The Christmas carol “Cold December Flies Away” is probably not one of the best known Christmas tunes. It is rarely piped into the shopping mall or an elevator. Still, when I look at my calendar for the next several weeks, the first phrase of the sixteenth century Spanish carol automatically pops into my head.
When I was a child, I thought the month from Thanksgiving to Christmas must have twice as many days as any other month. I know the number of days are the same in December as in January, March, May, July, August, and October. Although many things have changed since I was a little girl waiting for Christmas, the number of hours in a day and days in a week are still the same. My sense of time is what is different.
When I was young, no one seemed to be aware that public displays of nativity sets, or school programs depicting wise men visiting the baby Jesus might offend someone. We sang Christmas carols in school and in church. Businesses openly promoted Christmas specials and public meetings began with prayers.
I never heard anyone complain.
I lived in a very homogeneous community. I didn’t have friends who were much different from me. I thought other religions meant Catholics, Methodists and Mennonites. If there were others in our community who were not Christians and felt on the outside of our celebrations and festivities, none of them dared to say anything.
I don’t think we were insensitive or intentionally offensive towards non-Christians. We were taught to be kind, polite and empathetic. We were not allowed to use names that hurt others. I think we were simply ignorant and unaware.
Not only does seem to pass more quickly, our world has become much smaller. Many of us have travelled around the world. We move around the country and fly back home for the holidays. Our workplaces are culturally diverse. Our communities are more racially integrated and our grandchildren have friends whose parents and grandparents speak different languages and worship in mosques, temples and perhaps not at all.
We know better. We know that there are people who are hurt by what we say and do. That’s why I find it so disturbing that we have forgotten how to be kind, empathetic and polite. When did Christmas become an excuse for being intentionally rude and insensitive? Why are we so offended when an employee of a retail store does not invoke Christ’s name as they close our purchase?
We can’t go back to the ignorant bliss of the 1950s when some of us hurt others unintentionally and others did so deliberately. The pain experienced by those on the outside was and is real either way. We know better and we can’t go back.
We have lost our unawareness, but it seems we have also lost our manners. It has become acceptable to post mean, cruel and rude commentary on the internet, to make insensitive public comments about others in print and on the airwaves. Talk show hosts call young women who disagree with them, “sluts.” Pundits call the President of the United States and his family obscene and racist names. Political opponents exaggerate and even leak false accusations about one another. If you think you are on the right side of an issue, the end apparently justifies the means used to get there.
Christmas should make us more “politically correct” in our speech, in our actions and in our public holiday celebrations. The definition of that term seems to fit with the real spirit of Christmas. The dictionary says political correctness is the avoidance of forms of expression or action that are perceived to exclude, marginalize, or insult groups of people who are socially disadvantaged or discriminated against. That sounds, to me, to be consistent with the life of the baby we celebrate. He said, “I come to bring good news to the poor.” He sought out the marginalized and the discriminated against. His kingdom doesn’t require our defense, but does require our following His example of generosity, compassion, kindness, and grace.
I look forward to Christmas. I don’t care if retail stores have expanded the reason for the season to Kwanza, Hanukkah or even Black Friday shopping. I love lights and the smell of Christmas trees, hot cider and cookies. I enjoy school programs regardless of the music sung. I like giving and receiving gifts. My church has a nativity scene and a Christmas program. That’s where those things should be and I have the freedom to enjoy them there.
I just wish cold December didn’t fly by so fast.
Copyright © 2014 Janet Jacobson and Sustaining the Northern Plains