Sunday, December 04, 2005

Happy, Uh ... Merry, Um ... Is It January Yet?

It’s that time of year, when religious conservatives claim that there’s a war against Christmas. This time their cause is being abetted by Fox News personalities Bill O’Reilly and John Gibson, who has written an entire book on the subject. (By ‘book’ I mean ‘slender volume that makes its entire argument in its overly long title so that like-minded individuals who purchase it will not have to read it.’ This category will receive its own best-seller list in the New York Times beginning in January.) I should confess here that I haven’t been able to take Gibson seriously since Slate’s Jack Shafer branded him “TV’s only albino werewolf.”

The target this year is the retail industry, specifically stores that do not use the word ‘Christmas’ in their advertising. This New York Times editorial points out the irony of this approach: it puts these Christians in favor of the commercialization of a sacred holiday. Did they learn nothing from Charlie Brown?

Granted, sometimes the use of ‘inclusive’ language shades over into the ridiculous. There’s no reason for the city of Boston or Lowe’s stores to refer to ‘holiday trees.’ People aren’t buying them to celebrate Hanukkah.

I have a perfectly good reason for wishing others ‘Happy Holidays’ that has nothing to do with cultural sensitivity: I’m cheap. I want my greeting to cover New Year’s as well. Some of these people I may not see until January. Some of them I hope I never see again. In some cases, that’s my New Year’s resolution.

If we go along with the change, there’s no guarantee that the gesture will be appreciated. When I was growing up in Florida, a friend of mine lived on a cul-de-sac where all the neighbors tried to outdo each other when it came to Christmas decorations. Except for my friend’s parents. Every year they would plant a life-sized Nativity scene in their front lawn, illuminated by a single spotlight. “We want to put the Christ back in Christmas,” my friend’s mother would say.

The light show would draw such crowds that whenever I visited my friend in December I had to hike the last quarter-mile on foot, as if I were going to take down Navarone. As I walked up the driveway to the front door, without fail a passerby would shout, “Your house sucks!”

It’s possible that all of these hecklers were from the area’s admittedly slim population of Jews, Wiccans, and Zoroastrians; it’s not like there was anything better to do at night in that neck of the woods. But statistically, I doubt it.

Still, I try to be a force for good in my time. So if there are some who want me to can the euphemisms and say Christmas when I mean Christmas, I’ll do what I can to oblige. Consider:

“Dude, I’m gonna get so shit-faced at the Christmas party! That new girl in accounting sent me a sexy Christmas card, so when everyone leaves I’m gonna nail her under the Christmas tree. This is gonna be the sweetest Christmas season ever!”

No need to thank me. The act of giving is gift enough.