and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

Barbara's Column
December #1

Have yourself a merry, politically incorrect Christmas
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Thursday, December 1, 2005

Happy holidays!

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 return.

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' Greetings."

Could clerks just replace their usual, "Have a nice day" with "Have a Merry Day"?

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 celebration.

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 sweets?

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 events.

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 unfairly.

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 female).

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.