Spirit of Christmas is bigger than words

Gerry Phelan
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I’ve changed my tune. I used to get upset when people would say, “happy holidays” or “season’s greetings” instead of Merry Christmas. No more.

Even a month ago, I was set to launch a spirited attack on those who would leave the Christmas out of Christmas. I purposely purchase only those greeting cards that carry a Christmas message.

The nativity scene and all it represents have been a Christmas standard in my home ever since I was born. The star or angel on the Christmas tree represents the biblical star and angel. Christmas, for me, has always carried a religious significance.

This week, I attended the St. John’s Downtown Christmas Parade, ready to get more ammunition, to get my dander up over those who avoid using the words, Merry Christmas.

I was set to single out those floats and groups who brandished banners leaving off any reference to Christmas. And I was disappointed.

Yes, a handful sported “happy holidays” and “season’s greetings,” but from the smiling letter carriers to the police officers on horseback, to the clowns and television personalities and dancers and dog owners, they were all yelling, “Merry Christmas.”

And it was more than that. At the front of the parade, volunteers collected goods and money for the Community Foodsharing Association.  I joined many of those around me in offering a little something.

An hour later, with Santa in sight, there was another collection, and some of us dug into our pockets yet again without need of encouragement, perhaps bolstered a little earlier by members of the local Filipino community, walking the parade route and carrying a sign, thanking all for their generosity in the wake of the recent natural disaster in their home country.

I have never wanted to push my religious beliefs on anyone. I’ve always thought the best way is to walk the talk, not talk the walk. There are few quicker ways to turn someone off than to start preaching religion at them.

A few weeks ago, when I was down south, I noticed the city of Deerfield Beach in Florida has banned holiday displays from city-owned land if the city doesn’t put it up itself. That means a nativity scene that has been set up at a fire station for decades will be missing this year. It seems that display had been owned by a private business, so it’s a no-no.

The city attorney was quoted in the Sun Sentinel newspaper as saying  Deerfield’s new law is based on others from around the U.S. designed to protect cities from legal action based on choosing one kind of display over another, effectively choosing one religion over another.

Last December, a resident received permission to erect an eight-foot-tall aluminum pole made of beer cans. Some may recall the “Festivus” pole, the symbol of a secular, fictional holiday on the television show “Seinfeld.”

Even with this year’s holiday display ban, next Saturday, Deerfield Beach will have its annual holiday celebration and tree-lighting ceremony. There will be photos with Santa, a miniature pony petting zoo, kids’ activities, a holiday magician and live entertainment.

Most importantly, the city will collect new, unwrapped gifts to be donated to a local charity and distributed to less-fortunate children in the community.

That is Christmas.

Cadets marching in Santa Claus parades with candy canes instead of guns; kids trusting and enjoying the characters that make them smile; people who have never met chatting up a storm while awaiting the first marching band, making friends and relationships, and wishing each other well. What can be more Christmas than that?   

In the next few weeks, we will see Christmas displays and hear more than our share of Christmas songs. Our email inboxes will be flooded with greetings of all kinds. Clerks in stores will say whatever they are told to say, but if it’s not Merry Christmas, I won’t get my underwear in a knot.

The words will wish me well. I appreciate that. And I will simply reply, “Merry Christmas.”

Gerry Phelan is a journalist and former broadcaster.

He can be reached at gerryp@bellaliant.net

Organizations: Community Foodsharing Association, Sun Sentinel

Geographic location: Deerfield Beach, Florida, Deerfield U.S.

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Recent comments

  • Chantal
    November 29, 2013 - 07:03

    Dare I say "...and happy Hanukkah?" Or is that not politically correct?