a holiday parable

“If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn't.” 
- Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

On the first day of November I looked out my front window and saw my neighbor stringing LED lights over every inch of his shrubs. If you’re thinking November 1 is a little early for Christmas lights, you’re exactly right. My neighbor is Hindu, and as I later discovered, the lights were being strung in celebration of Diwali, the five-day Hindu festival of lights.

For the next week and a half, every time we passed each other on the way to get the newspaper, he greeted me with a loud “Happy Diwali!” This was bewildering. Not wanting to offend, I replied “Happy Holidays!” the first several times, but after awhile I honestly didn’t know what to say. Was he trying to make a point? I was pretty sure he knew I was a Christian.

Then came the afternoon I bumped into him outside our neighborhood coffee shop. We exchanged greetings (“Happy Diwali!” “Ummm…yeah, you too.”), and then I asked him what coffee drink he liked to order. He glanced toward the store.

“It turns out I’m not ordering anything after all.”

“Really? Why not?”

He pointed at the words “Happy Holidays” painted across the storefront windows. “What a cop-out. This place is not getting my business.”

Now I was really confused. Did my neighbor expect a store that did business with people of all backgrounds to hang a “Happy Diwali” sign in its window? Just what kind of holiday was Diwali? It must be a pretty mean-spirited one if you can’t patronize stores that don’t specifically acknowledge its occurrence. I went home and looked it up online: “Diwali is a five-day celebration of brotherhood, involving firecrackers, lights, the wearing of new clothes and the exchanging of gifts and sweets.” What did any of that have to do with boycotting businesses? It didn’t sound mean-spirited at all.

During the five days of Diwali, my neighbor did indeed wear new clothes – tee shirts with different messages about the true meaning of Diwali and its rightful place on the calendar. There were yard signs to let us all know what times his temple would be holding services. And the twinkle lights? Think Vegas.

Here’s the weirdest part: for eleven months out of the year you’d never know a nice guy like him could be so oblivious to other peoples’ beliefs. I wanted to gently sit him down and read him the parable of the Good Samaritan – I wanted him to see that being a good neighbor involves treating others with respectful care, even if their beliefs are not yours.

But I don’t think he’d get it – after all, he’s not a Christian.

All parables have a message. Can you guess the message of mine? Click {here} if you need a bit of help. To my Christian brothers and sisters, a very Merry Christmas. To my neighbors of every persuasion, the happiest of holiday seasons.