Help! My 2020 Christmas Tree Ethics Dilemma

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It’s always something, as Rosanne Rosannadanna used to say.

The Virginia Marshalls joined two families with intense Christmas traditions, centered on elaborately decorated Christmas trees. The Marshalls of Massachusetts collected ornaments and antique tinsel, and their trees really shined with the lights off. When on, the Christmas tree lights were the old-fashioned large bulbs, and muli-colored. The Bowens, of the Washington, D.C. area, in contrast, were lights-obsessed. Every Christmas season, Mrs, Bowen decorated a large, very realistic artificial tree with thousands of small white lights. For 40 years, our household has maintained a hybrid tradition: real trees, thousands of small, multicolored lights, hundreds of ornaments of all sizes, themes and ages, and no tinsel.Our trees must be at least eight feet high, with strong branches and tough needles. Most of our trees have been Frasier Firs, with an occasional Douglas Fir or Noble Fir; twice, when I was in a masochistic mood, we used Blue Spruce trees, and I was nearly prickled to death.

In recent years, we’ve let our next door neighbor of the full 40 years pick out our tree. (I recently wrote about Red and Beth here.) He has sold Christmas trees for his church all that time, and he knows what we need and like—or always has in the past. But yesterday he left leaning against our house some kind of pine with long needles, soft branches: the furthest thing from a fir tree imaginable. It is, my wife thinks, the same kind of tree his wife Beth likes, but it won’t work with the traditional Marshall decorations. My wife is upset, and I’m not thrilled either: I have to put on the lights, and I don’t see how this tree will hold the usual number of strings.

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Encore: On the Importance Of Christmas To The Culture And Our Nation : An Ethics Alarms Guide

[As promised, here is the Ethics Alarms Christmas package, lightly revised, last posted three years ago]

I don’t know what perverted instinct it is that has persuaded colleges and schools to make their campuses a Christmas-free experience. Nor can I get into the scrimy and misguided minds of people like Roselle Park New Jersey Councilwoman Charlene Storey, who resigned over the city council’s decision to call its Christmas tree lighting a Christmas Tree Lighting, pouting that this wasn’t “inclusive,” or the  CNN goon who dictated the bizarre policy that the Christmas Party shot up by the husband-wife Muslim terrorists had to be called a “Holiday Party.”  Christmas, as the cultural tradition it evolved to be, is about inclusion, and if someone feels excluded, they are excluding themselves.  Is it the name that is so forbidding? Well, too bad. That’s its name, not “holiday.” Arbor Day is a holiday. Christmas is a state of mind. [The Ethics Alarms Christmas posts are here.]

Many years ago, I lost a friend over a workplace dispute on this topic, when a colleague and fellow executive at a large Washington association threw a fit of indignation over the designation of the headquarters party as a Christmas party, and the gift exchange (yes, it was stupid) as “Christmas Elves.” Marcia was Jewish, and a militant unionist, pro-abortion, feminist, all-liberal all-the-time activist of considerable power and passion. She cowed our pusillanimous, spineless executive to re-name the party a “holiday party” and the gift giving “Holiday Pixies,” whatever the hell they are.

I told Marcia straight out that she was wrong, and that people like her were harming the culture. Christmas practiced in the workplace, streets, schools and the rest is a cultural holiday of immense value to everyone open enough to experience it, and I told her to read “A Christmas Carol” again. Dickens got it, Scrooge got it, and there was no reason that the time of year culturally assigned by tradition to re-establish our best instincts of love, kindness, gratitude, empathy, charity and generosity should be attacked, shunned or avoided as any kind of religious indoctrination or “government endorsement of religion.”  Jews, Muslims, atheists and Mayans who take part in a secular Christmas and all of its traditions—including the Christmas carols and the Christian traditions of the star, the manger and the rest, lose nothing, and gain a great deal.

Christmas is supposed to bring everyone in a society together after the conflicts of the past years have pulled them apart. What could possibly be objectionable to that? What could be more important than that, especially in these especially divisive times? How could it possibly be responsible, sensible or ethical to try to sabotage such a benign, healing, joyful tradition and weaken it in our culture, when we need it most?

