, Derry, New Hampshire

December 13, 2012

Greetings and salutations

Derry News

---- — Season’s greetings. Happy Hanukkah. Merry Christmas. Joyous Kwanzaa. Boxing Day wishes. Solstice greetings.

Bases covered?

Tis the season for goodwill and holiday greetings. But, as legal columnist Andrew Myers points out in this week’s About the Law, it’s also the time for silly lawsuits over First Amendment challenges to public holiday displays.

The arguments over politically correct displays in town parks, in front of municipally owned buildings and in school hallways grow tiresome.

Political leaders, including Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee, are taking some heat for referring to the towering evergreens found in many Statehouse rotundas as “holiday trees.” Chafee deflected criticism by saying he was only following “tradition,” established by those who preceded him in the governor’s office.

What exactly is a holiday tree? No other December holiday focuses on a tree, nor even includes one as part of traditional celebrations. So, a Christmas tree becomes a holiday tree to represent what exactly?

For more than 500 years, there have been Christmas trees. Noticed any Hanukkah tree sales? Wiccan solstice branch lots? To paraphrase Gertrude Stein, a Christmas tree is a Christmas tree is a Christmas tree. Either don’t put one up or call it what it is. This holiday tree nonsense is simply that.

There are no Hanukkah bush lighting ceremonies in Rockefeller Plaza, no Kwanzaa orange atop the White House Christmas tree.

If a town fire department wants to string holiday lights on its front-yard tree, why not? If local Jews want to put an oversized menorah on the town green, why stop them? What possible offense can a symbol of the season cause? And if, as no doubt some will be quick to respond, it does, look the other way, turn the other cheek.

In schools, the issue of December holidays gets about as sticky as a half-eaten candy cane. Schools should not assume every child’s family celebrates the same holidays and in the same way.

But there should be room for Santa, the Maccabee children and the seven principles of Kwanzaa. Go ahead and have a “holiday” party, but educate children about all holidays — religious, ethnic, even political.

Michael Quimby, a second-grade teacher at Londonderry’s Matthew Thornton School, seems to have it figured out.

Last week, children in Quimby’s class constructed paper menorahs in advance of the beginning of the eight-day Jewish holiday. While there are no Jewish children in his class this year, Quimby said it’s fun for his students to learn about different cultures and their holidays.

He leads students in their study and helps them find the differences and similarities among them.

And isn’t that what holidays are all about anyway? A holiday is, by definition, a day away from work, a day to spend at one’s leisure, celebrating family, friendship and tradition.

So, when the clerk at the local grocery store or the bell-ringer standing with a red kettle offers a “Merry Christmas,” return the greeting or don’t. There’s nothing to be gained by snarling back an “I don’t celebrate” or “I’m Muslim” in response.

And it sure beats “Have a nice day.”