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"Write out of love, write out of instinct, write out of reason. But always for money."
Louis Untermeyer

Weekly Muse
My humble opinion on current events

December 24, 2001

A Christmas Muse

Like millions who celebrate the birth of Christ, both today and tomorrow, my wife and I observe and follow traditions. This year was no different. In fact, we even established a new tradition, while upholding another. I'd like to tell you about it.

First the new one. For the first time, Mary and I adopted a family for Christmas.

Mary is a health inspector for Maricopa County. Last month, while investigating a complaint in the rural town of Wickenburg (about 40 miles northwest of downtown Phoenix, population two to three thousand), Mary came across a family that needed some help. The mother, I'll call her Susan, was being beaten by her husband. They and their four kids, ages three to fourteen, were squatting on private land, in a trailer with no electricity or running water.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago. Mary learned from Wickenburg Social Services that Susan had left her scumbag of a husband and she and the kids were now receiving city assistance. They lived in a small home provided by the city. Mary contacted their social worker and said that she'd try to collect money from her co-workers and donate it to the family. 

Her colleagues proved very generous, donating about $200. Her boss's wife ran out and bought several sets of clothes for Susan and the kids, with her own money. 

So, armed with all that cash, Mary marched out to the mall and bought more clothes, toys, and other goodies for everyone. Mary and I then spent three nights wrapping everything, and last Friday, December 21, we drove to Wickenburg and delivered the loot. 

It was quite a haul. Each kid had about five packages to open, plus stuff for Mom, plus a huge filled stocking. The kids were quite excited, as you might expect, and Mom was very grateful. Another agency had earlier given them a live tree with lights and decorations, and Susan said it was their first Christmas tree as a family. Remember, the oldest child is fourteen.

So that was fun and quite rewarding. We're going to do this every year, and we'll keep tabs on Susan and the kids throughout the year. 

Many folks who donate and give so freely of their time and treasure say that their main reward is feeling good, knowing you're helping your fellow human at Christmas. I don't agree with this motivation. We shouldn't do for others because it makes us feel good - that's selfish. We should do for others merely because they need it and it's the right thing to do. 

The tradition that Mary and I continued was hosting the annual Christmas Dinner and Gift Exchange. 

Here's the background. Growing up, Christmas Eve for our family meant racing around wrapping gifts and running to my grandparents' house to deliver them, and hopefully making it to church. Mary and I decided there had to be a better way to exchange gifts, so last year we hosted the first dinner and gift exchange. Last night was the second.

Mary and I make a big dinner for the family, and in return the family brings their gifts for everyone else. We eat ourselves silly and then exchange the loot, and everyone drives home with their gifts. It's a lot of fun, and it frees up Christmas Eve for the important things, like attending church and resting for Christmas Day. 

So those are our traditions, old and new. We'd love to hear yours.

The Holiday that Dare not Speak its Name

Have you noticed that the word "Christmas" has become increasingly rare? 

An editorial in my hometown newspaper, the Arizona Republic, discussed the lack of Christmas decorations in downtown Phoenix. But it didn't use the word Christmas. They were "holiday" ornaments and "holiday" decorations. Perusing other articles revealed more examples, where holiday replaced Christmas, even when using Christmas seemed appropriate and even more suitable than holiday.

It's not just the newspapers. It's everywhere. Some examples:

  • A county school board in Georgia deleted the word Christmas from its calendar after the ACLU threatened to sue.
  • A school in Plymouth, Mass., told two ninth graders they could not create Christmas cards that say "Merry Christmas."
  • The Kensington, Maryland city council banned Santa Claus from its annual tree-lighting ceremony after two families complained that Saint Nick's presence would make them uncomfortable.
  • Ramsey County, Minnesota, banned red poinsettias from the courthouse, replacing them with ribbons and then white poinsettias. 
  • In Pittsburgh, Christmas is now "Sparkle Days."
  • In Seattle, King County Executive Ron Sims told employees not to say "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Hanukah." He later backed down after the predictable uproar.
  • In 1999, two 13-year-old girls were suspended from a Minnesota school for wearing red and green scarves and saying "Merry Christmas" in a school video. 
  • Finally, in Plainfield, Illinois, a school principal announced that, due to diversity and inclusion, no students would be permitted to celebrate any holidays ever again. Not just Christmas, but Halloween, Thanksgiving, etc. 

Inclusion and diversity are the reasons normally cited for this Christmas censorship. Inclusion then becomes Orwellian double-speak for exclusion, in which any holiday that any one person anywhere does not celebrate must be banned from public view and consumption. 

It remains to be seen how this trend plays out, but the anti-Christmas Scrooges have a ways to go to ruin Christmas for the rest of us. For the past several years, downtown Glendale (a Phoenix suburb) has been adorned with millions of lights. Mary and I went this past Saturday night. Crafts and treats were sold from booths. Santa was there for the kids. There were even two reindeer (we had our picture taken with one). There were horse-drawn carriage rides and choirs singing Christmas carols. And in the outdoor amphitheater, a local church was performing a cantata, complete with Gabriel, Mary, Joseph, the baby Jesus, shepherds, and wise men. All on public property!

Just try to take that away from us.

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