Columns » John Brummett

Season beset by noise pollution

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Against the pleasantly familiar backdrop of seasonal music, all I’m hearing these days is a bizarre outcry by the right wing that no-account secular humanists and blue-state heathens are trying with a suddenly heightened fervor to do away with Christmas in America. Surely Hillary was right. There must be a vast right-wing conspiracy. How else could word get out that Bill O’Reilly on Fox and Pat Buchanan on MSNBC and even an old boy writing a column in the Searcy Daily Citizen need to get synchronized in sounding the alarm about this purportedly powerful anti-Christmas movement emerging from the evil left and threatening all that is happy and good about our favorite-est time of the year? I do not know what in the name of reason these people are talking about. The opposite of what they allege is true. Christmas is bigger and more all-consuming than ever. I can only surmise that these right-wing conspirators, their political victories assured, have decided to seize the momentum by cynically exploiting Christmas to further marginalize the other side. We are told by this right-wing outcry that one of the big department stores changed its message this year from “Merry Christmas” to “Happy Holidays,” and that this is ominous. But that’s nothing new. This change in phrasing happened widely decades ago in retailing and pop culture. The idea was not to de-emphasize anything, but to cover the celebratory waterfront to bring in Hanukkah and the New Year’s observance. We are told that liberals are working overtime this year to ban Christmas from official functions and places. But that’s not so. Would you like to behold Christmas-decorating excess? Go to the White House or the state Capitol. All that happens from time to time — no more this year than others — is that the ever-vigilant and widely reviled ACLU rises up bravely here and there when someone tries with unusual brazenness to use the state actually to advance a religion. We are told that too many creeping concessions are being made to this complaining anti-Christmas minority, which is said to include Jewish people. But that’s ridiculous; no concessions have been made. It’s true that occasionally some American Jewish people can be heard to complain that their holy days are widely disregarded in America culture, yet the bombardment of them by Christmas seems louder and longer every year. But the complaint is simply a matter of fact. Christmas once got rolling in early December. Then it got rolling after Thanksgiving. Now we put up the tree as soon as Halloween costumes are put away. 0’Reilly, fresh from settling a lawsuit brought by a female employee who accused him of talking dirty to her without invitation, seems to have appointed himself prime defender of Jesus, who surely appreciates it. The other night a Jewish caller complained on O’Reilly’s bully-fest about Christmas-related attempts to proselytize him and the observation of Christmas in public schools. O’Reilly shot back that Christmas was the majority holiday in America and that if the guy didn’t like it, he should move to Israel. There is a point at which the usual inane bluster of right-walk media crosses a line to hatefulness and un-Americanness. O’Reilly took his smirking self well past that point with that remark. America is supposed to embrace, not banish, difference. One good thing I took from the brand of fundamentalist religion that consumed my childhood was the teaching that Christmas is not so much a religious holiday; that, actually, we don’t know when Jesus was born and the greater significance is from his death and resurrection. But we were encouraged to observe the finer points of Christmas spirit — peace, love, giving, good will, togetherness with family and friends — and to try as best we could not to be eaten alive by the commercialism. It makes powerful sense to this day, which distinguishes it from some of this season’s right-wing noise pollution.

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