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Bah, humbug!

By Terry Joseph
December 24, 2004

If that parsimonious Dickensian character, Ebenezer Scrooge, thought each farthing spent on the season of goodwill should be individually lamented, he would today be mortified to discover even traditionally free stuff, like "Merry Christmas", now comes with a price tag.

Scrooge, the quintessential penny-pincher, never felt the spirit until sequential hallucinations bearing noble messages scared him into generosity.

What the ghost of "Christmases yet to come" withheld from the old miser was that, down the road, a mere greeting might incur legal fees, since seasonal salutations have become feedstock for discrimination issues.

Once upon a time, "Merry Christmas" seemed globally unassailable, as did Nativity scenes. "Jack Frost nipping at your nose" was patently irrelevant to tropical circumstances but deliberately retained to internationalise the mood for, everywhere, 'twas the season to be jolly-this incitement specific to celebration of the birth of Christ.

As I matured, the rationale shifted radically, more so in the past decade than in the sum of my previous years. Decidedly Christian, Santa Claus was among its first major casualties, parents unwittingly conceding, anxious to take personal credit for Junior's new bike. Staples, like pork products, became taboo for other reasons, midnight mass a personal-security risk and the more tangible identifiers-material things-were insidiously replaced on retail-store shelves by new "seasonal implements".

Historically some of the season's fastest moving items, images of baby Jesus, the cradle, a modest wardrobe of swaddling clothes, figurines of Mother Mary, Big Joe, sundry shepherds, assorted farm animals (designed for push-button "lowing") and three wise men in jewelled turbans, main characters of the crèche, have suffered an unprecedented drop in retail sales worldwide; suddenly victims of contemporary political correctness.

Miniatures fared considerably better than lawn-jockey sizes, since smaller versions would more likely be used indoors, secluded in sanctuaries, where private observances do not annoy other religious groups or, for that matter, atheists but once these effigies are publicly displayed, they must pass the crèche-test.

With a familiar script and continuous reinforcement, Christmas had an unmistakable soundtrack, wafting flavours, dedicated cuisine, shopping frenzy, gift-giving, general jollification, decorated trees and-weather permitting-indisputable signs from God Himself, like snow and the legendary one-horse open sleigh; imagery immortalised through picture-prints from original etchings by Currier and Ives.

But that was before political correctness took root and groups or individuals, perceiving a trampling of their rights by this deeply Christian dominance, began demanding stronger presence. Members of the Jewish faith argued that the light of Hanukkah's Menorah was being overshadowed by the Star in the East, Muslims and Hindus were equally vocal when their religious festivals fell close to Christmas and Africans protested over the lack of equality afforded Kwanzaa.

And while Trinis may be still erecting huge stars, lighting up every hilltop in sight, blithely paranging, blissfully wining to parang-soca jams, munching on pastelles and basking in the glow of State-sponsored Christmas trees or, where practical, the illuminated life-size crèche, these very images have become a source of much irritation in metropolitan countries; some of the larger arguments reaching supreme courts, others resulting in hate-crimes.

International skirmishes over Christmas are now commonplace. Associated Press has been keeping us abreast of a war of words between the Cuban Government and the US over decoration of the latter's Havana embassy, the host country finding some symbols offensive to its political philosophy.

Reuters on Monday said Pope John Paul II, in his weekly address from the window at St Peter's Square, alluded to a growing crisis in Italy's schools over replacement of the annual Nativity pageant by non-secular productions like Little Red Riding Hood.

As reported by Al Jazeera (December 19), the French Government was forced to declare Christmas trees "a pagan symbol" after protest from Muslim students, who challenged it under the very law passed earlier this year to stop them wearing hijab. For much the same reason, one school recalled a shipment of Santa Claus chocolates showing ol' Fatso carrying a mitre and wearing the cross.

In the US, courts are busy determining a slew of cases involving such matters, the most visible of which saw Miami resident Sondra Snowdon, 53, fast for three months to demand her right to erect a nativity scene alongside Jewish representations in the Bay Harbour Islands' Town Square. An atheist civil rights body in Connecticut last Sunday staged a protest over similar imagery erected on Milford Green, demanding removal of the crèche.

Even old faithful sayings like "Happy Holidays" and "Season's Greetings" have now come under the microscope, department stores facing boycotts for displaying these sneaky reminders of the bad old days. Corporations are hiring consultants to devise escape routes and "you better watch out" has become the guiding principle, even where Santa Claus is no longer coming to town.

So, it is against this backdrop, far more burdensome a humbug than any encountered by Ebenezer Scrooge, I wish you and yours a "Merry Whatchamacallit" and, in the continuing interest of avoiding religious or ethnic conflict during the season dedicated to peace on earth: "May the Force be with you!"

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