Friday, December 16, 2011

My Take on the News: Jingle Bells, Jangled Nerves, and Good Advice

This is the last full weekend before Christmas. From what I've heard, quite a few folks are still shopping for Christmas presents - or realizing that they'd better start. Here in America, Christmas is a time for frenzied purchases, family gatherings, and frazzled nerves. Sometimes family gatherings lead to frazzled nerves, and that's another topic.

This season is also a time when municipalities bring out special decorations, like the one hanging over Main Street in my town:

Christmas, "Winter Holiday," and Getting a Grip

That "Happy Holiday" over Main Street is fairly safe. It even avoids the arguably-divisive "winter holiday" that's been in vogue lately.

Winter? 'Divisive?" That almost makes sense: since quite a few folks live in Earth's southern hemisphere, calling this time of year "winter" could be seen as a verbal attack on 'hemispherically-other' persons. One doesn't want to offend anyone, after all. As for "holiday:" I'll get back to that.

This week, I'm reacting to three news items. Actually, one of them is an op-ed piece:
  1. Fear and Control
  2. Holiday Spending
  3. Good Advice

Change Happens

As I've said before, change hurts, change happens. I grew up in the '60s, when America, along with much of the rest of the world, experienced a big cultural change. Some of those changes were long-overdue reforms.

For example, I remember 'the good old days,' when "she's as smart as a man" was supposed to be a compliment. I don't want to go back. On the other hand, the 'age of Aquarius' didn't turn out quite as well as some hoped.

I think we're in for another major cultural shift. I also think that this is going to be as rough on some Americans as the '60s were.

1. Fear and Control

I remember when America was getting the last of McCarthyism out of its system. That's one of the reasons I don't miss 'the good old days.'

I don't think it's healthy for a country to be run by folks who are convinced that they have the duty to persecute commies, racists, or other perceived enemies.

It's been a long time since America's establishment was nearly all white; male; and either anti-communist, or trying to be 'regular Americans.' I think the '60s happened in part because too many folks got fed up with leadership which seemed to rely on scaring the public.
"Is Saying Merry Christmas Politically Correct? Good For Business?"
Paul Jankowski, Entrepreneurs, Forbes (December 15, 2011)

"If you're a marketer and care about the political correctness of the phrase 'Merry Christmas', you've already lost.

"Several retailers realized the importance of the phrase to their customers. Randy Sharp, director-special projects at the American Family Association, said that in the past five years the group has seen the percentage of retailers recognizing Christmas in their advertising rise from 20% to 80%. Just eight retailers are left on the group's list of 'Companies Against Christmas.'

"Heck, even the folks in Washington D.C. favor using the phrase 'Merry Christmas' over 'Happy Holidays' according to a according to an article in Politico:

"While other spots around the country are deep in debate over the issue - Rhode Island's governor has drawn protests for insisting on calling the Statehouse Christmas tree a 'holiday tree,' for instance - 51 percent of those living in the D.C. metro area prefer stores use 'Merry Christmas' in their advertising, according to a WTOP poll released Tuesday...."
The idea that fear isn't a good way to motivate people isn't new:
"A man who causes fear cannot be free from fear."
attributed to Epicurus, Greek philosopher (341 BC - 270 BC)

Fear and Wisdom

Emotions are part of being human. By themselves, emotions are neither good or bad. What makes a difference is how we deal with emotions, using our reason and our will. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1762-1770)

As a Christian, I realize that fear is important:
"6 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; prudent are all who live by it. Your praise endures forever."
(Psalms 111:10)

"The beginning of wisdom is the fear of the LORD, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding."
(Proverbs 9:10)
If you're expecting an 'old fashioned fire and brimstone' rant: you'll have a long wait. That "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" stuff put Jonathan Edwards on the map, but it hasn't been 1741 for a long time, and I've been over that before. (December 5, 2011)

In any case, I don't think it's prudent to scare people silly. Particularly when it comes to portraying the Almighty as a bully with anger management issues.