I liked and respected Marcia, but I deplore the negative and corrosive effect people like her have had on Christmas, and as a result, the strength of American community. I told her so too, and that was the end of that friendship. Killing America’s strong embrace of Christmas is a terrible, damaging, self-destructive activity, but it is well underway. I wrote about how the process was advancing here, and re-reading what I wrote, I can only see the phenomenon deepening, and hardening like Scrooge’s pre-ghost heart. Then I said… Continue reading

Comment Of The Day: “Christmas Music Blues”

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In addition to honoring his Comment of the Day, I also have to thank texagg04 for his timely comment to last year’s lament here, “Christmas Blues,” about the state of Christmas music as presented by the media. Christmas and holiday music is a useful, if depressing, window into the state of U.S. culture, and if he hasn’t written this commentary, I would have had to. Unfortunately, the tex’s list is res ipsa loquitur, and what it speaks of isn’t good. Christmas, the most ethical of holidays, has been substantially stripped of its ethical foundations by pop culture.

Here is texaggo4’s Comment of the Day on the post “Christmas Music Blues.” For added perspective, you may also want to revue last year’s post, On the Importance Of Christmas To The Culture And Our Nation : An Ethics Alarms Guide.

As of noon today (Monday, 28 Nov), I ran a quick survey of songs played on our local “Christmas” station since the start of last Monday.

95 songs played (though 161 if you separate them by Artist and Version of the song) for a total of 1,893 times.

Here’s the list and how many times they were played (Down on the list are some weird outliers involving the Magnum P.I. and Miami Vice soundtrack. I have no clue how those landed on the station’s playlist archive…but they were there, so I’ve included them): Continue reading

Comment of the Day: “Comment of the Day: ‘On the Importance Of Christmas To The Culture And Our Nation : An Ethics Alarms Guide'”

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Nesting Comments of the Day again, as Belle’s reflections on how the cultural celebrations of Christmas made her feel “othered” as a child was met with many excellent responses and a lively thread. Pennagain’s (that is to say, the Commenter Previously Known As Penn) comment, however, surpassed tough competition, and thus we have the Comment of the Day on the post, Comment of the Day: “On the Importance Of Christmas To The Culture And Our Nation : An Ethics Alarms Guide”:

First impressions aren’t that easy to shrug off. Belle’s comment that she “was always sure that Ebenezer Scrooge was a commentary on the Jews” reawakened a long dormant spectre of mine. So, Google to the rescue, I went searching for the 65-year-old source and damned if I didn’t find it: My oldest Scrooge image is not from Dickens; it’s from the Rackham illustration of Shylock from Charles and Mary Lamb’s incomparable childrens’ (anyone’s!) introduction to Tales from Shakespeare:

ShylockFiction abounds with misers, a sub-category of villains (often semi-comical: to jeer at), a stock character from Medieval times, especially in children’s stories, who are often more memorable — and way more fun to act out — than are heroes. Miserly villains tend to have the same features and characteristics: mean, suspicious, hoarding good will as well as gold, stooped, narrow-shouldered, and “clay-faced” life-denying penny-pinchers … as is another “Ebenezer” in Stevenson’s “Kidnapped” whose miserliness is ethically and morally beyond villainhood (he changes sides in the middle of a battle), or a father-and-son pair of Chuzzlewits in another Dicken’s classic, or Shylock himself — who has by the end of Scene 1, before he lends the money and (jokingly) adds the “interest” that is the basis of the tragedy, chosen love of money over love of his daughter.

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Comment of the Day: “On the Importance Of Christmas To The Culture And Our Nation : An Ethics Alarms Guide”

 

Belle is a Jewish reader of the recent Ethics Alarms Christmas post who sent  her comment to me off-site, then agreed to have it posted as the Comment of the Day after I requested permission.

She describes a real dilemma that I am very aware of, and thus am grateful for her raising it clearly and directly. I’ll be back with a bit more at the end, but here is Belle’s Comment of the Day on the post, On the Importance Of Christmas To The Culture And Our Nation : An Ethics Alarms Guide

I would like to try to make you understand at least a little why I am SO heartened that my children are growing up with “Happy Holidays” and Chanukah menorahs along with Christmas trees in public places, and how difficult it was for those of us non-Christians who didn’t. I sense that you were so antagonized by your colleague’s aggressiveness and different world view that you couldn’t hear what might have been behind the aggressiveness. You write that “Jews, Muslims, atheists and Mayans who take part in a secular Christmas and all of its traditions—including the Christmas carols and the Christian traditions of the star, the manger and the rest, lose nothing, and gain a great deal. Christmas is supposed to bring everyone in a society together after the conflicts of the past years have pulled them apart, What could possibly be objectionable to that? What could be more important than that, especially in these especially divisive times? How could it possibly be responsible, sensible or ethical to try to sabotage such a benign, healing, joyful tradition and weaken it in our culture, when we need it most?” Continue reading

