Friday, December 15, 2006

In the Spirit of the Season


I had a colleague once upon a time who had a unique approach to the holidays.

She was Jewish, her husband was Protestant, and they had two kids.

But instead of going through the anguish of whose religious preference prevailed, they simply celebrated everything.

Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa - you name it, they did it. It was a clever way to solve a knotty problem.

If only all of us would be so creative.

I thought of her recently when I read that the folks up at Sea-Tac Airport in the state of Washington removed all the terminal's Christmas trees in response to a complaint by a rabbi.

The rabbi wanted to install an 8-foot menorah and have a public lighting ceremony and threatened to sue if it wasn't done.

So airport officials, using the meat-cleaver approach to problem solving, decided they didn't have time to "add a fair representation of all cultures," so they took down all the decorations.

I don't quite understand why it would take more time to erect a menorah than it would to take down 15 Christmas trees, but people think differently in the Pacific Northwest. I think it's the dampness.

Eventually, the trees, called "holiday trees" by airport officials in a burst of political correctness, were restored when the rabbi insisted it was not his intent to "hold Christmas hostage."

But there's still no menorah. Stay tuned.

The entire silly episode is an example of the battle to sanitize our culture that is being waged by the armies of political correctness and fueled by a population in which everyone believes he or she is a victim.

Don't get me wrong. I don't believe anyone should shove their beliefs down another person's throat. I also believe we should be sensitive to our cultural differences and learn to celebrate them.

And I don't buy into the goofball theory of Fox commentator Bill O'Reilly who claims that "it's all part of the secular progressive agenda ... to get Christianity and spirituality and Judaism out of the public square." He also says that this larger agenda includes "legalization of narcotics, euthanasia, abortion at will, gay marriage."

Sorry, Bill, it's not a conspiracy. In fact, it may be worse than that. It's a bunch of well-intentioned people run amok.

Why do we walk on eggshells for fear of offending non-Christians, when, at the same time, surveys show most non-Christians in the U.S. celebrate Christmas in one form or another?

Which underscores the point that, like it or not, Christmas is not the religious holiday it once was. We have Charles Dickens to thank for that.

According to historian Ronald Hutton, the current state of observance of Christmas is largely the result of a mid-Victorian revival of the holiday spearheaded by Dickens. In "A Christmas Carol," Hutton argues, Dickens sought to construct Christmas as a family-centered festival of generosity, in contrast to the community-based and church-centered observations, the observance of which had dwindled during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

Oddly, the Brits themselves are in an uproar about what their Mr. Dickens hath wrought. A recent article in the Daily Mail decried the fact that "only one in 100 Christmas cards sold in Britain contains religious imagery or message.

"One offensive card ... suggested that shepherds only saw the angel appear on the hillside because they were hallucinating after smoking drugs.

"Another card ignores Christmas altogether - wishing the recipient a `Happy December."'

Meanwhile, back in the United States, there are some signs that sanity may be making a return appearance.

Many retailers and corporations are reversing their decisions to avoid use of the term "Christmas" in their advertising and promotions, a really bad decision made last year. Among those who have decided to re-embrace Christmas are Wal-Mart, Target, Kohl's, Sears Holdings Corp. (Sears and K-Mart) and Macy's. Maybe we should boycott them anyway for stupidity.

In the meantime, go ahead and shout it from the rooftops: "Merry Christmas!" It's making a comeback. Celebrate it however you please. Call it what you want. But just enjoy it.

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