Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

My wife and I were leaving Robert Morris the other day, and a man came up to us to ask for directions.  “Is Dearborn Street nearby”, he wondered.  We kindly replied that Dearborn was only a few yards away, pointing him in the correct direction. As he took leave of us, he smiled pleasantly, waved, and shouted “Merry Christmas”! I wondered, ‘what did he mean by that?’

This is now the world in which we live. The ‘War on Christmas’ narrative is running amok. Thanks largely to Fox News, radio talking heads, and screeching bloggers, the month between Thanksgiving and New Years Day has become ground zero for the culture wars.

Great-Christmas-War-eWhen this seemingly kind man stated “Merry Christmas” to me and my wife, I wondered if he had ulterior motives.  Was he, in fact, proclaiming an aggressive political statement with his apparent jolliness?  Was this ‘Merry Christmas’ a shouted proclamation of his religious and political views on the street corner in order to be seen by others. Had he received his hypocritical reward in full? Even more disturbingly, was he making sure we shared the same views as him?  Did he hope to discover that my wife and I were on his team?

Or, was he just a friendly man who appreciated the little help we provided him? Was his ‘Merry Christmas’ simply intended as a straightforward hope for my wife and I to have a wonderful holiday season?

About 10 to 15 years ago, this conflicted set of thoughts would have never entered my head. Back then, I would have smiled nicely at the guy, and responded in kind, wishing him a full-throated “Merry Christmas”!  If he had said ‘Happy Holidays’, I would have replied in a similar fashion. “Happy Hanukah”, “Happy Kwanzaa”, “Happy Boxing Day”?  None of these fare-the-wells would have struck me ill. I would have smiled, and happily replied, ‘the same to you my friend!’

Today though, how one greets their fellow man during this six weeks often has little to do with friendship and warmth.  For some, the method one uses to wish a stranger good tidings during the holiday seasonraisingthetree has deep political, tribal meanings. As such, the idea that a ‘War on Christmas’ exists, and must be fought, is quickly eroding the very holiday the Noel freedom fighters purport to protect.  The irony would be delicious if it was not so tragic.

I think for a great number of people, the holiday season, and Christmas in particular, is not relegated to churches, sermons, or hymns. To put this more bluntly, Christmas is not only about Christianity or Christians. As a lover of Christmas myself, and as one of the secular humanist boogeymen that Fox News fears, the day holds little religious meaning to me. But, that does not mean I don’t find the day and season to be spiritual, or spiritually fulfilling. For 21st century Americans, Christmas’ encapsulation of brotherhood, peace and goodwill is a heartwarming necessity in an increasing cold, individualistic society. The discursive, and completely imagined, “War on Christmas” weakens, if not completely annihilates, that most wonderful aura of happiness each December produces.  Though the idea of a ‘War’ on any holiday is ludicrous in itself, it is especially unfortunate when utilized to create Christmas identity ideologies.

If nothing else, the creation of this supposed struggle and escalation of the tribal rhetoric provides a sobering example of the power of words.  One of the reasons humans throughout history have ‘loved’ war is because it produces a strong, aggressive sense of community. Of course, this community is most often steeled by identifying and vilifying an enemy who is different.  War produces a sense of moral righteousness that pulls members of a group together, but does so with a sense of paranoia, hatred and distrust of those seemingly on the other side.

But, how to identify such people?  Do they dress different? Think different? Feel different?  Or, do they simply talk different?  Can they say ‘Shibboleth’?  Do they say Happy Holidays? Or, are they on ‘our’ side and say the correct greeting of ‘Merry Christmas’?


By Paul Gaszak, English Faculty

For the holiday season, we at the Flaneur’s Turtle have increased our efforts to promote the site:

Michael Stelzer Jocks has infiltrated the Salvation Army. With each donation, he sings, “All I Want for Christmas is Youuuuuu….to ‘LIKE’ and ‘SHARE’ the Turtle.”

MSJ Salvation Army

Dr. Peter Stern has been dressing like Baby New Year, wearing a sash with the Turtle’s web address.

New-Year-Baby Peter

Tricia Lunt is making the rounds at Chicago bars singing a sultry “Santa Baby” alternative: “Turtle baby, slip some insight under my tree….”

Trish Christmas

I am working as Santa at Macy’s and giving the children boxes full of Turtle posts.

…that are also wrapped in Turtle posts.

…with a card that says “Don’t be naughty – read the Turtle.”

…“PS: I was totally kissing your mommy underneath the mistletoe last night.”

Paul Santa

We plug the Turtle via social media, in classrooms, and on the side of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Tower in Chicago, but it’s not done out of vanity. (Ok, it is for me. Like Lady Gaga, I live for the applause.) The Flaneur’s Turtle and all other print and digital publications must self-promote. A publication has no value if it has no audience.

It’s like that old saying: If a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to see it, it won’t get on Instagram.

