Commentary Uncategorized

The Inherent Dangers of Elf on the Shelf

December 16, 2013 at 4:46 am

This is one of the weirdest things of which I’ve heard in a long time. It sounds crazy, but maybe it’s better to demand good and respectful all year round instead of having to bear down on that “he sees you when you’re sleeping” BS–and the idea that an inanimate elf springs to life at night and–it’s just too damned Chucky for me.


Everything is Better Wrapped in Bacon

If you’re like me, then the holidays are a time of elaborate decoration, gift-giving and the hidden look of disappointment in your parents’ eyes as they come to terms with another season that you’ve stood by your decision not to have children. Luckily for my parents, my younger sister has two little boys that love Christmas! My parents adore them and my sister and her husband are heavily involved in their lives and forming nostalgic memories for them to look back fondly on.  One of the “traditions” that my sister introduced is the Elf on the Shelf: A Christmas Tradition.

For those of you who aren’t in the know as I was not, Elf on the Shelf is a posable elf doll and accompanying book that outlines what this little elf means for the children of the house. The book goes on to tell the children to whom it is…

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Christmas is Coming–Time To Get Offended!

Image by Nevin Robinson. Buy an awesome matted print here:

In a facebook post, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette briefly mentioned that Horne’s Department Store was setting up it’s traditional holiday-themed tree at it’s flagship store in downtown Pittsbugh, this year called “The Highmark Unity Tree.”  The tree has been a Pittsburgh landmark all of my life and longer, way back to the days where everything was black and white and the Steelers played as badly every year as they’re playing this year.

The “Unity Tree” thing is new, undoubtedly a reflection of our growing cultural 1424514_10151960910614826_13906639_nsensitivity and, to a lesser degree, a recognition of Pittsburgh’s marvelous and expanding diversity.  And, predictably, it is driving people monkey nuts.  The PPG article, what there was of it, asked “When do you start decorating.”  Of the 130+ and counting respondents, only one seemed to actually answer the question.  Everybody else played a red-faced version of point/counter-point, the gist of which is, It’s a CHRISTMAS TREE, DAMN YOU/IT’S REALLY A PAGAN SYMBOL STOLEN BY CHRISTIANS SO LIGHTEN UP.  And so forth.  Names were called, beliefs were condemned and trivialized.  Joy to the World!

(click on the screenshots to make them readable).

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There is nothing more seasonal than annual rhetoric over what is appropriate at Christmas.  On one side, you have your conservative Christians, decrying the commercialism of their Lord and Savior’s big day on the way to the mall, blathering about the War On Christmas (we Americans do like a good slogan).  On the other side, we have the Secular Reactionaries, who rail against anything that means anything to anyone, humming their mantra about diversity and acceptance.  In the middle, fingers in our ears, plaintively singing Baby It’s Cold Outside and O Come All Ye Faithful with equal enthusiasm, are the rest of us who celebrate the holiday, desperately trying to enjoy our traditions despite all the fighting.

Now, in the name of full disclosure: I’m a functional atheist, raised Methodist, who married a Catholic girl in a Quaker wedding service behind the pavillion at a local fishing and gun club.  I hate that word, “atheist” because it implies a certain decisiveness I’ve never felt, and too often an overt sensitivity–let’s call it thin-skinned-ness–that I recognize all too profoundly. I hate the term “politically correct” because it’s nothing more than a cynical bastardization of words like “respectful” and “considerate”–but I hate the concept of political correctness when it’s uses as a bludgeon to hammer away all the color in our lives, simply because we’re too damned stubborn to get along and be nice to each others.

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I can see how the churchfolk get their knickers in a twist in growingly secular America, but their understandable defensiveness verges too often on paranoia–manifested in the ridiculous “WAR ON CHRISTMAS” we hear so many conservatives rage over.  Every use of the word “holiday” is perceived as an armed incursion, every image of Frosty, or Rudolph, or whatever non-biblical icon they see is an abomination and a sign that the seige is growing stronger.  They decry the “commercialism” of Christmas, but the fact of the matter is that over 80% of this country still identifies as Christian, and it isn’t just the other 20% (including Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Zoroastrians, Pastafarians–even those god-awful Unitarians, who believe in everything–and all the rest of us) trampling each other outside WalMart at 4am on Black Friday.

s_c04_RTR3B4J5On the other side, there are the diversity monkeys, chattering nervously in the trees above us and throwing crap on everything they don’t like.  I get how this started, and I’ve argued many times with Christians who just can’t wrap their heads around the idea of how incredibly oppressive it can be for non-Christians and non-believers in this country.  It’s true, and it’s unavoidable–Christians employ their first Amendment rights to advocate for the control of nearly every aspect of our lives–they want to keep their fingers in our bedrooms, our hospitals, our schools and our courts, to censor and dictate what we watch, what we read, what we listen to, who we fall in love with–and because of the 80% figure, they often succeed.

I get why a few angry, exhausted people don’t want to see a cross, or a manger, on the courthouse lawn, or have Christmas pageants in schools, but stifling those gestures legally requires the censure of all of our meaningful iconography.  I’d much rather see a more Roman way of doing things.  The Roman Empire succeeded in ways that later Empires, like the British and, now, the American Empires failed, by incorporating the cultural traditions of it’s conquered states rather than crushing them into compliance. So, instead of banning everything in the name of favoring none, why not celebrate EVERYTHING.  I love American_Homestead_Winter_-_Currier_and_IvesChristmas–the Jesus part, the pagan part, the Currier & Ives part. Indeed, I love Currier & Ives part best–that’s the part where it snows and you go caroling with your friends and eat and drink and give each other presents and enjoy and love each other.  That’s the awesome part of Christmas–so why be so damned exclusive.  Why can’t we have a Christmas tree, a Manger, a Menorah, some representation of the 7 Symbols and the Kwanzaa flag, and whatever else folks want to put it out?  I don’t mean that we would all celebrate everything, but that we could recognize the richness of our nation, and the hybrid strength and zeal that has made us what were were at our pinnacle?  I guess that would be too easy.

(this is an excerpt from a much longer piece about Christmas and it’s traditions, both new and old,)