On the Importance Of Christmas To The Culture And Our Nation : An Ethics Alarms Guide

christmas-hero-H

I don’t know what perverted instinct it is that has persuaded colleges and schools to make their campuses a Christmas-free experience. Nor can I get into the scrimy and misguided minds of people like Roselle Park New Jersey Councilwoman Charlene Storey, who resigned over the city council’s decision to call its Christmas tree lighting a Christmas Tree Lighting, pouting that this wasn’t “inclusive,” or the  CNN goon who dictated the bizarre policy that the Christmas Party shot up by the husband-wife Muslim terrorists had to be called a “Holiday Party.”  Christmas, as the cultural tradition it evolved to be, is about inclusion, and if someone feels excluded, they are excluding themselves.  Is it the name that is so forbidding? Well, too bad. That’s its name, not “holiday.” Arbor Day is a holiday. Christmas is a state of mind. [The Ethics Alarms Christmas posts are here.]

Many years ago, I lost a friend over a workplace dispute on this topic, when a colleague and fellow executive at a large Washington foundation threw a fit of indignation over the designation of the headquarters party as a Christmas party, and the gift exchange (yes, it was stupid) as “Christmas Elves.” Marcia was Jewish, and a militant unionist, pro-abortion, feminist, all-liberal all-the-time activist of considerable power and passion. She cowed our pusillanimous, spineless executive to re-name the party a “holiday party” and the gift giving “Holiday Pixies,” whatever the hell they are.

I told Marcia straight out that she was wrong, and that people like her were harming the culture. Christmas practiced in the workplace, streets, schools and the rest is a cultural holiday of immense value to everyone open enough to experience it, and I told her to read “A Christmas Carol” again. Dickens got it, Scrooge got it, and there was no reason that the time of year culturally assigned by tradition to re-establish our best instincts of love, kindness, gratitude, empathy, charity and generosity should be attacked, shunned or avoided as any kind of religious indoctrination or “government endorsement of religion.”  Jews, Muslims, atheists and Mayans who take part in a secular Christmas and all of its traditions—including the Christmas carols and the Christian traditions of the star, the manger and the rest, lose nothing, and gain a great deal. Christmas is supposed to bring everyone in a society together after the conflicts of the past years have pulled them apart, What could possibly be objectionable to that? What could be more important than that, especially in these especially divisive times? How could it possibly be responsible, sensible or ethical to try to sabotage such a benign, healing, joyful tradition and weaken it in our culture, when we need it most?

I liked and respected Marcia, but I deplore the negative and corrosive effect people like her have had on Christmas, and as a result, the strength of American community. I told her so too, and that was the end of that friendship. Killing America’s strong embrace of Christmas is a terrible, damaging, self-destructive activity, but it us well underway. I wrote about how the process was advancing here, and re-reading what I wrote, I can only see the phenomenon deepening, and hardening like Scrooge’s pre-ghost heart. Then I said…

Christmas just feels half-hearted, uncertain, unenthusiastic now. Forced. Dying.

It was a season culminating in a day in which a whole culture, or most of it, engaged in loving deeds, celebrated ethical values, thought the best of their neighbors and species, and tried to make each other happy and hopeful, and perhaps reverent and whimsical too.  I think it was a healthy phenomenon, and I think we will be the worse for its demise. All of us…even those who have worked so diligently and self-righteously to bring it to this diminished state.

Resuscitating and revitalizing Christmas in our nation’s heart will take more than three ghosts, and will require overcoming political correctness maniacs, victim-mongers and cultural bullies; a timid and dim-witted media, and spineless management everywhere. It is still worth fighting for.

More than five years ago, Ethics Alarms laid out a battle plan to resist the anti-Christmas crush, which this year is already underway. Nobody was reading the blog then; more are now. Here is the post: Continue reading

There May Not Be A War On Christmas, But Whatever It Is, Christmas Is Losing

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I don’t think it’s my imagination, or that I’m watching too much Bill O’Reilly (since I almost never watch Bill O’Reilly), but it became very clear to me this year that Christmas, as a society-wide cultural convergence in America, is losing its grip.

The reasons are varied and many, and to pick out any in particular one would betray my own biases. But I am a fairly obsessive observer of the popular culture, and there was markedly less Christmas this year in every way. Religious references to the Christmas story—the manger, the Wise Men, the Star of Bethlehem and the rest, are almost invisible outside of church. On television, that part of Christmas is taboo, apparently; on radio too, traditional carols, which once were standard fare, whether sung by pop singers like Bing Crosby or classical artists, are mostly relegated to the classical music channels. On the other stations, there was less Christmas music than I can ever recall, and perhaps because of that, I was very conscious of how dated virtually all of it is. The last non-frivolous Christmas standard to enter the playlist was 1962’s “Do You Hear What I Hear?, ” and the other newer ones  are either songs about romance using Christmas as a backdrop, anti-Christmas novelties (“Grandma Got Run Over By  A Reindeer”), or just lousy.

