There’s a difference in the notion of secularism I grew up with, living in Bombay and what my son is growing up with, here in Manhattan.
I had holidays for Diwali, Eids, Christmas, Buddha Jayanti, Mahavir Jayanti, Parsi New Year, Guru Purab etc etc. In school, we learnt Sanskrit shloks alongside O Come All Ye Faithful or Buddham Sharanam Gachhaami, had Santa come give us presents on Christmas and knew Bakr eid from Ramzan.
Secularism gets interpreted in my son’s world by non-celebration of any religious festival in school. In fact no religious displays of any kind are allowed. Merry Christmas becomes Happy Holidays, traditional Christmas songs sung for winter concerts make appearances with skillfully altered lyrics to cleanse them of any/all religious bias. No holidays are given for festivals (except of course, the winter break that coincides with Christian and Jewish celebrations).
I suppose these are two ways of approaching the same thing, though I prefer my path to my son’s.
Introduction to several religious ideas, festivals, ways of life, broadened my outlook. The world was not merely Hindu I realized very early on. There are Buddhists, Jains, Muslims, Sardars, Christians, Parsis and they all have interesting ways of celebrating their lives. A window into the unknown. Association. Empathy.
Not talking about religion is not going to make it go away. It’ll always be there in one way or another. Why then not celebrate its diversity instead of shunning it in entirety?