This 1921 news story, which I found posted on a blog called Strange Company, reminded me of something odd that happened this Christmas, which I hadn’t planned on mentioning. Frankly, I’m not sure I come out so great in this tale.
I woke up on Christmas morning and as is my habit when I first get up, I quickly checked my various communications media, my e-mail, Facebook and twitter feeds. I noted with passing interest that the topic of the day seemed to be that the president had made some claim about bringing back the phrase “Merry Christmas” and this inevitably had people declaring which side of the culture wars they were on.
In the comments on one post was something from a man (I assume) with an American flag image for his picture. For whatever reason, before I headed off to enjoy the time with my family, I responded to what I thought was an a-historical appeal to tradition by pointing out that the Puritans had outlawed the practice of Christmas in the early days. Not that it matters, but my point was that we Americans have never been entirely unified in our traditions around Christmas or anything else. (The whole “War on Christmas” thing is not really about history or tradition, but about declaring what segment of society ought to be treated as the default “real Americans” now.)
By now I was enjoying a house full of kids, parents, stockings and sweets. I noticed the notification when I took my phone out to snap a picture of the cousins in their Christmas light necklaces. This elicited three responses with far more capital letters than I thought necessary. The general themes were that America was founded as a Christian nation and that I was an ignorant fool. His replies made it clear that it was not the specific tradition of saying “Merry Christmas” but the notion of America as Christian that was important to him.
There is something about someone condescending to you that is hard to ignore, as much as you ought to. So I responded. I pointed out that I knew a fair amount about history and that I didn’t agree with his premise, but that it was Christmas and that I had family commitments and didn’t want to spend the day arguing about what text should be on the banners in shopping malls. I wished the stranger a “Merry Christmas.” I expected that we would agree to disagree.
The next time I took the phone out there was another condescending response beginning with LOL taunting me that the only reason I was leaving the discussion was that I knew he was right. He was determined to have the last word.
In spite of myself, as the kids tried to plunk out Christmas carols on the piano, I found myself getting aggravated. “Are you arguing that we should have an official state religion?” I wanted to ask.
But I stopped myself. We had driven 14 hours to be with our extended family for Christmas. Christmas is one day a year. Here we were together, and this annoying and senseless debate was intruding. What am I doing? What should I care if some person I don’t know or respect thinks he bested me? It’s Christmas! I should never have commented to begin with. I deleted my original tweet and all the replies and blocked the stranger so there would be no temptation whatsoever to get drawn back in.
Isn’t it ironic (don’t you think?) that someone felt so strongly about keeping the “Merry Christmas” in Christmas that he was willing to spend Christmas day arguing with strangers about it?