The Grinching of Christmas

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It’s mid-December, and I had hoped by now that we’d be enjoying a respite from last month’s elections and their political aftermath. Fat chance.

Senate Republicans launched this year’s season of good will by torpedoing U.S. ratification of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities. Not even the presence of 89-year-old former Senator Bob Dole in a wheelchair could deter his fellow party members from voting down the U.N. treaty – which is based upon the Americans with Disabilities Act, passed in 1990 in a now-archaic bipartisan way led by… then-Senator Dole.

And if you think we’re bad, consider Australia, two of whose D.J.s thought it would be funny to impersonate the Queen of England in a telephone call to the hospital where the Duchess of Cambridge had lodged during a nasty bout of morning sickness. The subsequent apparent suicide of the nurse who took their call speaks to those of us in the media. I see this as a political story because it involves the dearly held principle of freedom of speech. Such freedom, however, doesn’t mean we get to say anything we like without cost. The rule of unintended consequences suggests that we in the media – and those in politics — think carefully about what we put out over the air and into print.

Which brings me to the “War on Christmas.” If you regularly watch Fox News, you know that it is positively evangelical on the subject: Liberals, homosexuals and God only knows who else are on the attack to de-Christianize Christmas. One has only to look at the City of Santa Monica, which ended the 60-year tradition of Nativity scenes in Palisades Park after atheists challenged it. Christians must rise up and unite.

Humbug, I say.

“Humbug” — what a great word – is defined as “a hoax, nonsense, deception,” I find it an accurate term for the sort of chicanery and denial of reality that Fox News regularly indulges in. Let’s remember Karl Rove’s performance on Election Night.

To me there is no “War on Christmas.” And I have absolutely no problem with public institutions pulling back from the practice of promoting religious holidays and ideals on public property. Why? Because Christmas is held in and carried forth from our hearts.

For Christians who seek to encourage others to find Christ, I suggest that it’s likely to be more effective to display the love we are to have for others through acts of kindness than to club others over the head with arguments over absent Nativity scenes and the “War on Christmas.”

I felt the same way years ago, when a local controversy of prayer in public schools rose up. My kids were confused: Why weren’t they allowed to pray in school, oh, say, just before a math test? “Nobody can tell you not to pray,” I explained. “Just do it privately, silently. Don’t make a spectacle out of yourself.” I didn’t add that the very parents agitating for prayer in schools meant their kind of prayer. They would’ve likely gone ballistic had a teacher who was Muslim, Buddhist, or Wiccan invoked the daily prayer.

So perhaps the true Grinches of Christmas are those who foster controversy over this sacred season rather than celebrating what binds all of us together: Seeking light to dispel the darkness, materially and metaphorically. After all, it’s no coincidence that the early church declared that Christmas should fall near the winter solstice. This is the darkest time of the year, and with it comes the ancient fear that the sun’s light won’t again lengthen to warm the soil for the spring planting season.

So it is for Christians, who seek the Son’s light to warm our hearts for the daily struggles we wage to rise above the banal. So I’ve set up the Nativity scene in our home and try to take the message I find in it into the world. I guess I also channel my inner pagan as I light white candles and turn on the lights strung along the eaves of the house in late afternoon as the sun sinks below the horizon.

Somehow in this messy process of celebrating the holidays, and despite much evidence to the contrary, I succumb to a spirit of optimism about our divided country and the world we inhabit together.

Part of the reason for the high spirits is because we again visited South Coast Repertory to see “A Christmas Carol.” The annual presentation is a local treasure; do go see it. The play, based on a story by Charles Dickens, is a reminder that the Scrooges among us are redeemable, that love can trump greed. And it warmed my soul to see the theater packed with numerous Republicans – you know who you are – many of the men bedecked with the red scarf that symbolizes Ebenezer Scrooge’s transformation of the heart.

Jean Hastings Ardell can be reached at [email protected]

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