This is the second holiday season I’ve been at my current place of employment, and the second year in a row that I’ve returned from Thanksgiving to find lights, stockings, trees, and reindeer throughout the library. It reminds me a bit of that first snowfall as a kid — go to bed with things one way, and wake up with the world magically changed the next day. The decorations are beautiful, and staff from every department put a lot of time and thought into them.
But as nice as they are, they’re Christmas decorations. And I work at a public library, which I feel should be welcoming to people of all backgrounds, so I was a little unsettled that no other winter holidays were represented. Maybe this is because I was raised Jewish, with a mother who joined other parents to battle the school district to give students off on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur (they never did, and inevitably some teacher always scheduled a test on at least one of the holidays), and in a town where all the public buildings featured trees, menorahs, and kinaras throughout December.
I am 100% certain that the homogeneity of the decorations was unintentional. As far as I know, I’m the only non-Christian employed there, and the overwhelming majority of the community is Christian. It just didn’t cross anyone’s mind to put up any other decorations. And as soon as I said something to my manager, she said I was welcome to add symbols of other winter holidays if I wanted.
But I wasn’t unsettled by the decorations as a Jew who felt that my beliefs weren’t represented (perhaps I should have been; but that’s a topic for another blog); I was unsettled as a citizen who felt that a public institution was representing only one set of beliefs.
Again, I’m sure this is unintentional. But I’ve always viewed knowledge and awareness as the best weapons against intolerance, and I think the library is a great place to demonstrate this. I’m not suggesting that we shove culture down anyone’s throats, and, lest you think I’m a scrooge, I’m not advocating that we tear down all the trees or eliminate the phrase “Merry Christmas” from staff vocabulary. But if we can incorporate other cultures into our decorations and displays, perhaps we could at least spark a conversation.
So I’m glad that my manager was open to the changes I suggested, and that next year’s display will be more multi-cultural.
What do you all think? Am I overreacting? What has your experience with decorations in libraries been?