Thursday, December 08, 2005

'Tis the season to argue

I don’t watch Fox News. All those angry conservative white men in an incessant tirade give me a headache.

So I wasn’t up-to-snuff on the latest raging battle in the cultural war for the American mind and spirit — and dollar. I didn’t realize that when the Wal-Mart greeter wished me “happy holidays” I, as a Christian living in this predominantly Christian nation, should be offended. I just smiled back at her and wished her the same.

And when my Dad and sister showed up at the Big Duck holiday lighting ceremony in Flanders last week with their knickers in a twist, I was at first perplexed.

“He’s all worked up over this Christmas thing,” my exasperated sister informed me.

“Christmas thing?” I asked.

“You know. O’Reilly.” She assessed the blank look on my face and explained further.

Our Dad watches Fox constantly — except when there’s a Yankee or Ranger game on. Fox even blares on the TV in his bedroom all through the night — helps him sleep, he says. Go figure. And Bill O’Reilly? He’s the man. You can always get a glimpse of O’Reilly’s cause du jour by having a brief conversation with my Dad.

Her recitation of the latest O’Reilly-driven family flap completed, my sister gestured to the county showmobile stage and whispered, “I hope nobody says ‘happy holidays’ or else I’ll be hearing about it all the way home, too.’

It was the holiday lighting ceremony, after all, so that prospect seemed inevitable. But whatever ill will those “happy holiday” wishes might have generated was offset by the sight of his grandchildren singing traditional Christmas carols — and other songs — before the strand of colored lights around the Big Duck’s neck was lit and Santa arrived by fire truck.

I don’t argue these points with my father any more. Sparks flew at the dinner table every night during my teenage years, when we would argue about anything and everything. In the late 60s and early 70s, there were plenty of topics to choose from, too. My poor mother.

Sunday in Wal-Mart, I’m actually looking at boxed Christmas cards when my cell phone rings. It’s my Dad. He’s not happy when he hears where I am, and it’s not because he thinks I should be in church instead. When I tell him what I’m doing, he says he hopes I buy cards that say Merry Christmas and not Happy Holidays — if Wal-Mart even sells cards that say Merry Christmas, that is. Of course — maybe in response to my father yelling in my ear — I go for the secular version. (That’s how I became a Mets fan and a Democrat, if you want to know the truth.)

Now I happen to think there’s a whole host of valid reasons not to shop in Wal-Mart, but the greeter wishing me a “happy holiday” instead of “Merry Christmas” isn’t one of them.

Bill O’Reilly wrote in his Dec. 1 column: “Corporate America should get down on its knees and thank God that the baby Jesus was born two thousand plus years ago.” I don’t get it, Bill. It’s OK for corporate America to exploit the birth of Christ for profit, as long as they acknowledge that “Jesus is the reason for the season” as they’re counting their loot?

Christians have had much to be offended by at this time of year for decades. I’m not talking about seeing menorahs lit next to crèches on public property or people using a secular phrase like “happy holidays.” The Christmas holiday in America hasn’t been about celebrating the baby Jesus for half a century at least. Who are we kidding? It’s been all about money — shopping and spending, even going into debt to do it. That’s the meaning of Christmas in America. So if you’re going to get offended about anything, Bill, as a Christian, that should be it. The celebration of the birth of Christ — which didn’t even happen in December, by the way; it was, ironically, placed on the calendar at this particular time of year by the early church in an effort to coopt a pagan holiday and win followers — has long been exploited for commercial gain by corporate America. It’s not about Jesus or any of the things he taught, like loving your neighbor and serving others.

It’s an excuse to sell things. One trip to The O’Reilly Christmas Store at illustrates the point. There you can buy “The Spin Stops Here” fleece vests and “O’Reilly Factor” garment bags and a variety of “No Spin” mugs, pens, umbrellas, caps and dormats — even a tin with “No Spin” mints. There’s no Christ or Christmas at The O’Reilly Christmas Store. In fact, the only mention of God I could find there was a “God Bless America - No Spin Zone” license plate frame, specially priced for this holiday — um, I mean Christmas — season at just $17.95. Seems Mr. O’Reilly, the self-appointed guardian of American Christian values, understands the true meaning of Christmas: retail.

Even so, I’m not sure how much Jesus would mind, since the season seems to help people -of all religious persuasions to spread a little good will and cheer for a few weeks.

