I was surprised yesterday to hear two young coworkers in their 20s listening to and enjoying the holiday tunes of Bing Crosby. I commented on how there was an extraordinary soothing quality to his voice that just made you feel that no matter what, everything is going to be alright. At my family holiday gatherings, Christmas isn't Christmas without the White Christmas of Bing Crosby.
Whether you see New York City as a melting pot or a salad bowl, pluralism is the reality and tolerance is what holds it together. New York City is where you will find the world's largest public menorah, located in one of the most prime locations in the entire city - 59th Street and Fifth Avenue, just a few blocks from Rockefeller Center's national Christmas tree and St. Patrick's Cathedral. In today's photos, the Christmas tree at the Washington Square arch (with views of the Empire State Building in the background) is just a short distance from a menorah, also located in Washington Square Park.
On one hand, pluralism has become much more prevalent in the United States and, in tandem with the doctrine of separation of church and state, it is not unreasonable to revisit the issue of public displays of religious symbols. Bing Crosby or not, we can't shut our eyes and sweep everything under the umbrella of the "holidays" or the "winter/holiday season" in an effort obfuscate the very divergent religious practices. Efforts are made to link Christianity and Judaism in an attempt to demonstrate that they are just two sides of the same coin.
On the other hand, as I wrote in Let's Have a Parade, celebration is part of the human condition, and to become a curmudgeon during the holidays and dismiss the entire season as nothing but crass commercialism (or to aver how many of the symbols and customs that are associated with Christmas were originally syncretized from pre-Christian pagan festivals and traditions) does nothing to enliven and uplift the human spirit and spread proverbial love and joy throughout the land.
Managing religious pluralism is difficult. Even the Supreme Court of the United States was very divided in County of Allegheny v. ACLU, where the court considered the constitutionality of the annually recurring displays of a nativity scene (crèche) and a Hanukkah menorah, both placed outside the City-County Building in downtown Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
I don't want to bury my head in the sand in an effort to oversimplify reality, be disrespectful and lump everyone together or paint the entire season one color. But for just a moment, please forgive me. I'm just going to relax, let Bing Crosby's voice wash over me and feel that everything is going to be alright :)