In a recent New York Times column, Alan Draper suggests that Europeans might have better luck with multiculturalism if they looked to New York’s alternate side parking suspension calendar as a model of diversity. For non-city folks, that’s a schedule of holidays on which New Yorkers don’t have to move their cars for street-sweepers.
I was fascinated by this diverse list of holidays. And by Draper’s point: the municipal government’s inclusion of such a variety of celebrations from many faiths helps to “normalize the idea of diversity.” But not all days are equal. On widely observed holidays, city offices are closed. Successful multiculturalism, Draper argues, must embrace both “what divides and binds a community together.”
With Thanksgiving approaching, I’m grateful for this perspective, especially when the news is full of what divides us. In the spirit of examining difference and commonality, it’s a good time to consider Native American views of the holiday. The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian has an excellent resource guide called “American Indian Perspectives on Thanksgiving.”
Draper’s column and my son’s recent descriptions of Guy Fawkes Night in northern England also inspired me to find out more about other cultures’ holidays. Two reference stand-bys, CultureGrams and InfoPlease, cover world holidays. The BBC has a well organized summary of world religions.
In Anna Gavalda’s novel French Leave, the narrator describes an uncomfortable moment when her host at an extended family dinner begins to rant about minorities and people on public assistance and no one speaks up to counter him. We’ve probably all been in a similar situation, or may be over the holidays. Draper’s column helps me see that if someone refers to a subset of people as “they” or “them” in a way that divides, gently pointing out what we share, such as the everyday headaches of parking or the joys of having a day off, might provide perspective.