Until now. With Christmas made part of the conservatives’ cultural war, it’s been turned into another reason to mistrust, hate and fight one another. I’d bet Jesus would have something to say about that, for sure.


Nicole Fanelli-Burke said...

What a funny coincidence, Denise. I too heard about this latest "affront" from my father and sister - via email.
My dad forwarded some family members an email on the topic and commented "I am determined to say 'Merry Christmas' this year, instead of the PC 'Happy Holidays'." My sister wrote back to all and said "Me too!"

When did "Politically Correct" become a bad word? I thought we were saying Happy Holidays because we'd become more sensitive and enlightened to the reality that not all Americans celebrate Christian Holidays, and to assume they do is to assume we are all the same: Christians. But, I thought, collective America realized that our country is a cultural melting pot. So it would be unfair and incorrect to assume everyone you see during December is a Christian.

So when did the pendulum swing back? Why are "cultural conservatives" going backwards on this issue? What are they afraid of losing now?? When someone wishes me a "Happy Holiday", I hear it personally as "Merry Christmas". My friend Liz will hear it as "Happy Hanukah" and maybe we all hear a little "Happy New Year" in there, too. Why should I be offended that someone is not using the word Christ? No one is putting Jesus down, are they?

Sometimes, when I feel the urge to wish a stranger a Merry Christmas, but my crazy liberal "PC" conscience kicks in, I'll ask, "Do you celebrate Christmas?" 9 out of 10 times, they do, so THEN I wish them a Merry Christmas. No big deal.

This issue really gets my goat. So glad you opened it up to discussion.

Ray said...

I think the issue nowadays is that "people", whoever these people are, go out of their way not to ascribe any religious significance to the holiday season. It's become such a generic shopping frenzy that we forget just what it is we're celebrating this time of year, whether you're Jewish or Christian. And you can't deny the trend to more "Happy Holidays" signage as opposed to "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Hanukah", either of which would cause one to reflect on the reason for the season, to use an old adage.

Anonymous said...

I believe the Fox bunch are simply asking that Christmas be included in displays, on-line sales, adver-tising, and not excluded with that rediculous "We don't want to offend anyone"
Guess what Wal-Mart, Target, Sears K-Mart, Lowes etc.- you just did!

Celia L. Iannelli said...

Hi Denise - How curious that we should set aside one season of the year for good will toward men/women and brotherly love. I think Jesus,God,Divine Guidance, smiles a bit at this presumption. So now during this season of good will, we are engaged in a fight over words. Christmas has become a consumer holiday. So now all christians should be offended?
I really don't get it. As far as Fox News and Bill O'Reilly since when have they become the paragon of brotherly love...Another reason for them to stir the pot ..
Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays,
Seasons Greetings, Happy Hanukah to my brothers and sisters.

mkitcowt said...

And what do you say to a Jehovah Witness?
(no, I don't have a punch line)

The whole thing is silly, if you ask me.
I think people should say whatever they want.

And if someone wishes you well, in any form, count your blessings and a simple, "Thank you. And you, too" will do.

Bill Valentine, Jamesport said...

Hi Denise,
Although I don't usually think of myself that way, I guess I am one of those conservative white men that give you a headache. I don't agree with your adjective of "angry" or the phase "in an incessant tirade" to describe me.
I will however argue that it was a Christmas lighting ceremony at the big duck and not a "holiday" lighting ceremony. Truth is, it's not worth an argument.
You are right that corporate America has exploited the season. However, Christmas is still about Jesus and the things he taught for many good people of all religious beliefs. If you doubt this, come visit a Maureen's Haven night at Sacred Heart Parish Hall in Cutchogue or any of the other churches of all denominations which participate in giving food and shelter to people in difficult circumstances. There you will find local people volunteering their time to "serve others" in the spirit of Christ at Christmas.
I'm sure you have plans for Christmas as most of us do but if you have an hour come down to Sacred Heart Parish Hall on Christmas night. The volunteers will be there serving as Christ taught.
Merry Christmas Denise

Pistol said...

How bout we just round it all out to "Happy Annual International Non-Denominational Madatory Gift-Giving Holiday" and be done with it? Because that's all it is now. Who cares what it's called, as you said, the principal has been diluted through marketing.