On social media, where I shamelessly plug myself, I saw a quote from a 1992 Paris Review interview with poet Yehuda Amichai: “When you’re a poet you have to forget you’re a poet—a real poet doesn’t draw attention to the fact he’s a poet. The reason a poet is a poet is to write poems, not to advertise himself as a poet.”

One aspect of the quote is agreeable: all artists should create their art because they love to create it – not because they hope to label themselves as poets, musicians, painters, actors.

However, artists should not forget they are artists, and they damn sure need to advertise themselves.

We live in a world of endless distractions that….

Hold on. Blake Shelton is dressed like an elf on Kelly Clarkson’s NBC Christmas Special. Hilarious. And she’s such a cutie pie.

Blake and Kelly

Ok. Like I was saying, we live in a world of distractions. We have to fight for people’s attention in the classroom, at the dinner table, on social media. It’s even more pressing for artists and little ole publications like the Flaneur’s Turtle, who need to figure out how to be ever-present and influential without being annoying and intrusive.

Growing up, I wanted to be a writer. Part of the appeal was my misconception that it was a perfect fit for a shy, antisocial kid like me. I could hide away and write in a log cabin in some anonymous woodland area, speaking only to myself and the forest creatures until I went insane like Jack Nicholson in The Shining.

I eventually learned that art has a business side full of professional connections and branding and marketing. It is a separate art form unto itself, and it can be exhausting. But it’s all necessary.

So, thanks to everyone who reads the Turtle and joins us in conversing about our topics, both online and in person.

Now go give the gift of the Turtle to your loved ones this holiday season. I’m sure they’ll love it way more than jewelry or a new smartphone.

By Peter Stern, Philosophy Faculty

Hark on Dudes and dudettes, you pavement pounding Flaneurs accompanied by all manner of Turtles, small, medium, large, and extra large–Hark on and let no buts, or howevers, or althoughs temper your wish to celebrate the holiday season or let a drowsy emperor fall asleep and skip a holiday TV special. Hark once again letting me remind you, you O So Busy Beavered Turtles, to make your lists and check them twice or thrice as shopping deadlines quickly close in on us Christmas celebrants, all wanting so much to so please our loved ones, colleagues, friends, baby sitters, hair stylists, door men and door women, and dog walkers, who make our quotidian days, born in woe and wonder, a little more lovely, a little more relaxed, a little sweeter, and a little funnier than the hurtling treadmill’s punishing pace otherwise makes mandatory.

For like Turtles and their Flaneurs, treadmills come in all manner of shapes and sizes with their own internally programmed demands on we treadmilled crazed sapiens each year getting older, perhaps a little slower, but also, should the gods deem it just, a bit wiser as well. What this wisdom consists of challenges our mind and at times may confuse our spirits for the wisdom we seek often seems to come in a strange blend of especially banal cliches we’ve heard many times before: Penny wise pound foolish. Better late than never. Honesty’s the best policy. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush and also of course the early bird catches the worm. Nice guys finish last. Oh yes, and beware the Ides of March.

OK, but why call this wisdom? These lines seem, instead, boring and commonplace, certainly not the stuff dreams are made of or that will soon bring us dancing cheek to cheek.

And by the way, if the early bird catches the worm, is arriving late really better than simply skipping the event altogether? Something doesn’t quite compute here. Why not simply start fresh the next day? I think this makes more sense to me. But what about you, you ever sweet Turtle, dear dear wrestler of age old conundrums, carrying your heavy carapace day after day after day? What’s your take on all this?

Also please ponder for a moment comparing these wise sayings: nice guys finish last and honesty’s the best policy. Don’t we see a conflict here staring us in the face? If nice guys finish last and nice guys are noted for their honesty, it would seem to follow that honesty isn’t the best policy or in any event honesty shows every indication of guaranteeing you’ll fail.

Well, maybe the point here is for each and every one of us to try and put the pieces of this puzzle together as best we can giving pride of place to this seemingly innocuous sounding word– best. If it’s genuinely the best we can do, then that will have to be good enough.

But perhaps we should drown out our possible confusion and think, instead, how the meaning of the holiday season is tied to the everyday sound of bells made special, however, by the fact our familiar bells are tolling to celebrate the end of the year holidays. We can hear church bells, sleigh bells, a carol singing choir’s hand held bells swinging back and forth, and door bells will which will ring more than usual as our guests arrive and we arrive as guests pushing our families, and friends, and neighbors door bell to wish them a merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

bellsAnd whichever of these bells comes to mind first matters not at all for their message remains spot on: Have a very good holiday season. What makes this season so special–more special I believe than other holidays we celebrate, including Thanksgiving–is that the Christmas season asks us gently and sometimes, perhaps, not so gently to suspend our normal routines and transform ourselves and everything around us for a day, or week, or an entire month.

So start playing your favorite Christmas carols now that December is rolling in and hum them to yourself as you’re waiting in line to pay the nice, harried check out person at Target, or Best Buy, or Bloomingdale’s or Macy’s. Hum a few favorites when you’re at Speedway or BP filling up the tank. And hum a bit when you’re cooking dinner.

