Letter from the editor

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Having a holly, jolly... what, now?

I'm confused. Last year, Wal-Mart, the great mysterious retail wizard that we seem to have somehow empowered to define for us all things celebratory, decried from on high that we would no longer have a "Merry Christmas." Instead, the message shoppers would hear would instead be the safely neutral and frankly rather wussy "Happy Holidays."

Instead of the appropriate response, which would be to realize that Wal-Mart is a DEPARTMENT STORE and exists to SELL YOU something, anything, EVERYTHING, and is therefore NOT a THEOLOGICAL institution, there was an immense backlash.

No wait, "backlash" is too mild. The Trojan War was a backlash. The huns were a backlash. Napoleon was a backlash. This was a biggie. This was a full-scale bruhaha.

So this year, Wal-Mart proclaimed that indeed, Christmas would be safely returned, allowed again to be uttered by associates and the word cleared to appear in promotions. For all I know, the sale of discount bicycles and plastic Coca-Cola logo dinnerwear sets will go though the roof. For all I know, this all may tick off Buddhists, Taoists, Muslims, the Jewish, atheists and fans of political correctness everywhere. Such is life.

Poor megamonolithic Wal-Mart. I really doubt that it ever intended to offend anyone. It just wanted to sell you stuff. And now it finds itself uncomfortably positioned as the great definer of the great holiday, utterly unable to please all the people, all of the time.

Like that silly groundhog, the world will gather on pins and needles each year to hear Puxatawny-Mart's CEO crawl out of his corporate suite, see which way the sun is shining, to declare whether there will be three more months of pre-Christmas sales, or three more months of pre-Holiday sales.

Personally, I'm not so sure that you should expect to get your Christian values from the Wal-Mart any more than you would expect to buy fishing tackle or a salad shooter from your local church.

You want offensive? What really offends me is the talking Santa Clauses going out, what, the last week in September? Folks are getting "Ho, ho, ho'ed" out long before the holiday ever arrives.

I recall reading about one retail promotion where a town was going to parachute Santa in to get everybody in the shopping mood. Skydiving in winter winds gets a little iffy, so they constructed a stuffed mannequin Santa that was to float off behind a hill, so that a guy in a Santa costume could then bust in out of the bushes where he was hiding next to the store, and everyone would run up their MasterCards happily every after.

One problem. The wind kicked up, the chute never opened, and "Santa" rocketed to earth at about 200 miles an hour to smash to smithereens on the cement right in front of the horrified shoppers and their traumatized kiddies.

I suppose the point to this story is this: You can't win when you strart messing around too much with Christmas. Let it be.

I'm not sure if it is my grandmother's insistance on an attempt at a Christian upbringing for me, or just the gloriously pure simplicity of it, but of all the promotions I've ever seen for the holiday - big parades and massive syrofoam mall wonderlands and computerized laser lights shows and the like - my favorite is always the little live nativity scene that some of the church kids, along with uncooperative sheep and a steer or two, put on in a freezing cold driveway in downtown Storm Lake for the Miracle on Lake Avenue.

Politically correct? Who gives a rip. It is a grand tradition, and you don't have to be a Christian church-goer to appreciate it.

Honestly, I don't think you have to be Christian to appreciate being told "Merry Christmas," either. If you shoot me a "Happy Kwanzaa" or a "Happy Hanukkah," I'm not going to run and convert under the solialist pressure or file a lawsuit or organize a boycott, I'm going to smile and say thanks, sparky.

As outlandish as it sounds, I have a suspicion that Christmas is really not all about Wal-Mart. Imagine that! Or even about clear-cutting the coniferous shrubbery of the world or finally outdoing your lousy neighbor's obnoxious light display this year.

It might not even be about what term you choose to say.

It might be about what you choose to feel.

How you say it may matter, too. (Pssst - It helps to mean it.)

Wouldn't it be fine if everyone, everywhere could take their holiday wishes in the spirit they are intended, and not look for something to quibble over, even at Christmastime?

Check out the kids at the live nativity, while you are pondering that. Dec. 4, 6 p.m. If you are lacking the spirit, you may just find a bit of it there, friend. Merry Christmas season to you. All of you.