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December 1, 2005

The Once and Future Season

Tony Soltero

It's that time of the year again. The Most. Wonderful. Time of the Year. The time of year when we're as likely to throw parties on Tuesday nights as on Saturdays, when we hope our metabolisms don't notice that we're ingesting three times as much food as usual; when we peruse weather reports like they're mutual-funds statements; when we reacquaint ourselves with the local malls; when far-flung family members catch up with each other; and, of course, when millions of Americans celebrate a holiday, in most (but not all) cases Christmas.

It's a hectic and stressful time for many, but it's an invigorating kind of stress. We all observe our holidays in our own ways, by attending the religious services we choose to, decorating trees in our living rooms, exchanging gifts, taking little vacations, or all of the above and more. And most of us have a great time in the process.

Then there's a small but very vocal group of people that just can't bring themselves to enjoy the season. Small-minded, thin-skinned people who just aren't happy unless they're busy going out of their way looking for reasons to be offended.

And by what are these Grinches offended? People who...who utter alarmingly provocative phrases like, er, "Happy Holidays."

The horror, the horror!!

Offer that innocuous greeting to the wrong person, and prepare for a torrent of invective to come flying at you like a swarm of Oreo cookies. You might get a diatribe on how Christmas is supposedly "under siege" in this country; or on how "political correctness" (a spent, tired phrase if there ever was one) is ruining America; or on How This Proves That The Terrorists Have Already Won; or some other slice of wildly imaginative rhetoric.

If the local barber shop has the temerity to hang a sign with a religiously neutral phrase (which, after all, can be a rational marketing decision), can the apocalypse be far behind?

And God forbid that Washington or Annapolis refrain from religious favoritism and wish all of its citizens a "happy holiday season!" Are some people that insecure in their faith that they can't observe and enjoy the Christmas season without having it explicitly validated by the government?

The perpetual victimization mentality displayed by certain fundamentalist sects in this country borders on the comical. Egged on by high-profile, right-wing propagandists in the media, who actually devote entire half-hour segments to this "controversy," they whine that Christmas is "under attack" and make other such wild claims.

But I've personally never encountered anybody who's been prevented by the government from celebrating Christmas – or Hanukkah, for that matter.

I've never seen federal investigators furtively scribbling down the license plates of the faithful attending Christmas services. There might be occasions when a local or state government declined to show a preference for one holiday tradition over another – a perfectly valid course of action given the First Amendment of our Constitution – but such restrictions only apply to agents of the state. No individual, and no business, is prevented by the state from observing Christmas as he or she deems most appropriate.

But perhaps the fears of the always-paranoid fundies are well-founded. After all, there was once a time during which it was illegal to observe Christmas. Right here in America. For a few decades in the 17th century, it was a crime in Massachusetts – that’s right, a crime – to celebrate the Christmas holiday. Those people who surreptitiously observed the feast found themselves harassed by the government, and in many cases arrested.

And what malevolent forces were behind this attack on Christmas? Was al-Qaeda around back then? Was it those evil secularists?

Nope. The single biggest attack on Christmas in American history came not from Islamists, not from nonreligious people, but from a fundamentalist "Christian" religious group that happened to enjoy unbridled political power, with no federal Constitution to rein in its excesses. The Puritans didn't approve of Christmas, so they saw fit to impose their worldview on everyone else in their colony.

And there was no nosy, intrusive federal government back then to prevent the Puritans from trampling over the rights of those who did want to observe the holiday. Ah, the good old days!

Oliver Cromwell's Puritans are the spiritual forefathers of today's shrillest "Christian" fundamentalists – the Taliban's cousins on this side of the world. Perhaps when we hear their breathless rhetoric on the "attacks" on Christmas, we might do well to remember who's really got the worst track record in this regard. And once again be grateful for the First Amendment that allows us all to celebrate the holidays as we please.

And let's all now enjoy the holidays to come. Whichever ones we choose to observe.

Yellow Cab
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