Saturday, December 23, 2006

What is Christmas all about?

My latest Potomac News column, What is Christmas All About?:

What is Christmas all about?
Potomac News, Thursday, December 21, 2006

Sunday morning, before dawn, I found myself standing near the end of a long line of customers at the local Best Buy. I had no chance of getting the elusive game being sold that day -- that privilege would go to the hardy 20 or so people up front, some of whom probably camped out for days. I had simply awakened early, and decided to take a shot, on the off chance nobody else bothered to show up.

In the back of the line, it seemed most people were good-natured, having only arrived recently and knowing they had no hope. But up the line, it was clear that the tension rose as you got closer to the front. And when the tickets had been awarded there was a mix of disappointment, anger and frustration in many faces.

On my drive home (past an equally long line of hopeful shoppers at Target), listening to Christmas music as the sun rose behind me, I started thinking -- is this what Christmas is all about? Mary and Joseph stayed in a manger, because there was no room at the inn. Now we are sleeping in tents in front of the mall, because there's no PS3 on the shelf. Is that all that the holiday means anymore?

We want more, which is why there are fights over holiday symbols. Christmas is more than a way for companies to end their year with a profit. We want to remember the reason for celebration. We don't just want a "Happy Holiday;" we want to remember why it's a happy Holiday.

But there is so much fear of offending people that, instead of stories of glad tidings, we hear stories of decidedly un-festive behavior, usually by well-intentioned people who, attempting to make sure nobody is offended, usually end up offending everybody.

In Seattle, a rabbi thought it would be nice if the airport included a Menorah along with their collection of "Holiday Trees." He asked if he could provide one, but airport officials, fearing a lawsuit, took down all of the trees. This made a lot of people mad at the rabbi and the officials. Fortunately, the trees have returned.

And in Riverside, Calif., a high school choir was the victim of excessive fear of offense. Olympic skating medalist Sasha Cohen was part of a local ice festival. When the choir started singing a Christmas song, an event organizer asked them to stop, because she though Cohen, who is half-Jewish, might be offended. Sasha was "stunned" when she found out -- "Christmas carols are part of celebrating the holiday season," her mother said.

In 1965, "Peanuts" creator Charles Schulz was asked to write a Christmas special based on his "Charlie Brown" comic strip. Schulz accepted, and created the holiday classic "A Charlie Brown Christmas." But the show almost didn't make it on the air, because the CBS executives feared people would be offended by a scene where Linus reads the Christmas story.

Executive producer Lee Mendelson said, "We told Schulz, 'Look, you can't read from the Bible on network television.' " But fortunately for us, Schulz insisted. And rather than being offended, people were moved by the story, and the scripture reading.

The story bemoans the commercialization of Christmas, and shows the Peanuts children fretting about toys, a tree, a Christmas pageant --everything but Christmas itself. After Charlie Brown buys a pathetic Christmas tree, the gang turns on him, and in desperation he asks what Christmas is all about. And Linus answers with the famous reading from the Gospel of Luke:

"And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men."

That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.

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