Enforced Timidity

That Forbes op-ed lets me hope that many Americans have gotten as fed up with today's establishment as my generation was, half a century ago. As awkward and unpleasant as the change may be, I think reform is overdue.

It's a relief to know that we may be seeing an end to 'sensitivity training,' and fearful avoidance of whatever is considered 'hate speech' at the moment. I've wondered when one of my 'betters' would discover the etymology of "holiday," have a conniption, and insist that we replace 'happy holiday' with something like this:

Think about it. Using the straight-as-a-pretzle 'logic' of recent decades, "happy holiday" and "winter holiday" are as 'hateful' and 'divisive' as "merry Christmas:"
  • "Happy" discriminates against people with mood disorders
  • "Holiday" sounds too much like "holy day"
  • "Winter" discriminates against folks living in the southern hemisphere
And, no: I don't think any of the above make sense. But, like I said, I remember 'the good old days' of McCarthyism and political correctness.

By the way, here's that "companies against Christmas" list that Mr. Jankowski mentioned:
  • Barnes & Noble
  • CVS
  • Dick's Sporting Goods
  • Office Depot
  • RadioShack
  • Staples
  • Supervalu
  • Victoria's Secret
Then there are stereotypes about 'those people over there,' and that's yet another topic.1

2. Holiday Spending

I once heard 'success' defined as "buying things you don't need, with money you don't have, to impress people you don't like." I'll skip the culturally-normative rant about conspicuous consumption, rampant consumerism, corporate greed, or whatever the 'in' topics are now.

I think some Americans get a little crazy with spending around Christmas. But quite a few of us also depend on the retail industry for a living. I think the trick is moderation, and I'll get back to that.
"Jingle bells: Retailers upgrade holiday spending outlook"
Anne D'Innocenzio, Associated Press, via USA Today Money (December 15 2011)

"With the final Christmas countdown begun, the nation's largest retail trade group has upgraded its holiday sales forecast, reflecting growing optimism that much more spending is to come.

"The National Retail Federation said Thursday that it now expects sales for the November and December period to rise 3.8% to a record $469.1 billion. That's up from a more modest 2.8% forecast in early October, when the economy's health looked more uncertain.

"The new forecast is hardly stellar. The projected gain is still below the 5.2% gain during the 2010 holiday season from the prior year, but it's well above the 2.6% average increase of the past 10 years...."


We're not supposed to be too attached to worldly goods. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2545, 2548) It's not money that gets us in trouble, it's love of money:
"For the love of money is the root of all evils, and some people in their desire for it have strayed from the faith and have pierced themselves with many pains."
(1 Timothy 6:10)

"Let your life be free from love of money but be content with what you have, for he has said, 'I will never forsake you or abandon you.'"
(Hebrews 13:5)
I could harangue about crass commercialization, but you've probably heard it all before.

Anyway, I'm a bit more concerned about how 'the true meaning of Christmas' gets diluted in those inevitable Christmas specials. And I've been over that before:

3. Good Advice

"Benedict XVI Offers Christmas Preparation Advice"
Says Contact With God Isn't Just One More Thing on the List
ZENIT (December 12, 2011)

"Benedict XVI visited one of the parishes of Rome on Sunday, encouraging the parishioners to prepare for Christmas, 'not just with gifts but with our hearts.'

"The Pope visited 'Santa Maria delle Grazie' at Casal Boccone, in the northern sector of the Diocese of Rome, telling the people that 'we must not lose contact with God in our hearts. If such contact exists then we have a reason to be joyful. To all of you I wish the joy of Christmas, the presence of the Baby Jesus Who is the God of our hearts.'

"The Holy Father celebrated the 9:30 a.m. Mass, noting in his homily the celebration of 'Gaudete' Sunday, 'the Sunday of joy.'

