Posts Tagged ‘Happy Holidays’

by Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

Twinkle lights make everything look more beautiful. And everyone familiar with the story of Rudolph understands the significance of bright and colorful lights during the holidays.HolidayLights

Christmas lights were invented by Thomas Edison in 1880, largely as a means of marketing his new invention to a reluctant public. 124 years later, this December my neighborhood looks particularly festive. My neighbors have adorned their houses with decorations that are by turns classic, crazy, quaint, or contemporary, making my walk home after the 3:30pm sunset(!) much brighter indeed. Once inside, I plug in my lights to add more shimmer and shine to the cheery display along Spaulding Avenue.

lightsBefore their recent electric history, holiday lights were candles and bonfires, a celebratory response to the winter solstice, the darkest time of the year, stemming from the understanding of the human needs for light. As extension of earlier pagan traditions, holiday lights continue to help humans endure this inescapable time of darkness. With the resolve to brave these dark days, we find our way to more light.candleswindow

Light encompasses a variety of symbolic meanings associated with the inventive, optimistic, and life-affirming. A sudden thought transforms into a light bulb above our head. Proud parents beam when they hear that their child is “so bright.” Scientists recall the flash of an idea. The shine, the light, the idea, all glimmer with possibility, warmth, hope.

Light replicates the spark of life in us all. We leave a light in the window to welcome travelers. We fall in love amidst the soft glow of candles.

And beyond the houses, above the city lights, the stars, too, offer to light our way.

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’?