Meanwhile, listening to the parade of pop yule classics is an exercise in morbidity. Almost all of them are sung by dead artists that no one under the age of thirty (or forty?) could have ever heard or seen perform live. Bing, Dean Martin, Karen Carpenter, Andy Williams, Burl Ives, Gene Autry, Judy Garland, Nat King Cole, Mel Torme, Frank Sinatra—Andy just left us, but most of the rest, with the lingering exceptions of Johnny Mathis and Harry Belafonte, are not merely dead, but long dead, like Marley. No one has taken their place in this genre, and that means that it’s a dying genre.

It is obvious that Christmas movies are being run on television less than ever before, too. It was once impossible to avoid encountering several versions of “A Christmas Carol,” and sometimes the same one would keep popping up, annoyingly so. Not any more. “It’s A Wonderful Life” had its annual showing, and I stumbled upon “White Christmas” a couple of times, but the pickings were slim.   The lousy Richard Attenborough “Miracle on 34th Street’ turned up; Turner Classics ran through most of the old Christmas classics once, but you had to look for them. There haven’t been any new Christmas movies from Hollywood that have made the grade for a very long time: with the exception of the first “The Santa Clause,” what Hollywood has been churning out are more or less bitter comedies (“Christmas With The Kranks,” “Jingle All The Way,” “Bad Santa,” “Christmas Vacation”–even the “Home Alone” films) that portray Christmas as suburban hell.

Then there are the wan or missing town hall and town center Christmas displays (Gotta watch out for those law suits), the tasteless Christmas TV commercials (the men in boxers jingling their “bells” is gross, in my opinion), and the hesitation you hear in strangers’ voices as they try to guess whether “Merry Christmas” will offend you or not.  I used to encounter carolers several times every Christmas, in shopping malls if nowhere else. The malls are disappearing, and kids don’t go caroling any more. They don’t know carols any more, because if their school teaches them one (because it’s a lovely song) some fanatic will raise a stink and claim its religious indoctrination.  Children, in a more innocent, less cynical age, were allowed to believe in Santa Claus well past the age of 5. (I was 26 before I knew the truth.) No longer. Christmas just feels half-hearted, uncertain, unenthusiastic now. Forced. Dying.

It was a season culminating in a day in which a whole culture, or most of it, engaged in loving deeds, celebrated ethical values, thought the best of their neighbors and species, and tried to make each other happy and hopeful, and perhaps reverent and whimsical too.  I think it was a healthy phenomenon, and I think we will be the worse for its demise. All of us…even those who have worked so diligently and self-righteously to bring it to this diminished state.

But anyway,

Merry Christmas.

For what it’s worth.

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Graphic: Stacy Gustafson

Crossing The Line Between Fun And Corruption: The Elf On The Shelf

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“LOOK BEHIND YOU!!! LOOK BEHIND YOU!!!”

Ever since I first encountered an “Elf on the Shelf” at a friend’s home, I have wrestled with the alleged tendency I have to perceive serious unethical consequences in trivial matters. I have wrestled long enough: the “Elf on the Shelf” is an unethical addition to a child’s home, and parents should think long and hard before subjecting their children to its sinister influence.

If you have been lucky enough to avoid this relatively new addition to American holiday traditions, here is what is going on, right from the Elf on the Shelf website, where you can buy these small KGB agents in pajamas:

“The Elf on the Shelf® is a special scout elf sent from the North Pole to help Santa Claus manage his naughty and nice lists. When a family adopts an elf and gives it a name, the elf receives its Christmas magic and can fly to the North Pole each night to tell Santa Claus about all of the day’s adventures. Each morning, the elf returns to its family and perches in a different place to watch the fun. Children love to wake up and race around the house looking for their elf each morning. There are two simple rules that every child knows when it comes to having an elf. First, an elf cannot be touched; Christmas magic is very fragile and if an elf is touched it may lose that magic and be unable to fly back to the North Pole. Second, an elf cannot speak or move while anyone in the house is awake! An elf’s job is to watch and listen. Elves typically appear in their families’ homes at the beginning of the holiday season (around Thanksgiving in the U.S.). On Christmas Eve, the elves return to the North Pole with Santa Claus–until next year!” Continue reading