" 'It tells us that, even amidst our doubts and difficulties, joy exists because God exists and he is with us,' the Pontiff said....

"...He also spoke of preparations for Christmas: 'I know that people have many commitments, but getting ready for Christmas does not only mean shopping and making preparations, it means being in contact with the Lord, going out to meet him. I feel it is important not to forget this dimension. ... This is not an additional burden, but the power that enables us to do all we need to do. I hope you maintain permanent contact with Jesus, that his joy and strength might help you to live in this world.'..."
The last sentence in that quote bears repeating, I think:
"...'...This is not an additional burden, but the power that enables us to do all we need to do. I hope you maintain permanent contact with Jesus, that his joy and strength might help you to live in this world.' "
(Pope Benedict XVI, via ZENIT)

Bethlehem, Gethsemane, Golgotha, and Beyond

One more excerpt from what Benedict XVI said:
"...'May the Mass be the focus of your Sunday, which must be rediscovered and lived as the day of the Lord and of the community, a day on which to praise and celebrate the One Who was born for us, Who died and rose again for our salvation, and Who asks us to live together joyfully, to be a community open and ready to welcome anyone who is alone and in difficulty. Do not lose your understanding of the significance of Sundays, and remain faithful to your appointment with the Eucharist. Early Christians were ready to give their lives for this.'..."
I think it's a good idea to remember that the 'Babe in a Manger' grew up and was crucified: and that my Lord didn't stay dead.

And that's yet again another topic.

More-or-less-related posts:

1 I live in central Minnesota, a part of America that I've described as "north of the flyover states." ("About the Lemming," Apathetic Lemming of the North) We're about a thousand miles from New York City: but, believe it or not, we've got paved roads, running water, and pretty good Internet access.

If that's not what you've heard about 'those people over there,' I'm not surprised:
"Six Ignorant Stereotypes About Middle America"
Paul Jankowski, Entrepreneurs, Forbes (October 5, 2011)

"What do you think of when you hear 'Heartland', 'the South' or 'Middle America'? If you're like a lot of people I know on the coasts, the first things that come to mind are usually not positive.

"This is a real quote from a marketing exec in New York City: 'I think the Heartland is a nice place to raise children. People are nice, but they're dumb, overweight, and gullible. They wear tacky clothing and jewelry. They're racist, unworldly, and dumb.'

"If you agree with the quote above, you need to get out a little more. Stereotypes exist for a reason, but if you’re trying to build a brand and engage consumers at a deep level, oversimplifications will hurt your cause. Stereotypes, taken to cynical extremes, are big-time brand killers...."
I've been over this before:


Brigid said...

Double or single? "Winter? 'Divisive?" That almost"

The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

P.S. "the 'age of Aquarius' didn't turn out quite as well as some hoped." Possibly because it hasn't happened yet. Astronomically speaking. hehehe

And by the by, rants about corporate greed are still in. At least for one guy. I get treated to one just about every Wednesday when I volunteer.

Anonymous said...

Was tooling around for information about the "promises of St. Bridget" (which didn't quite sound right to me) and found your thoughtful commments on this blog site. I like your current comments too. Your blog is now on my favorites!
Merry Christmas;
Cathy R.
New York

Brian H. Gill said...

Cathy R.,

Thank you! And a Merry Christmas to you, too.

Brian H. Gill said...


The phrase, "winter holiday" is what I've run into. Devout secularists don't seem to have a problem with New Year's Eve celebrations - despite it being an insult to folks who'd rather use the Mayan calendar. Then there's the Chinese calendar - - - oh, well.

Anyway, I'm leaving the "holiday" in singular form.

As for "age of Aquarius," well: that temporal oopsie was about par for the course, when it comes to accuracy, for 'relevance.'

Corporate greed? I've posted about Amos - and that's another topic. ;)

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Marian Apparition: Champion, Wisconsin

Background:Posts in this blog: In the news:

What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.