Ideally, everyone thinks the public library represents them personally. This is our goal. But what happens when there is something that points out individual difference? Do we address everything? Do we address nothing? Herein is the problem with Christmas.
As the celebration of the birth of Christ, Christmas is ,by definition, a Christian holiday. While it may seem to be a secular holiday because of its prominence in our culture, and because a majority of Americans acknowledge it, and we all get the day off — the fact remains that it is not secular. I’ve heard many proclaim Christmas as secular. This is simply not true. Further it is not celebrated by all. This is neither a slam nor an endorsement, but statements of fact
For many of us in public libraries, Christmas poses a real dilemma. Do we put up the icons of the holiday? If we do for this holiday, do we recognize all the other holidays? Do we follow the majority of our community or our own personal belief systems? Are we supporting or alienating our patrons?
Personally, I believe strongly in the separation of church and state. I believe strongly in religious freedom. And I am sympathetic to those who are not in the loud mainstream of society. I know what it’s like to feel alone in a belief or position, and I can tell you, it’s not pleasant. I also know what it’s like to feel socially forced into a situation that goes against your beliefs. Also, not pleasant. For those who do not like or celebrate this holiday, there are few public places where you can escape it. In most of the country, from the grocery store to the drive home, we will be bombarded with the sights and sounds of Christmas. For those who like it, it’s a most wonderful time of the year. But for those who don’t? It’s the bully that won’t let them pass quietly and unnoticed.
It is because of this that I do not put up any specific holiday decorations in the library. I would rather risk offending by omission than have my patrons feel I am discrediting a belief or worse. It is important to me to have the library remain neutral and a perceived safe haven regardless of one’s perspective, religious, political, or otherwise.
Ultimately, I think this is a decision that each library has to make based on the institution’s point of view and their community. Some communities are often more homogenous. At the same time, at this time of year, it can be easy to forget we have fundamental differences.
As librarians, I feel what is most important is to be knowledgeable. It’s not about whether you put up that tree or not, but remembering that ultimately, Christmas is a religious holiday. Our obligation is to know the facts, to act with integrity, and to serve our communities.
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