Friday, December 2, 2011

Lesson 106: Merry Christmas

I turned my calendar page to December, and now I can light up my tree without the fear of an elf drowning some innocent baby reindeer on the North Pole.  The December calendar page is preprinted with several holiday celebrations bringing with it the great debate of over holiday greetings.  How should Christians greet people during the month of December: with  the traditional well wishing of "Merry Christmas" or the more politically correct version of "Happy Holidays"?

Eloise has been following the facebook and internet chatter surrounding this issue for a week or so now.  As with any topic, we seem to be split right down the middle with the favor leaning toward whomever is reporting   the generalization.  It seems everyone from young to old and from all walks of life have thoughts on this issue. Intelligent responses to this dilemma are found on either side of the argument.  I have read some excellent commentary and am somewhat amused as to how much thought and time are put into something as a simple Christmastime greeting.  But what we give our time and thoughts is an illustration of what we hold dear.  I am glad that our faith and how it is expressed is still so important to us.  It the issue seems to boil down to the acts of either stepping out into a greeting of firm faith or wrapping ourselves in the blanket of respect for others and religious tolerance.

Eloise leans to the right on this one, the more traditional, conservative "Merry Christmas".  The most obvious argument is that I am a Christian and its my holiday after all.  Also, when else during the calendar year can you  use the term "Merry?"  "Merry Birthday!"  Nope.  "Merry Fourth of July!"  Don't think so.  "Merry Halloween!"  God no.  Merry just goes with Christmas.  Speaking the word itself makes you feel the jingling of bells rolling off of your tongue.  Merry goes with Christmas like peanut butter goes with jelly.  They blend together to make a wonderful taste that cannot be replicated.  We can celebrate other holidays, but Christmas has that special flavor of its own.

But with my encouragement of the use of Merry Christmas, I also ask you to use caution.  Read the room, folks.  Exercise some social awareness and use a little good judgment.  I try to teach my students this all of the time.  It begins with, " Read the room.  When the teacher is talking, do not get up and sharpen your pencil.  That is rude."  There is a time and place for everything.  Don't plant yourself outside a Mosque and greet all passersby with a hearty Merry Christmas! and get pissed off when they don't smile back.  Remember what Eloise says, there is a time and place for everything.  I do believe Ecclesiastes reads that, too.

Always keep in mind that the Pilgrims who crossed the sea to get here did so to seek religious freedoms.  Yes, they were Christians.  But the "freedom of religion" part applies to all and that is what makes our country so great.  We must never tamper with our freedom to choose.

During her private life outside of school, Eloise pretty much keeps to herself.  I make my living talking, teaching, telling stories, and writing.  In my moments alone when I am shopping at a store for example, I am reluctant to strike up a conversation with a stranger standing next to me in line.  It's not because I am grumpy or tired or antisocial---I'm just plain old tired of talking.

But December is different.  There is a buzz in the air, especially in retail and grocery stores as Christians are bustling about making their holiday preparations.  It's when we come in contact with people--waiting in line with shopping carts full of toys and food.  Christians can usually spot one another.  The heaping carts are a dead giveaway.  Also the telltale dark circles under a woman's eyes are another clue that she may be preparing for Christmas.  I'm easy to spot.  When I shop, I shop big and my cart is over flowing.  I usually dress in festive red and I always am wearing a cross around my neck.  I am of German decent and man do my people love to  party at Christmastime.  I'm all for a party, so I always have a smile despite the long lines, the melted debit card, and the lack of sleep.  It's safe to greet me with a "Merry Christmas" as I will surely shoot one back at ya'.

So I am urging you, like my students, to read the room.  If someone is wearing clothing or jewelry in an obvious display of  a different faith, hold back from a greeting and just a smile to your human brother will be enough.  Once in recent history I missed.  I shot a "Merry Christmas" to the gentleman behind me in line at K-Mart who also had a cartload of toys.  His surly response to me was, "I'm an atheist."  I was quite taken aback and the cashier and I glanced at one another in a moment of uncomfortable silence.

