Sunday, December 19, 2004

Holiday Travel & Holiday Wishes

Well, we made it to the northern tundras of Ohio and, as of Sunday afternoon, they're living up to the name. The dry temperature was about 15 degrees F (if the old thermometer is still working right) and the wind chill made it... well, it was a damn sight colder than that. Nothing like up in North Dakota, where I hear it hit close to -30 with the wind chill or Wisconsin where some places were -15 but still cold enough for this 15-year resident of Virginia. What is considered a light flurry has left about 1.5 - 2 inches of snow on the ground here today with more projected to fall later tonight and early tomorrow. That kind of forecast would be sending my neighbors in Virginia into a panic and have them calling out the National Guard. To say nothing of the projected 12-13 inches falling in Cleveland right now. (Better them than me...)

I have been reading on a variety of my favorite blogs about the attempts in many circles to remove the concept of Christ from Christmas and, indeed, Christmas from the holiday vocabulary at all. I've been paying attention to the greetings offered me by the various people I meet, specifically those in the stores as I shop and those in the public service sector. Seems they're right: hardly anyone has said "Merry Christmas" to me this year, mostly substituting "Happy Holidays" instead. I'm not sure I buy the ACLU conspiracy theories, however. Now, there's no denying the continous efforts of the ACLU to remove any and all references to Christianity from public life. I am interested in hearing if they've been as diligent in their efforts to keep all manner of Jewish or Muslim references from being mentioned in public settings as well, but that's the price of blogging off-line: I can't go check. To the point, however, I think it's more a matter of the kind of lives we lead these days that's seeing the change in greetings.

Once upon a time, 2 holidays separated by a week were far enough apart that one didn't begin talking about the second until the first was past. Within my lifetime, I've seen the beginning of Christmas decorations and shopping move ever earlier in the year. As a boy I remember quite well that you absolutely, positively did not see a Christmas tree go up until the day after thanksgiving at the earliest. Not putting up trees and wreaths until 2 weeks before Christmas was as common an event as putting them up earlier. This year I went to the local Mall and saw JC Penney's had Christmas signs and decor up the week before Halloween. Halloween! Passing up Thanksgiving was a few years ago, but to reach over a month further back into the year and get past Halloween? What's next, Fireworks and Christmas trees displayed on the Mall in DC in July?

So when I hear someone wishing me "Happy Holidays" these days, it's not jut Christmas they're talking about. They've included New Years in on the deal and, more often these days, Thanksgiving as well. I'm serious. I got a "Happy Holidays" from a clerk in a store this year and we both knew she was referring to everything between then and the end of the year. Conspiracy? No. Laziness? Oh yeah. It's way too much effort to remember that we're approaching Thanksgiving and say "Happy Thanksgiving." Then to recall that the day after it's "Merry Christmas" until December 26th. Then "Happy New Year." Just a quick "Happy Holidays" covers all those bases and you don't even have to look at the calendar.

I do honestly believe there are people working very hard to suppress any public affirmation of spirituality that references a specific religion. (Christianity, mostly, but since the vast majority of America is Christian, that's the one you're likely going to hear the most about.) But I don't think the rank-and-file of store clerks and managers are trying to take the Christ out of Christmas. I think they're just not taking the time. The best way to get them to notice it is to notice it ourselves. I've made a point of wishing people I meet "Merry Christmas" and some have responded in kind. And that's fine with me.