For the duration of the holidays, celebrate everything you think worth celebrating. Maybe even a few things you don’t quite think are worth celebrating. Remember that this is the time to give celebrating the benefit of the doubt. Celebrate that you’re alive and well, that your family’s alive and well, that you’re checking off your gift list, maybe buying your kids, or spouse, or significant other, or other family members and friends an extra special gift. Let no opportunity for celebrating get overlooked. The point is that celebrating at Christmas shines a light on our lives, on the many things we do and the significance of those things which in the rush and crush of daily living seldom receive the full recognition they deserve. This experience underscores something I find very odd namely, that celebrating small things and even large major league items often proves amazingly difficult to do.

Why this should be is hard to explain. It’s usually chalked up to the insanely frantic pace of today’s high octane existence but perhaps a better explanation lies in a natural discomfort human beings experience when they’re asked to appreciate– really appreciate– the things they do and the people they do them with. Taking them more or less for granted often seems easier whether the occasion is your kid’s birthday or your own birthday or wedding anniversary.

So remember as the wise song says there’s a time for everything– a time to be happy and a time to be sad, a time for giving and a time for receiving, and a time for celebrating things small and large, with a surge of enthusiasm, a sense of fun, a love for life and a joy born in recognizing the many miracles we create and the many we survey which surround us and miraculously appear created for us.

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

On Thanksgiving morning, my wife, two girls and I headed out on a five hour car trip to Michigan.  Grandmas and Grandpas live up there, so our family makes this trip a good 10 times a year. We are all pretty used to it; or, I might say, we are all pretty sick of it.  Five hours with 2 children under 7 years of age in a car can seem like an eternity.   Keeping them occupied, and away from any sharp objects they could use to stab each other, is the name of the game.

This year, for most of the trip, we continually scanned radio stations, looking for the channels that play nothing but 1406eb94Christmas music during the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas day.  We figured this would keep our girls happy. Happy girls means happy parents.

However, after five hours of listening, we had had enough. The family discovered that there is a limited number of recognizable, pop-radio friendly Christmas tunes.  Though there seems to be endless iterations of these songs, there are only so many different versions of ‘Winter Wonderland’ (reggae, synth pop, smooth jazz) you can listen to before you are ready to jump out a moving car on I-94.

After hearing the same twenty or so songs over and over, I realized that Christmas music falls into a limited number of thematic categories. These are:

  •  Your classic, extremely Christian Christmas carols that have been within the catalog for a couple centuries.  This would include ‘Silent Night’, ‘The First Noel’, ‘O’Holy Night’, ‘We Three Kings’, ‘Joy to The World’, etc.  Generally, I love these songs….as long as Josh Groban or Carrie Underwood don’t get their mitts on them.  If so, I shudder.


    THIS is not calming.

  • You also have your Santa Claus songs.  Usually not very religious, but obviously written specifically for one day of the year.  Most of these are from the twentieth century, and can be performed by artists from almost any genre. Think ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town’, ‘Here Comes Santa Claus’, ‘Rudolph,’ etc.
  • Don’t forget the hybrid of the previous two. Christmas songs more serious than the Santa songs, but not as revered or religious as the classic ballads/choir pieces.  You could put ‘Silver Bells’, ‘A Christmas Song’, ‘White Christmas’ under this heading.
  • Lastly, you have the songs that are associated with Christmas, but are more about the season than the holiday.  Songs such as ‘Sleigh Ride’, ‘Winter Wonderland’, ‘Let It Snow!’

But, wait! There is one more genre of Christmas music; the weirdest kind.  You might call this ‘adult’ Christmas music, as it usually deals with love and romance.  Some are sad, such as ‘Blue Christmas’, and some are just pop songs, such as ‘Christmastime is the Time to Say I Love You’.  Most are pretty innocuous.  But then….

We come to the sexualized Christmas song.  That’s right, sexualized. A small number of regular rotation Christmas tunes are filled with adult situations, and double entendres.  Look at ‘Baby It’s Cold Outside’.  Here is a song about a guy trying to talk a woman into staying the night at his house. Why is this song a holiday classic?  I mean, the dude tries to spike her drink, for goodness sake! Maybe it is my 21st century jadedness, but all I can think of is ‘ruffies’ when I hear that lyric.  

But, the most inappropriate Christmas song has to be ‘Santa Baby’.   The language, the singing style, the message, the music; double entredre on top of double entredre, with ‘strip tease’ beats.  It is so out of place to hear this tune squeezed between “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and “We Wish You a Merry Christmas”.  If you think I am overstating things, or reading too much into an innocent song, have a listen to Eartha Kitt’s classic version.

Remember, this song was recorded in 1953.  1953! In 1950’s America, this song must have been inappropriate, comparable in the 1990’s to a ‘2 Live Crew’ recording of ‘Frosty the Snowman’.

Okay, with that mental, and aural image in your head, I will just stop.