Columbus Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving — a series of national holidays that consistently spark controversial conversations.
Although the U.S. observes several of these holidays in a calendar year, the fall months specifically are packed with days that some choose to celebrate, but which may be a source of concern or confliction for others.
Columbus Day, which falls on Oct. 10, commemorates the “discovery of a new world” by Christopher Columbus in 1492. However, this holiday is not observed by every state — some, like Hawaii, Alaska and Vermont, organize alternative celebrations honoring indigenous populations.
Oct. 31, traditionally reserved for Halloween, is often seen as a fun tradition involving creative costuming, generous candy donations and door-to-door interactions. Yet there are some who view Oct. 31 as an opportunity for inappropriate and potentially dangerous activities — Christian communities specifically often emphasize the frightening imagery and sticky spiritual origins of Halloween.
“In light of concerns over offending religious families, some schools have banned Halloween celebrations altogether, and some communities host fall harvest festivals instead of trick-or-treating,” a Times article noted in 2019.
Thanksgiving, widely celebrated on Nov. 24, is perhaps the most popular of the three: a federal holiday that many associate with family, food and a few hard naps. And yet, others consider this holiday to be a symbol of oppression and an acknowledgment of the role colonialism has played in North America.
How are we meant to straddle these divides?
Specifically as a Christian community, called to love all our neighbors — not simply those who agree with us or celebrate the same traditions we do — how do we create space for both the celebration and the grief these holidays signify?
Before stepping into complex spaces, it is critical to remember that room should always be made for differences to be honored and given a voice. When conversations cannot be engaged graciously and when differences of opinion cannot be respected, little space is left for growth, understanding or reconciliation.
With this in mind, the Echo editorial board believes Christians’ observations of controversial holidays should be driven by education, intentionality and kindness.
When beginning to unpack the nuances of controversial holidays, education is key. Why do we celebrate the things we celebrate? Is there intentionality behind it, or merely tradition? How and what we celebrate should be driven by an understanding born from time spent learning, listening and acknowledging.
“It is important that we discuss the controversial holidays/customs before we dismiss what may be a part of someone's heritage,” Vice President for Intercultural Leadership and Church Relations Greg Dyson said. “Doing this means learning to listen to others in our community. Our understanding of a tradition or practice might miss the overall meaning. Don't stop learning!”
Significant hurt can be caused unintentionally simply because “we didn’t know.”
Understanding the significance and weight of why holidays are observed and how they may be seen or celebrated by different communities is critical — opening our eyes to those around us who may not be buying a turkey, trick-or-treating or cheering for an Italian explorer.
As we grow in our understanding of these holidays, it is equally important to consider the impact of our actions and, again, to be intentional in how we engage.
This could look like creating space for complex narratives to be shared: instead of reading a children’s book that glosses over the origins of Thanksgiving, begin a conversation that acknowledges both the hurt and joy this holiday can represent.
This could look like listening to another’s lived reality: why does my neighbor trick-or-treat (or not)? What does Columbus Day mean for them? How have they learned to observe Thanksgiving?
When thinking about engaging these spaces well, it’s also important to remember that where social justice issues are involved, Christian communities and voices should be both active and intentional — championing the cause and prioritizing the voices of those who have been historically disregarded or oppressed.
How can we look for spaces of reconciliation and lean into them this holiday season?
And, finally, both our pursuit of understanding and our intentional actions should be driven by kindness in controversial spaces.
This may sound cliché — and yet, condemnation or indifference can be easier responses to reach for in our interactions with those who think or live differently than ourselves.
Dyson shared one way that kindness can be extended.
“Many of our students have family traditions around Thanksgiving, and the traditions of our homes spill into our campus for sure,” Dyson said. “One tradition that we have embraced is bringing roommates home with us to take in family time together. What I have seen and love about this is that we share what we have with others and ease the pain of being away from home and our families by being accepted into the homes of others and being accepted by them.”
Dyson notes that anyone interested in extending this invitation to their peers can email Director of International Student Programs Nate Chu at email@example.com.
Kindness can also look like honoring another’s opinion, supporting another’s tradition or engaging in someone else’s experience.
In the coming weeks, Taylor University has the opportunity to approach controversial holidays with understanding, intentionality and kindness.
It is our hope, on the Echo editorial board, that the Taylor community will choose to embrace this opportunity and engage complicated spaces with grace.