Have I offended anyone yet? Well, I'll keep trying. Because I personally
am offended by the perpetually offended, so wish to annoy them in
I'd say Merry Christmas, honest, but it's too soon for me. I dislike
rushing my holidays (though I don't mind if you do).
In my hometown of St. Marys, Pa., Christmas began on Belsnickle, the
feast of St. Nicholas, so today that's when I put the lights in the
window and mail my cards.
I always thought Belsnickle was German for St. Nicholas, the precursor
of Santa Claus. But thanks to Google, I just learned that 19th-century
Germany called him Pelz-nickle, which means "Nicholas in Furs". (Back
then, fur clothing was not offensive).
The Pennsylvania Dutch immigrants, with their funny accents, changed the
name to "Belsnickle." They were Protestants, but my German/Irish
Catholic town was only too happy to adopt the custom. On the night of
Dec. 5, he came to the door to greet excited — yet terrified — children
like me and my cousins.
Far from the later jolly Santa Claus (St. Claus? St. Nicklaus?),
Belsnickle sternly demanded good behavior or the learning of a new skill
like tying one's shoes, reciting the alphabet or counting to 10, in
return for a bag containing a popcorn ball, coloring book and small toy.
This attitude of earned reward is also seen in the once-popular song
"Santa Claus is coming to town ... he knows if you've been bad or good,
so be good for goodness sake."
What if getting presents at Christmas depended on our having been good
all year — or at least getting rid of political correctness in our
lives? Uh-oh, there goes the retail sector of the economy.
Speaking of shopping, there is some controversy over what sales clerks
should say when you complete your transaction.
Some have been told not to say "Merry Christmas." But, inevitably, the
term "happy holidays" now offends some Christians who recognize the
motivation of removing Christ from Xmas. Not to worry, Christians:
Holiday is just a variation of holy day. You win!
We could use "Season's Greetings," but it sounds as if the sage and
thyme are saying hello. No, Barbara, that would be "Seasonings'
Could clerks just replace their usual, "Have a nice day" with "Have a
I keep hearing that this is traditionally a Christian country and,
separation of church and state notwithstanding, we should celebrate the
Christian Christmas in both private and public spaces. But actually,
here in Massachusetts, it would have to be, traditionally, a Puritan
Uh-oh. Though Christians, the Puritans considered Christmas a day of
fasting and atoning for sins. Fasting on Christmas? What about the
turkey or goose? What about plum pudding, and those Harbor and Stowaway
The Puritans didn't have a Christmas tree at the Prudential Center or
anywhere else. They recognized the tree, along with mistletoe and holly,
as symbols of an earlier pagan period.
Speaking of pagans, I took a visiting friend from St. Marys to the Salem
Witch Museum over the Thanksgiving holiday.
We'd first been to the Witch Museum when I moved here in the '70s. The
show is still fascinating, and better than I remember it. But there's a
new section with a wall that shows a timeline beginning with the
earliest religion and the ancient fertility goddess, then separates into
the Christian and Wiccan traditions. You see them interacting, to the
shame of the former and the victimhood of the second.
Two witch statues inform the tourists that Wicca is an official religion
now too, emphasizing peace and nature. It's noted also that adherents do
not worship or even believe in the devil. So far, so good.
But then there's another wall that equates the horrible persecution of
Danvers and Salem citizens in the Salem witch trials with other historic
I am familiar with Arthur Miller's comparison, when he wrote "The
Crucible," of those trials with the McCarthy hearings of the early
1950s, and am mostly sympathetic to it, though there really were
communists running around Hollywood in those dark days. But I'm not sure
that the Japanese internment belongs here. Japan did attack us, after
all, and the threat was real, though Japanese Americans were treated
I am quite sure that the AIDS epidemic shouldn't be on the wall, with
gays equated with the witches hanging on Gallows Hill. Give me a break:
Our governments are spending a fortune looking for a cure for AIDS,
which wouldn't be a problem if gays restricted themselves to protected
or monogamous sex. If the museum needs to fill space, the persecution of
innocent day-care providers by overzealous prosecutors over the past 20
years are a better match.
Have I offended everyone yet?
At the post office this week, I asked for "Christmas cookie stamps," not
"Holiday cookie stamps." To that institution's credit, the cookies
include a Santa Claus (St. Claus) and an angel, as well as gingerbread
men (one tan, one chocolate) and snowpeople (I think one could be
So Happy Holidays until Dec. 5. After that it's Merry Chrismukkah (see
Fox TV's "The O.C."). Have a merry day, all men and women of good will
and politically incorrect common sense.
Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her syndicated columns appear weekly in the Salem
News, Newburyport Times, Gloucester Times, (Lawrence) Eagle-Tribune, and Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the Providence
Journal and other newspapers.