Friday, December 25, 2009

Immigrants Adjust to American Christmas Traditions

Happy holidays, everyone! bh

Chris Hedges writes in the NY Times:

Perhaps they were myths that were destined to fade, subsumed just as Saturnalia was by the Romans in the middle of the fourth century A.D. into Christmas itself. Images of sleighs, reindeer, snow-capped white clapboard houses and portly gentlemen in tweed toasting the Yuletide always seemed somewhat incongruous among the apartment blocks in Jackson Heights, anyway.

The Irish, the Italians, the Greeks and the Puerto Ricans in New York have always used Christmas to retreat into the cocoon of their lost worlds, ones where coins were baked into cakes or the Epiphany was celebrated as the date the divine was first revealed to humankind.

''We used to have nice decorations on Main Street,'' said Theresa Lanczki, 80, as she sat having a coffee in a Korean pastry shop in Queens. ''We used to have big Hungarian gatherings,'' she continued. ''We even had them after the war, but by the 1950's everyone became more and more American. The social clubs closed. I used to go to the library for Hungarian books. One day I stopped. I turned to English.''

The city's newest wave of immigrants, for whom Christianity is often an alien and mystifying religion, have even more radically sliced and cut, discarded what does not work and ignored what is inconvenient to fashion a palatable Christmas. The mutations represent at once the weary resignation of immigrants who must learn to accommodate, yet struggle to cling to the traditions and culture they have left behind.

Small trees go up, mostly for children conditioned in school and by television to expect them, and then disappear once the children are grown. Gifts are exchanged over curry dishes and traditional celebrations prolonged to merge into the strange American holiday. Click here for the rest of the story.


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