New York I love you, but Christmas here is a let-down
Bing Crosby – or maybe it was Bob Hope, or perhaps even Jimmy Stewart – on New York’s Fifth Avenue, stumbling in falling snow outside a department store, weighed down by big boxes of bow-wrapped Christmas presents. It’s an image imprinted in my mind, the quintessential picture of New York.
But this year it didn’t snow in New York. And this year, Christmas didn’t come, except for those who celebrated it like members of a shameful secret society.
I’d heard vaguely about this “War on Christmas” in America, where people don’t say “Merry Christmas” but instead say “Happy Holidays”. I didn’t really believe it, because so much of the culture and imagery of Christmas is American.
But it’s true. On the streets of New York, no one much mentions Christmas.
It’s one of the many contradictions about the land where free speech is a fiercely protected constitutional right. As it turns out, “free speech” also means silencing others whose views differ from your own.
The death of Christmas can be tracked to the constitution itself, which prohibits any one religion from having primacy.
There have been legal suits against councils that put up nativity scenes in public areas; major shopping outlets started removing the term “Christmas” from their decorations and started having generic snow-scene displays; schools have been prevented from singing carols; Christmas trees became “holiday trees”.
It’s like there’s this big party going on but nobody knows the address.
Who’d have thought Jesus would kill Christmas? But that’s what’s happened.
Over time, Americans have become more inclined to make a bigger deal out of Thanksgiving. Even though it’s about thanking God, it doesn’t specify which God – and certainly doesn’t name anyone as controversial as the Son of God.
I assumed the anti-Christmas thing was a Jewish conspiracy, on account of how they don’t go for Jesus.
But on December 25, the only media release issued by the influential Jewish-run Anti-Defamation League, which fights hate and bigotry, was not an attack on Christmas.
It was a statement condemning ultra-orthodox Jews in Beit Shemesh, Israel, for spitting on girls and young women.
My Jewish landlord, who I ran into on the stairs the day before Christmas, wished me a “Merry Christmas”.
I said: “I thought you guys didn’t do that after what you did to Jesus.” (He’s become acquainted with the Australian sense of humour.)
But it got him started. He said it was horrible what they’d done to Christmas. Especially given that Christmas, at its heart, is for kids.
We Australians got it right. Years ago, we took the meaning out of Christmas by forgetting about Jesus and just having an all-out commercial party. In doing so, we saved it.
It’s like rescuing the species by letting a hunter pay to shoot the bull elephant rather than leaving it to poachers. Seems strange, but it works.
Paul Toohey’s American Story appears in the iPad edition of News Ltd newspapers every Saturday.
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