— G. K. Chesterton
In a season that should be merry and bright, some folks always seem determined to find something to get upset about.
Some years back, I heard of students who were studying for the ministry getting their clerical robes all in a wad over whether “Xmas” was an appropriate abbreviation for Christmas. The battle line was drawn between those who had passed Greek and those who had not — being able to read the Gospels in the language of Homer was said to be what separated those who would be approved to preach the word of God from those who would change majors to something like history, or journalism. Since the non-Greek faction was far larger, they voted to put Christ back in, which seemed a dandy idea to those of us who never knew He was out in the first place.
However, the X-or-Christ controversy was small potatoes when compared to all the carrying-on about the way that the celebration of the birth of Jesus has been commercialized — a concern that often coincides with a maxed-out credit card.
Happily, any uneasiness this year over the seasonal shopping spree was eased when the former governor of Alaska came on The Today Show to promote her new book and tell us, “I love the commercialization of Christmas, because it spreads the Christmas cheer.”
But don’t go counting the former governor among the contented this holiday season. She is upset — not with Greek-readers trying to put the “X” back in, or with consumers who might spread cheer by buying her book. No, she is upset at the way “the heart of Christmas” has been put in danger by “an angry atheist armed with an attorney.”
Now, let’s get down to basics. Some folks today of other faiths, or no faith at all, want a hunk of the Christmas season for themselves. And some Christians don’t want them to have it.
Well, they have it already. The Christmas season is full of days other than Christmas that are important to people other than Christians.
On the religious list there is Bodhi Day for Buddhists, Pancha Ganapati for Hindus, Hanukkah for Jews. On the secular side there is Dongzhi (Chinese), Soyal (Zuni and Hopi), Kwanzaa (Pan-African), plus a host of pagan winter-solstice celebrations.
And there is Festivus, that Seinfeld TV-show inspired “Festivus for the rest of us,” where all the commercial clutter of Christmas is replaced with a simple aluminum pole.
So, in our multi-cultural, multi-religious, multi-racial society, what are we to do?
The answer may lie in the actions taken by a couple of states and endorsed by their conservative Republican governors.
Down in Florida, after learning that there was a nativity scene in the state Capitol, a self-proclaimed “militant atheist” (maybe the one Sarah Palin warned us about) announced he wanted to erect an eight-foot tall Festivus Pole made out of Pabst Blue Ribbon cans alongside Mary, Joseph and the babe lying in the manger.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott said, “OK.”
Now, you might write that off as Florida being Florida. Remember, Florida is the state where the tourist board once boasted that “the rules are different here.”
But there also is Wisconsin.
Up there, state officials decided they would save the cost of battling that “angry atheist armed with an attorney” and simply let organizations erect displays in the Capitol rotunda if they wanted to.
So they gave an anti-abortion group permission to put up the traditional nativity scene. Then they gave the Freedom From Religion Foundation permission to put up a “Winter Solstice Nativity” that includes Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein and Mark Twain as the Three Wise Men, the Statue of Liberty and an astronaut as angels, and an African-American baby girl doll because “humankind was birthed in Africa.”
What did Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker think of this? The same Gov. Scott Walker who, not giving a hoot if he offends the offendable, insists on calling the Capitol “Holiday Tree” a “Christmas Tree.”
“It’s fine,” Walker said. “I think it’s a reflection of the many different wonderful traditions in the state of Wisconsin.”
This year they added a Festivus Pole.
And at noon on Monday — “Festivus Day,” Dec. 23 — Wisconsin did Florida one better and hosted the traditional Festivus “Airing of Grievances,” a ceremony in which those present can vent whatever frustrations they have.
Up in frozen Wisconsin, residents seem content to share December.
“You aren’t going to hear me complaining about it,” said the lady who heads the organization that put up the traditional nativity scene. The way she sees it, the variety of belief on display “adds to the fun and excitement of the season.”
Just like commercialization.
Harvey H. (“Hardy”) Jackson is Professor Emeritus of History at Jacksonville State University and a columnist and editorial writer for The Star. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.