Wednesday, December 4, 2013

So this is Christmas.

               OK. It's December. Christmas decorations have been in a lot of stores since Halloween. A couple of radio stations here have been playing 24/7 Christmas music since November first.They used to wait till Thanksgiving. Everybody used to wait till Thanksgiving since it was usually a month from Christmas.

Over the last couple decades there seems to have been mission creep. The Christmas shopping season started the day after Thanksgiving. That's also about the time the outside decorations went up.When we were children Mom would bundle us up, put us in the DeSoto Firedome or Plymouth wagon and drive around town to look at the lights. With Dad working nights she needed a hobby, I guess. The Drive-In movies were closed, after all.

Christmas music was interspersed with the top 40 on WCOL AM or WMNI AM radio stations. You heard Muzak versions in stores in the shopping centers. There were only five shopping centers in Columbus, Ohio then. Malls were still a few years off in the future. Downtown was still alive and vibrant.

Lazarus, THE DEPARTMENT STORE, always had a massive display in the windows. Moving trains, an animated North Pole with elves and sleighs, wooden soldiers and Reindeer. There was a raised walkway for us kids to peer through the glass at the animatronic magic.

The electric powered buses disgorged shoppers onto full sidewalks. I remember well the brisk air and bustling crowds as we hit the four big stores. The aforementioned Lazarus(the founding store of Federated Department Stores now rebranded as Macy's), The Union, which was our local version of Nordstoms's, Morehouse Fashion, (upscale) and J.C.Penney's.

We'd stop at Mill's Cafeteria. It had a huge neon windmill sign with moving blades. A Saturday Downtown was a big deal.The Christmas throng didn't seem as harried. There were no stampede's. No one was trampled or tased.

Then things changed. Slowly but surely. A mall opened in the north side of Columbus. Northland. The first enclosed Mall opened in the late Sixties on the far east side, in what was still a rather rural area. Hell a mile away was a small General Aviation field with a grass runway. It was gone soon as development exploded.  The last local leg of I-70 opened a mile from the Eastland Mall. Strip centers were built surrounding the      mall. Downtown was dying as business moved to the suburban Malls and strip centers. The same story the rest of the nation experienced. The Outer Belt around Columbus was finished in the mid-Seventies. Central Ohio saw and thousands of acres vanish beneath commercial development and cookie cutter subdivisions. Farther and farther out, north,south,east and west.                                                                                                                    

Then came the Seventies and Eighties.The crowds grew larger. The shoppers were more driven as advertising pummeled them with the latest must have. People jostled and wrestled for the last Cabbage Patch Kid. Or Millennium Falcon with flashing lights. It wasn't just Christmas. Everything was faster. Bigger. More harried. All holidays were commercial touchstones as the original meanings became hazy, at best. Today it is simple insanity.

Then, I think in the Eighties, you started hearing about a war on Christmas. I wasn't really paying attention. I was too busy getting divorced and moving back to Ohio from Wyoming. From what I remember this "war" coincided with the rise of Evangelical Churches as powerful political and social forces.

We weren't religious. Dad didn't care. Mom was a Good Friday Catholic. She would drag us kids to Mass once a year. She had to cue us on standing and kneeling. We had no clue what the Hell was going on.

I grew up in a house where racism and bigotry was casual. Blacks, Jews, Italians, Hillbillies and Holy Rollers were all derided. And WhiteTtrash. I heard every joke, stereotype and cliche growing up. It's not that my parents were bad people but they grew up in a totally different America. My father was born five years after the First World War ended. 

Bi-Planes and Model T's were high tech. There was still a lot of four legged horse power at work in rural Ohio. My Father helped wire his Brother-In-Law's early 19th century log home for power when the REA came through the farms ten miles west of Columbus. Neither of my Parents changed their views over the years.

Even so, I remember as a young child, I asked why the stores had Holiday sales instead of Christmas. My father said not everyone was a Christian and we needed to have enough respect not to embarrass them by saying,"Merry Christmas". This was 1959 or 1960, somewhere around there. Happy Holidays was simple good manners.

Manners. That's all. Christmas movies still played the matinees for kids at the second run houses. You bought Christmas trees and decorations. You sang carols. You gave presents. You watched the Christmas specials. Pretty much like now without downloads or streaming or blu ray players.. 

There was a fly in the ointment though. Isn't there always?

We had the big Christmas display at the Downtown Lazarus. Which was owned by a Jewish family. They knew the market. There is a locally based Insurance Company, State Auto, which for as long as I can remember has put up a large, life size, Nativity Scene in front of Corporate Headquarters.Other Companies celebrate Christmas also. No problem. Churches have their displays. Likewise, no problem.

