Monday, December 20, 2010

A Christmas Wish: Can't We All Just Get Along?

A few days ago, I posted the following status to Facebook:

Re all the current ‘War on Christmas’ rhetoric posted on FB: No one I know is offended by the phrase ‘Merry Christmas.’ I'm not, and I haven't been a Christian for many years. At this holiday season, does it really do any of us any good to manufacture bad feelings that never existed in the first place? Merry Christmas to those of you who celebrate it, and peace on Earth and goodwill toward all. Namaste!”

It got a lot of positive feedback, but it also puzzled a few people. What was I talking about? They hadn’t seen anything like that from their Facebook friends.

So I thought I would share the content of the status that inspired me to post, as well as expand my thoughts on the matter.

First, the inspiration: A former high school classmate posted, “MERRY CHRISTMAS! If that offends you, get over it! JESUS is the REASON for the SEASON!”

Now, throughout the build-up to the big day, I’ve been seeing similar postings, mostly from former classmates, and I’ve let them go without comment. I don’t have any problem with such phrases as “happy holidays” or “season’s greetings,” and I don’t see why anyone would find them problematic, but apparently there’s a lot of umbrage out there about more inclusive holiday greetings—umbrage that to me seems ill-placed. But whatever. It was the tone of this status that I found particularly counter to the spirit of the holiday season. My way or the highway! Almost as if the person who posted it was counting on offending those who don’t celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday. Or those who celebrate other holidays at this time of the year. And was, in fact, proud of doing so.

Initially, I was simply going to post my response as a comment on her status. Then I thought, “No. I think other people need to see this. With the number of similar (though not as strident) posts I’ve seen in the last few weeks, I figured I couldn’t be the only person, Christian or not, who, while not being the least bit offended by the greeting “Merry Christmas,” is plenty annoyed by the ginned up outrage over an issue that doesn’t, in fact, exist, and that the pursuit of which does nothing but divide.

So I posted my reply as my status.

And I simply have to add a bit of a history lesson here—I was a Social Studies editor for years, after all—Jesus is ONE of the “reasons” for the season. In fact, most human cultures that developed in the Temperate Zone of the Northern Hemisphere held some kind of celebration around the Winter Solstice. After all, what better way to encourage a society to work together to brave the cold, dark winter than to celebrate with a festival of warmth and light? For the Celts and other northern European pagans, the festival was Yule. For the Romans, it was Saturnalia—the holiday that the early Christian church actually appropriated as Christmas. A wise move, really, but if those who tout Jesus as the reason for the season want to be accurate, they should acknowledge that Saturn predates Jesus if they want a reason for the season in the first place. The truth is, there are probably as many “reasons for the season” as there are humans who celebrate at this time of year.

And yes, I celebrate Christmas, even though I’ve been an agnostic now for much longer than I ever was a Christian. I give presents to friends. I decorate. I enjoy the company of friends and family. I sing Christmas carols and drive Jeff nuts playing them for hours on end. I force him to endure Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol year after year after year. Yes, I celebrate. And no, I’m not the least bit offended when someone wishes me a Merry Christmas.

So to all my friends, Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Season’s Greetings, Blessed Yule, and to all, a good night!


Wednesday, December 08, 2010

A Yuletide (Well, Kinda) Memory

During my walk this lunchtime (which, by the way, has become a futile effort in terms of exercise due to sporadic—at best—neighborhood sidewalk snow and ice removal), my playlist of Christmas favorites offered up the Phil Spector/Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans version of “The Bells of St. Mary’s,” and a memory surfaced.

Back in old Waynesboro, Virginia, my hometown, there was precious little for high school kids to do of a weekend evening. There was especially precious little for kids who hadn’t yet fallen prey to the usual high-school pastimes of dating and drinking and such. Oh, there was the Skyline Drive-In (which was also, I’m sure, a great place for those who dated and drank). We used to pile a bunch of us into a car and go there to watch cheap scare movies and provide running commentary.
We used to collect stuff from our basements and attics and dress up the local statue of David (a be-fig-leafed replica of Michelangelo’s masterpiece) in the finery we scavenged.
We went to the local dine ‘n’ dance dive, the late and maybe lamented by someone High Hatter, where we dared each other to walk through to the ladies’ room (or the men’s room, depending) to buy two-for-a-quarter prophylactics from the machine therein (for prevention of disease ONLY). We then filled the condoms with water and held water balloon fights—usually, though, not in the High Hatter parking lot. Even we knew that was a sure way to get our asses kicked by humorless bikers.
After our evening of hijinks, we often headed to the local Pizza Hut (which is now home to Scotto’s Italian Restaurant, and has been for years) where we shared a pie or two and, invariably, played the jukebox. And this is where the memory starts.
At some point, one of our number—Cindy F., to be exact—discovered that among the usual top-40 offerings on the Pizza Hut jukebox was a version of “The Bells of St. Mary’s” sung by Bing Crosby. And from then on, whenever we went to the Pizza Hut with Cindy in tow, we knew that we’d be regaled with “The Bells of St. Mary’s” somewhere in the mix. Sometimes twice in the mix. And then…
And then came that fateful evening when Cindy loaded up the jukebox with quarters. And played “The Bells of St. Mary’s” over and over and over and over…

Well, it was not hard to tell which table had perpetrated this outrage. Every time the song would start again, howls of laughter would rise from our corner booth. Our crime discovered, our merry band was ejected from the Pizza Hut. A classmate who worked there told us later that the management finally had to unplug the jukebox to stop the onslaught of Der Bingle. It was one of Cindy’s finest hours.
Not really a Christmas memory—I don’t think it happened at Christmas—but brought back to mind by my Christmas playlist.
Ah hear! They are calling the young loves, the true loves, that come from the sea…

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