Friday, December 18, 2015

Merry Christmas and other seasonal thoughts

Originally published in Reader Weekly, December 22, 2005

For yet another year, Christmas is controversial.  If there isn’t a ruckus about the commercialization of Christmas, there is a ruckus about Christmas not being “inclusive”.  Some big box stores have told their “associates” to not wish “guests” “Merry Christmas”; instead the associates are to wish “Happy Holidays”.  Some think that this is great because we are a “diverse” nation, others think it is terrible because we are a “Christian” nation, and yet others, possibly the majority, don’t care.

As a freethinker and sentimentalist, I think both sides are expecting too much of other people.  I personally don’t believe the Christian overlay to the winter solstice.  On the other hand, I love the traditions that have derived from that Christian overlay.  It doesn’t bother me to sing “Joy the world, the Lord has come” and other carols because the music is great and it brings back memories of many Christmas celebrations over the years.

Those who want “inclusivity” seem to think that a dominant culture is a dominating culture.   Because a larger portion of a society believes one way and acts on it in any fashion, then that portion is dominating all those who don’t believe that way.  That is, by saying “Merry Christmas” to everyone, you are making them believe in Christmas.

Some of those who don’t want others to practice such “inclusivity” seem to think that a dominant culture has a right to be a dominating culture.  That is, you will say “Merry Christmas” whether you believe it or not.

I think both sides could take a lesson from Irving Berlin, the son of a cantor who fled the anti-Semitic pogroms in Russia.  Irving Berlin wrote both “White Christmas” and “Easter Parade”.  He didn’t believe in either holiday, but he helped those who did celebrate them with joy.

To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, you can please all of the people some of the time, and you can please some of the people all of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.

Rigidity in viewpoint came up recently in another context.  A letter writer to the Star Tribune called Garrison Keillor anti-Christian as well as all of MPR or NPR.  That was a surprise to me.  Garrison Keillor may pillory hypocrites or gently chide those who have feet of clay, but all the evidence I’ve seen indicates he has the deepest respect for those who are sincere in their beliefs.  For as long as I can remember, he has often included hymns and religious singers in his shows.  Many MPR programs include religious music, including the annual “Festival of nine lessons and carols” from King’s College in Oxford.

Rigidity is found all across the political spectrum.  Many think that Kevin Thompson is hard-nosed and uncharitable.  So what do they do; they write hard-nosed and uncharitable letters about Kevin.  Hey, he stopped writing for the Reader Weekly; be charitable and let him be.

Speaking of Garrison Keillor, he recently gave an interesting view of Herod’s slaughter of the innocents – it was anti-terrorism.  In Herod’s viewpoint, Jesus was a threat to his power; therefore he had to take steps to reduce that threat.  Keillor went on to say the message of Christmas is that the weak shall prevail over the powerful.

Holiday spirits of another kind abound at this time of the year both in and out of the news.  Before I left for an employee party I decided I would have two beers while there.  When I left for the party it was snowing heavily; I decided I would have only one beer.  As I drove up Thompson Hill I saw either an accident or a disabled truck on the downhill side that had brought traffic to a crawl in one lane; I decided I would have no beers.  When I drove down the hill two hours later, the road was in somewhat better shape, but I was glad I held myself to my promise.

Holiday spirits are not the only thing to be wary of at this time of the year.  I often approach curves in the winter with the thought, “Somebody coming the other way could skid over the center line.”  As expected, my thoughts are usually not realized.  Except for twice in recent memory.  The second was this past week at Miller Hill Mall.  I approached a sharp turn to my left by Northstar Ford.  There was a huge pile of snow on the inside of the corner.  Would somebody be crossing the center line?  Sure enough, a car coming too fast for the conditions started coming into my lane.   I was going rather slowly and stopped without a problem.  The other driver managed to recover from her error, but she drove by me like I wasn’t even there.  I wonder if she even knew how close she came to spoiling both of our evenings, and holidays.