The problem comes when there are exclusively Christian displays put up on Publicly owned property. That seems like State Sponsorship of a particular religion. Which is expressly forbidden by the US Constitution. When the United States was more homogeneous with most of the population from white, Christian, European Nations there was no real conflict. When about 99% of the population is celebrating, no one really complained.

As we rolled out of the Fifties into the Sixties and began the long arduous task of dismantling our apartheid, some began to realize we had strayed from the intent of the Founding Fathers to keep the Government neutral in Religious matters.

So in 1962 and 1963 SCOTUS ruled forced prayer in schools was unconstitutional. I was in Fifth and Sixth Grades as that happened. Like I mentioned earlier we are not a religious family. I was always self conscious and uncomfortable reciting the Lord's Prayer, in unison, with the class. I was always afraid of getting it wrong, then dealing with the ensuing ridicule that would come from my peers. Even then I saw no point in a prayer to start the day. I was simply mouthing words that were meaningless to me. I may ,even then, have been developing an attitude about authority which I have since honed into an admirable skill.

I vaguely remember the Baptists being unhappy in my classes. I also remember the outrage shown on the CBS Evening News. I recall seeing the Impeach Warren signs on TV. So as the Sixties progressed the High Court struck down laws that were blatantly unconstitutional. These are now cited as the opening salvos of the war on Religion/Christianity/Christmas.

As fervor grew in the Eighties we started seeing, Televangelists mostly, decrying persecution as American secularists waged a war on Christmas. As the biggest celebration it was a de facto war on Christianity. As an agnostic at best, I thought their views and hurt feelings were absurd. Why? The United States is overwhelmingly a nation of people who define themselves as Christians of one sort or another. This includes the devout, the  Sunday Mass or service only believers, the shows up to just be seen in church and the I-Don't-Go-To-Church-But-I'm-a-Christian, Christians.

I majored in history. I have been out of school awhile but I still read in the field. I have simply been unable to find a majority Religion, that has social, spiritual and political power being persecuted. That tends to happen to minorities and the powerless. Jews were discriminated against. Catholics were vermin, especially the Irish as there was debate about them even being white and evolved much past apes. Mormons were driven to the deserts of Utah which no one really wanted. The Witnesses, Pentecostals and Adventists were ridiculed and shunned by members of mainline denominations. So most of the Christian persecution here in the States was Christian on Christian persecution.

Then along came Fox News. Since sanity and journalism is not part of their business model they found an issue they could use to inflame the audience and drive ratings. Thus, the War on Christmas went mainstream. It doesn't matter it doesn't exist like most of the issues they are outraged about.

The charge was led by Bill O'Reilly. He's never let facts get in the way of a good rant. For awhile he was a voice in the wilderness, as he should have remained, until it became an editorial policy on Fox to save us from us.

It spread and was taken up by those paragons of hard hitting, concise journalism, Fox and Friends. They immediately drove off the cliff and haven't found their way back.

So annually we have the moral outrage flung at us like monkey feces. It is a Christmas tradition now like Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer and the island of misfit Fox Hosts. The sane wait for Jon Stewart to eviscerate Fox as our annual Yuletide gift from God's chosen people of the Old Testament.

You know Fox never mentions that the Protestant settlers of Massachusetts outlawed Christmas in the 17th Century because of it's Pagan roots. Or that the early church co-opted the pagan Yule to keep the converts in line. 

They also have nothing to say about Walmart leading the charge by opening on Thanksgiving, depriving their employees of a bit of family time. Or decrying the Christmas Spirit shown by most shoppers who trample others, mace or even tase to get their hands on some bargain when the sane should be sleeping.

Fox whines that business is forced to kneel at the secular alter and eschew the mention of Christmas. Well kids, they've been Happy Holidaying for decades. Manners, remember? Trust me if Walmart thought Merry Christmas would add a buck to the bottom line they'd hit it like a Republican jumping a hooker.

And we have Corporations claiming religious beliefs to avoid giving women reproductive healthcare, having Holiday sales. And expanded Holiday hours. Situational ethics at it's best. 

The Fox alarmists seem to miss an obvious offender when it comes to "Happy Holidays". FOX NEWS.

This war on Christmas is basically unchristian Christians bemoaning the fact they can't oppress others with their views that have nothing to do with the season.

So as Fox blames a massive secular, atheistic plot to destroy Christmas and Christianity, they need to remember you can do anything you want to celebrate. Just not on publicly owned places with public money. There is no war. I'm not religious but I'll say "Merry Christmas" because it makes people feel good and it's polite. WE should do more of that. Make people feel good and be polite. Maybe remember all incarnations of Yule have been important spiritual celebrations of hope. And we can always use more of that. 

                             Merry Christmas.

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