Thursday, December 8, 2011

Oh Holy What??

I live in Pennsylvania.  Pennsylvania is ostensibly a Blue State, but this is a trick.  PA goes Blue largely because of the large, liberal, Democratic populations of the cities of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.  But in between, where I live, the people vote Red, Red, Red.  Central Pennsylvania is, in many ways, an extension of the Bible Belt.  People are conservative, Republican and Christian.  Churches are mostly Protestant, and old school, including large Mennonite and Amish communities.  Needless to say, Christmas is huge and very in-your-face.  Every neighborhood has at least one church with a creche or Nativity Scene, many of them populated at times not by statuary or painted figures, but by human beings posing in costume.

Home decorating is de rigeur.

We have families here who begin decorating right after Labor Day.  There is a family in my neighborhood that has lights of some sort on every square foot of their home and yard, including giant electric wreaths and bows on their roofs.  I presume this is to let passing aircraft -- or UFOs -- know that they are celebrating the spirit of the season.

But one thing my wife and I agree on is that it isn't really Christmas for us until we see a house that has a light-up Nativity scene in their front yard which has the Three Kings beaming (literally!) down at the baby Jesus along with Frosty the Snowman who is apparently serving as their squire or guide.  Santa is there as well, keeping watch over the flocks by night along with the shepherds and camels.  It's a hoot.

Don't get me wrong.  Yes, I am an atheist, but I am not disparaging Christmas.  I believe that human beings have a need hard-wired into our DNA to celebrate this time of year, when the day has reached its shortest in terms of daylight and begins to grow longer again.  Whether it's Saturnalia, or Christmas, or Solstice, or Yule, I believe that we have to acknowledge the turning of the year and recognize that we all have hope for the return of sun and warmth.  If we can do so and also celebrate the birth of a hero in the bargain, so much the better.  So I have wreaths on the windows and a tree in the living room.  There are stockings hung over the fireplace, and I will even sing in my Unitarian Church on Christmas Eve.

No matter what you may believe, I hope you find something to enjoy this winter holiday season.  Enjoy the lights -- they're pretty!  And if something as silly as Frosty the Snowman keeping watch with Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar makes you smile, go with it.  Let your heart melt a little and remind yourself that when all is said and done, this time of year isn't about arguing over whether or not to say, "Happy Holidays" instead of the less-PC "Merry Christmas."  It's about reconnecting with family and with the values that makes us human.  It's about remembering that we are supposed to treat others the way we ourselves want to be treated, not just now, but always.

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