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Hillsboro’s War on Christmas

A demonstrator dressed as a Santa Claus is arrested by riot policemen during clashes with students in Santiago

Two things burrow their way under my skin every year at Christmas, two sides of an ugly coin. The first and generally loudest are the inevitable cries about “a war on Christmas” that, at some point each year, generally when ratings are ebbing, are spewed by right wing trolls and other despicable human beings gleefully exploiting the fears of the waning evangelicals. Bill O’Reilly, the particularly cynical and slimy Fox provocateur, is one of the worst of the breed, but he is by no means alone; any right wing loudmouth looking to grab a ratings point or two can play the game.

Just as bad, and sometimes worse, are the hyper-sensitive knee-jerk liberals determined to protect the huddling masses from the onslaught of what they perceive as sectarian propaganda—the loudly mewing left who, if they could, would prove the spastic fears of the overwrought right to be absolutely on target—the delicate flowers who would indeed wage war against Christmas, if they could.

All those bastards, left and right, drive me crazy—worse than Donner went when he saw Rudolph’s Vegas-strip nose. We don’t have a War on Christmas. We don’t need a War on Christmas. Stop pretending there is one. Stop plotting to begin one. I mean, it’s Christmas, for chrissakes! Lighten up.

Santa under arrestAnd that brings us to the most ludicrous story from last week: officials in the Hillsboro, Oregon (a suburb of Portland, which should explain a lot) issued a memo instructing teachers and staff not to include Santa Claus in their seasonal decorations. Specifically:

“You may still decorate your door or office if you like, but we ask that you be respectful and sensitive to the diverse perspectives and beliefs of our community and refrain from using religious-themed decorations or images like Santa Claus,” the Hillsboro School District said in a letter to staff, television station KATU reported.

Full disclosure, lest you think me a stealth Christmas Warrior—I’m actually a fire-breathing atheist, deeply resentful of the intrusions of Christianity into my life, my children’s education, every level of our government, and so forth. I understand the compulsion to liberate children from the perpetuation of bronze-age superstition as a guiding force in our culture, but I’m also as deeply concerned with power structures that would force blind secularism on our day to day life. Christianity is deeply embedded in our culture and our children should not be shielded from it. Indeed, I believe that we are doing a great disservice to those children when we shroud them from one of the dominant streams of our culture by not preparing them to function in a reality that is filled with people who identify as Christian. This is not the place to be ostrich-heading.

But, but, but…I hear a dozen of my friends sputtering over being “forced” to face Christianity when they shouldn’t have to, if they don’t want to, and I’m truly sorry about that. I even understand: I had to spend a few days in Baltimore several years ago, something no good western Pennsylvanian wishes upon even the worst of enemies. I saw Ravens jerseys and ball caps everywhere, and I survived. My children did not become Ravens fans because of the exposure. We may even have developed a grudging sort of respect for them and their strange beliefs—we understand them a little bit better. Nothing leads to anger, resentment, and conflict faster than ignorance.

It is utter madness to ban Santa—Santa!—who ceased to be a primarily religious icon decades ago. If anything, Santa represents generosity, kindness, fair play and morality—values I believe to be universal. He also stands for marketing and commercialism, but not ever icon is perfect. Still, I’m okay with being a little more sensitive to overtly religious icons—crosses, angels, manger scenes—but I’m stuck on this idea that maybe instead of all this fear of offending we reach further for some real understanding. Instead of throwing Rudolph and Santa and all that stuff out of school, instead of banning stuff we—drum roll—practice inclusion. Give me Santa. Hell, give me shepherds guarding their flocks by night but let’s hear about the Maccabees, let’s hear about Ramadan.

I know there is an adamant mass of folks who stridently cling to the conviction that America is about white people sitting around and sternly respecting our Hebrew god, but the America I see—even in my corner of northern Appalachia—is generously populated with Hindis, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists and others in mind-bending subsects, diversity within diversity, and I don’t think it is overly idealistic to believe that a lot of our domestic problems—and eventually our international problems—could be mitigated if we actually knew who the people we’re always so eager to dislike actually are.

In the meantime, let’s skip the war on Christmas, both the perceived and the proposed.

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Personality Test: Zombie or Grizzly

zombieMake your decision before you read my story below.  Now, suspend your disbelief: there are two doors in front of you, both of which open from the outside only. Once you step through, there is no going back. You cannot stay where you are.  Behind one of the doors is a thousand pound grizzly.  Behind the other door is a flesh-eating zombie.  Which do  you choose.  Answer and explain in the comments section.

The first time I saw a Grizzly it was across a long vista of rolling grassland and meadow–it was loping along, covering a lot of ground, traveling perpendicular to me.  I instinctively alg-grizzly-bear-jpgfroze, glanced at the treeline for something to climb–just looking at that beast, probably 800 pounds of horror, running like an athlete, sent my heart racing, my adrenal gland pumping, the little hairs on my arms and the back of my neck bristling. The thing was easily a thousand yards in the distance–although, at the 35 mph a Grizz can romp, I’d have 20 seconds, give or take, if the wind changed.  Later, I would reflect on the immediate, profound fear response and wonder if my subconscious sense of caution was that strong, or if I was experiencing something more profound, literal instinct. Genetic memory.