A Nebraska principal banned Christmas in her school. Among her decrees: No Christmas trees in classrooms; no Christmas clip-art; no singing of Christmas carols, and no Christmas music at all; no images of reindeer; no red-and-green images because those are traditional Christmas colors, and no candy canes because they spell the letter “J” and that stands for “Jesus.”
To be fair, principal Jennifer Sinclair didn’t ban every aspect of traditional Christmas. Gingerbread cookies and images of snow and polar bears and penguins and snowmen and snowwomen are all OK. Even gift-giving would be OK, as long as it’s, say, solstice-related. Giving of scarves or mittens was specifically cited as appropriate in her memo to staff.
She also sanctions the teaching of holidays of all sorts from all around the world. Just no Christmas. Go on, teach about Chinese New Year, Oktoberfest, Mardi Gras, Diwali, Nowruz, whatever, those are all good. However much time you spend on any one of 20 of those, that’s how much time you can spend on Christmas.
I’m not a big fan of Christmas myself, I’ll admit. I usually arrange with friends to eat at a Chinese restaurant on Christmas. The plan is to do Szechuan this year. The hotter, the better.
My aversion to Christmas and Christmas parties actually led to profit. Real Change doesn’t pay me for these columns, even though I’ve begged over the years for at least a baking potato for each one. But I did land a paid writing deal years and years ago, to write about my experiences living through Christmases while being homeless.
One of the most interesting of those times, I was homeless for a year while attending graduate school. Before and during that year, I became friends with several Hindu gentlemen and got to know their friends, and the friends of their friends, and the next thing I knew I didn’t have to sleep on the floor of the fruit-fly laboratory anymore. I got to sleep on a couch in a three-bedroom apartment packed with seven Hindus.
But I jumped ahead. Before that happened, I started following my friends and their friends to all sorts of events put on by the Cornell Hindu Students Association. I discovered Bollywood on little 4-foot high screens shown in classrooms in the evenings.
And then Christmas break came and the university almost emptied out. Cornell had about 16,000 students. Ithaca, the surrounding town, had its own population of about 16,000 apart from students. At Christmas time, the combined population went from 32,000 to about 17,000 in about two days as thousands of students took off for wherever they came from.
Except the Hindu students: The trip back to India was too far and too expensive.
As part of their efforts to get through the holidays in good cheer, they all gathered at a Hindu professor’s house for what was called an UnChristmas Party.
It turned out Ithaca had a white Christmas that year. About two feet of snow fell on the town the day before and through the evening. There were about 60 guests. The main item of celebration was a feast of spicy Indian food, but we were assured on arrival that there would be plenty of beer, because, thanks to the snow, they could obtain much more beer than could ever have fit in the refrigerator. There were multiple cases outside keeping cold in the snow.
So everyone sat down for dinner. I ate sitting on the floor, my plate on a coffee table. There was some sort of chutney that made my eyes tear up and fire started on my tongue and began to flare out into the rest of my head from the top of my skull to the base of my throat.
I thought I would be the only one internally on fire. Surely everyone else was used to it. But no -- a cry went up, all around the house, “We need the beer now! We are on fire!” Cans of cold beer were distributed all around.
They were all frozen, So we had a houseful of people desperately sucking on frozen beer-cicles.
It was a great party. In spite of the name it in fact had the best thing about Christmas going for it. It had friends sharing the time together. Why would anyone want to get rid of that and substitute scarf giveaways and pictures of penguins?
Dr. Wes Browning is a one time math professor who has experienced homelessness several times. He supplied the art for the first cover of Real Change in November of 1994 and has been involved with the organization ever since. This is his weekly column, Adventures in Irony, a dry verbal romp of the absurd.
Read the full Dec. 19 - Dec. 25 issue.
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