The holiday season

For eight of our ten Christmases in Foster we’ve driven a mile and a half down the road to cut down our tree at Colwell’s Farm. Mr. Colwell, who is also a furniture maker, stopped planting new trees a few years ago, and so each year we’ve tried to judge when the supply will run out. Worry prompted me to tag our tree in October…and a couple trees had already been tagged when we got there. On a warm afternoon we examined each tree carefully, finally abandoning (once again) all sense of proportion and choosing a fat one. I tied lots of colored ribbons all over the tree to identify it.


The day after Thanksgiving we went back to cut it down. On our way out, with the tree in the back of the pick-up truck, we stopped by Mr. Colwell’s wood shop to return the saw, pay (the price has remained $25), and to wish him a great year. Two customers were just leaving, so everyone said “Happy Holidays”…and then the man said sourly “I still like ‘Merry Christmas.’”

I didn’t realize that many people shared this sentiment until I read Gail Collins’ funny piece in the New York Times a few days later. Then it came back to me that last year a small but vocal faction declared there was a “war on Christmas.”

How exactly could there be a war on Christmas? Since the beginning of November, holiday (Christmas) decorations have festooned storefronts. By mid-November (two weeks before Thanksgiving) radio stations began playing non-stop Christmas carols.

I love Christmas. My tree is decorated not only with all the special ornaments Cherisse and I have collected over the past 30 years, but now with some of my childhood ornaments (and some from my mother’s childhood). A lot of history, artistry, and love hangs from that tree. For the next few weeks I will play lots of Christmas carols—we have a large collection ranging from Kings College Choir to James Taylor. However, I grew up and work in New York City, and I am surrounded by people of diverse backgrounds and beliefs. A greeting of “Happy Holidays” works for everyone, and includes the New Year as well. It is a friendly, polite greeting, and sounds festive.

So why would anyone object to “Happy Holidays?” The reaction seems rooted in a “them versus us” mentality that pervades our political system, and parts of our society. It isn’t healthy or productive.

In these past few days much has been said about Nelson Mandela. Almost unanimously people comment on his magnanimity, his ability to forgive, his inclusiveness, and his heart. Nelson Mandela was an exceptional human being, but it doesn’t seem unreasonable to hope that we, especially at this time of year, might aspire to these traits.

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