Eloise is quick witted, but fortunately I have a pretty tight screen between what I think and what I say.  I thank God for that balance He gave me or else I wouldn't have a friend left in the world.  My first thought was, "Wow--even atheists aren't afraid to take advantage of a good December toy sale."  Instead I said nothing.  As I pushed my shopping cart through the rutted December slush in the parking lot, I thought of numerous responses I could have said.  Do you ever do that?  Think of great things you should have said after the fact. I had ideas running the gamut from "You poor, lost soul" to a vision of me putting up my dukes and taking a swing at this very rude man.  But in time, I let it go but I still think of it as a lost opportunity to capture another potential Christian by telling him what he's missing out on.  People tell me I am a great storyteller, and I am sure by the end of a five minute conversation with the man he would have been a convert.

So this year you will be receiving a big fat Merry Christmas from me as shown on my video greeting card.  It is a collection of the well wishers I poke the most fun at on this blog--my family, my sister, and my parents.  I made the video with Ellen's flip camera and I do believe this contraption will revolutionize the way cards are sent.  Plus it is so easy a baboon could do it.  For those close family and friends who receive my annual card, I must issue this warning.  I'm making my own list this year.  It is a list of all of you card-receiving people's names---and believe me it's a long one.  Here it is:

And if you're asking yourself, "What's with the fish?" let's just say it is one of those things that makes a house a home.  Ellen caught a palomino trout and begged to have it mounted.  It didn't seem like a bad idea at the time, until I got the bill for a fossilized fish and later realized I had to find somewhere to put it.  Now it greets visitors in my entryway.

Eloise is taking a serious look at her holiday greeting cards this year.  This is what we call at school "Data Collection."  We have teams of people who analyze test scores, determine areas in need of skill development, and analyze data to determine if a project or program is worth the time and money.   Eloise has too come to this crossroads in her life:  Is sending the paper mail Christmas card worth it anymore?  My friend Heather even blogged about it this week.

As a lover of words, books, and paper, I cannot imagine NOT sending holiday cards.  They are as much as a trademark for me as is my tresses.  Once, in a futile effort to try to look thinner, I chopped all of my hair off.  I looked just like George Washington on the dollar bill.  After I came to terms with what I had done over the weekend, I went to school on a Monday and was greeted by a First Grader.  She stopped looked at me, and stuck out her bottom lip.  I paused and bent down to eye level and asked her what the problem was.  She reached out and touched my ear length hair and said, "I was remembering when you used to be pretty."  Leave it to a kid to give you a reality check.  I guess the sporty new cut didn't do a thing for me.   One year when my father in law was sick I did not send out cards. So many people came to me and said, "I missed your card this year.  I always look forward to yours arriving in the mail."  Would ceasing of my holiday tradition make Eloise a little less "pretty" this holiday?

In time my hair grew back, and over time my Christmas card list has been growing and growing and GROWING!  Apparently the people I meet every year always outweigh the ones who die or cut me out of their lives for some reason.  The process is time consuming, but I have always enjoyed it.  Yet, even though I send out more and more cards every year, I seem to receive less in return.  Some have commented to me, "I just don't send cards anymore.  It's not worth the time."  Think about that.  Taking some time to greet your family member, friend, and neighbor with a written version of Merry Christmas IS WORTH IT.  The time it took that person to remember you, look up your address, and send it off with the jolly postman shows that YOU MATTER.  I MATTER.  So send me a card, and I won't be mad at you if it says Happy Holidays.  To each, his own.  It is a free country.

And to the grumpy, mustached atheist who was standing behind me in line, I hope this blog finds its way to your inbox.  Remember me?  I'm that dingy looking blond with the big smile that you deflated for a moment in time.  God has a way of making things like this find you.  Perhaps you've converted to Christianity and you'll end up sitting beside me at Church on Christmas Eve.  I can't wait, because I want to have the chance to tell you something I should have a few years ago---"Merry Christmas, Mister."  It's never too late to send that message.

Merry Christmas, Readers.  Enjoy all the joys that December brings.

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