguments made to sound erudite by lots of references to philosophers one read in college honors courses!
Tangent: I’m reminded of something my sister Mandira once said when comparing “learned” mediocrity to actual insight/originality: “one is a really large concrete reservoir; the other is a really tiny natural spring.”