As the semester begins to end, students are preparing for final exams, papers, projects and other assignments to make sure they get all their work done before holiday break. At such a culturally and economically diverse institution such as Amherst, the way each student spends their leisure time during the break can vary tremendously. It is easy to overlook the depth and ubiquitous nature of diversity when the holiday season rolls around due to the bombardment of Christmas-themed commercials on TV, items at stores, and basically everything else you can think of. Every year, it seems that the days after Halloween are a slow steady countdown to Christmas, with a quick Thanksgiving in between. It is important to acknowledge other holidays, or even the absence of certain holidays, and think about what that might mean to the plurality of perspectives and individuals that form our community.
Practicing inclusion is more than simply altering one’s go-to expression from “Merry Christmas” to “Happy Holidays,” so don’t stop there. Using non-specific terminology is perfect when in doubt, but inclusion also means making a concerted effort to know more about other cultures, building awareness and developing understanding. This should be an opportunity to learn about others and their own experiences and traditions during the holiday season. Holidays such as Hanukkah, Ramadan and Diwali are also common celebrations that many outside of those who practice them know little about. This year, Hanukkah is between Dec. 12 and 20, which means some students will be celebrating during the stress and rush that accompany exam period. These traditions should be acknowledged in order to foster inclusion and diversity as well as to offer support to students who are torn between two important events in their year.
This practice of acknowledging and understanding other traditions and holidays expands beyond just this holiday season. While the emphasis on Thanksgiving and Christmas may make it seem like the end of the year is when the biggest holidays occur, many religious and cultural groups’ “holiday season” fall at different times throughout the year. For example, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are the two biggest Jewish holidays, and both are in September. Being aware of these things is something we should practice throughout the year. Last year, contributing opinion writer Sara Schulwolf ’17 penned a piece for The Student discussing the conflict between the college’s spring concert and Passover. She concluded by stating that it is not “too much to ask that you make an effort to remain cognizant of the dates of significant religious and cultural holidays.” This is indeed not much to ask for and it is something we can all be better at. Thinking and bringing into our consciousness the plurality of traditions, cultures and customs that make up our campus and world can help make us more empathetic and accepting.