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Friday, December 16, 2011

Christmas and the “Ex” Factor…

The Ex factorFrom The Ripple’s editorial page:

Because I was running low on inexpensive Christmas cards (no, you read it right: Christmas cards), I’m standing in front of the discount boxed cards (50 % off) at Freddies. I could save even more if I recycled the cards like an old friend of mine. She saves her cards from year to year, cuts each in two, discards the right side--the sentiment half--writes her own message on the back of the left, and sends it off. Two cycles from one card. I’m not quite there yet, but at the end of the season, I just might take the scissors to this year’s collection of cards and have a good variety from which to choose next year.

Ah, Christmas cards (no mistake…I meant Christmas cards), a dying tradition, I’m afraid. Perhaps the expense: the cost of a first class postal stamp…and then there’s the cost of the cards themselves. But every year the holiday season seems to demand more of us and so fewer and fewer cards come. It may just be a matter of priorities; in the face of all the more urgent preparations, sending cards could easily be shuffled to the bottom of the to-do list.

Every year during Christmas card time (yes, Christmas again), one of my pet peeves comes down out of the attic with the wrapping paper and tree decorations. It’s such a trivial little annoyance it hardly seems worth the mention, but in keeping with the spirit of the season, I’ll mention it anyway. If you are going to take the trouble to buy cards, put them in envelopes, address them, apply the appropriate postage, and send them off…if you’re willing to make that sort of effort, can’t you extend yourself a bit more and write a personal note from your family to ours? The card’s sentiment plus a “Jane and John Doe” seems to say: “There, that chore’s done. Now let’s move on to the important stuff.” At least including a few extra words helps to make that agenda less obvious. It doesn’t have to be a holiday form letter chronicling the year gone by, just a few sentences—a paragraph, even—sharing a bit of your family’s life with ours. Or, send nothing at all. Just keep us in your thoughts; it’s one and the same.

By the way, have you noticed the “Christmas Card” is an endangered species these days? More and more you find the “Merry Christmas” sentiment exchanged for “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings.” Now to me, there’s more at issue here than whether a card includes a personal message from the sender. It’s the “Ex” factor I’m talking about now: “Xmas” this, “Xmas” that. What’s with this movement to secularize the word “Christmas?”More Exing

Over the weekend our family attended The Bathhouse Theatre’s production of “The Best Little Christmas Pageant Ever.” The play was announced on the marquee as “The Best Xmas Pageant Ever.” I asked the event manager about the “Ex” factor, and as I suspected, it was simply a space issue: the marquee wouldn’t allow the entire word. Now this I can understand, as I do if there’s a shortage of paint or the fear of misspelling the word (transposing the “h” and “r,” for instance). Fine. These I accept; however, there are some darker undercurrents, I believe, set in motion by the hypersensitive who are ever vigilant for the slightest excuse to cry “foul” in the arena of political correctness. The problem here is that too often these folks are the ones who set the parameters, make the rules and expect everyone else to follow them; the game is theirs and so are the rules.

Of the countless school assemblies I attended in thirty-one years of teaching, the one that most remains in memory was one before school dismissed for Christmas break ( no, I meant Christmas…I didn’t misspeak; that was not a typo) was one in which a colleague of mine talked to the Junior High student body about the word “Christmas”and what the word symbolized. His point? “Don’t deconstruct the word. It is as it is; it is what it is; it says what it means to say: ‘Christ’s Mass,’a religious ritual. You can’t, nor should you “X” out the most important part of the word’s meaning just because it has religious significance.”My friend Richard Hetland  gave that little speech back in the 1980s. He could not deliver such a speech in front of today’s New Millennium student body; it would be considered inappropriate, insensitive, disrespectful. And I think that’s a shame.

The two monolithic watchdogs of political correctness are government and the Public School System. When I was in school, we looked forward to Christmas vacation (not “winter break”); my classmates and I participated in the Christmas program, sang Christmas carols; each classroom had its own Christmas tree and in its presence we had a pre-dismissal Christmas vacation Christmas party. We even exchanged Christmas presents. I distinctly remember one Christmas party in particular because Mrs. Greaves, our charismatic eighth grade teacher, knowing full well her students would be far too excited to concentrate on sentence diagrams, had us see how many words we could make from the letters in Christmas. (It’s my guess there aren’t nearly as many word combinations possible in “winter.”)

I don’t consider myself much of a religious person (I believe the last time I visited a church was for a relative’s funeral), but religion, at least for me, is not the issue here. It’s having others’ sensitivities forced upon the rest of us.This time of year the Christmas police mount up, arm themselves with their “X’s, Season’s Greetings, Winter festivals and programs, and Happy Holidays (‘Holy Days? Now there’s a secular word for you…) and do battle with all things Christmas.

The years I taught, I tried to impart to my students that words, even though they are merely symbols for conveying meaning, have power; the baggage they carry can either be positive, negative or neutral. Sure, there are words we know not to use because of their hurtful—in some cases—vicious meanings. Christmas, though, hardly seems one of these, nor does it seem a candidate for euphemisms such as “winter” or “holiday.” I say it is time the “Occupy Christmas” movement decamp and move to some other cause, find another issue that pricks their thin skins.

As for me, I have no more time to devote to this post. The seasonal clock is ticking away and I must attend to that stack of cards, take the time to write a personal note in each, address and send them off. I’ll conclude my note by wishing each recipient a “Merry Christmas”; after all, they are Christmas cards, aren’t they? Yes, Christmas cards. There, I said it again.

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