Devon Avenue has been decorated for the holidays that dare not be named.
While commercial districts in other neighborhoods are welcoming shoppers of all faiths and decorating to celebrate the season, the overlords of Devon Avenue–our unelected SSA Commissioners–have once again opted to celebrate diversity by pointedly ignoring Chanukah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa.
The “holiday” decorations chosen by the SSA– flashing lights of blue, red, green, and white– signify nothing, impart no holiday spirit, acknowledge no religious heritage, and do not reflect either the joy of the season or the spiritual renewal experienced by most of the ward’s residents at this time of year. Instead, they contribute additional gaudiness to a street whose storefront doors and windows are already ablaze with neon. The overall effect is that of a long, long strip mall, every intersection resembling the entrance to a gas station.
The SSA seems to think that only Hindu holidays should be celebrated. This is wrong. We are a neighborhood of many faiths. Today, Roman Catholics will begin the Advent season, a time of prayer and preparation for the birth of Christ. On Sunday evening our Jewish neighbors will begin celebrating the eight days of Chanukah, the Festival of Lights. Beginning on December 26, African-Americans and African immigrants will join together for Kwanzaa, a weeklong celebration of African values and culture. Many Greek, Russian, and Serbian Orthodox Christians in our ward will observe Christmas on January 7.
This rich cultural and spiritual heritage is ignored by the SSA. The colors of the season are present but their display signifies nothing to anyone.
The SSA plans to install mandalas at Western and Devon. Why not a community Christmas tree? Why not a public menorah lighting? Why not a winter festival that includes the entire community? Twenty percent of this Ward is Hispanic–where’s the Posada? Faith isn’t required to appreciate pageantry.
Contrast the 50th Ward’s approach to this time of year with that of the 41st Ward. Alderman Napolitano invites residents to eight non-religious holiday events occurring in December. Two of those are sponsored by the local historical society, including a craft boutique / cafe and a holiday house tour with or without lunch. One local Chamber of Commerce sponsors both a Winter Wine Stroll and a holiday dinner as well as a rewards program for shoppers who support local businesses. Another Chamber brought the Santa Express and is holding an ugly Christmas sweater contest as well as a community-wide scavenger hunt for the weekend before New Year’s. One park council has organized a holiday bazaar. There’s also a Toys for Tots campaign that’s a joint project between a local park council and the friends of the local library.
This level of community doesn’t happen without leadership from the alderman. It’s true that the 41st Ward doesn’t have the diversity of the 50th, but I think that just gives us greater opportunities to explore other faiths and cultures and to share the joys of America’s unique cultural and religious heritage with our newest immigrants.
Silverstein and the SSA are not interested. Devon celebrates Diwali and nothing else. The SSA can put loudspeakers in a parking lot but not a Christmas tree, a menorah, or even a sign that reads “Season’s Greetings.”
Merry Christmas? Happy Chanukah? Habari Gani?