It is OK to Wish Merry Christmas

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Ashley Tarter, a 32-year-old James City County resident, was buying Christmas gifts last year when she found something amiss.

“I was shopping in every store, and no one wished me a Merry Christmas,” Tarter recalled. Instead, store clerks and cashiers were greeting her with “Happy Holidays” and other generic seasonal hellos.

Today, Tarter stands determined to save “Merry Christmas” — and, she said, Christmas itself in a sense — through a campaign of subtle but colorful buttons.

It all began when Tarter mentioned to her husband over dinner that December she wished she could wear a sign that broadcast her desire for others to wish her “Merry Christmas.” After a bit of online research, Tarter found a wholesale button maker — and the “Wish Me a Merry Christmas” movement was born.

But her campaign won’t rest with just local awareness. Should Tarter sell a million pins, she plans to contact top U.S. retailers to demand that their employees say, “Merry Christmas,” to shoppers.

Tarter planned to sell only to churches for give-aways or fundraisers, but demand was so high, individuals can now buy the ornament-shaped badges, she said.

It’s not just the greeting that Tarter wants changed. She wants store displays to be religious-themed, with less of a focus on winter and Santa Claus. Music should be all Christmas carols — no “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” or “Jingle Bell Rock.” And the carols’ instrumental versions don’t count.

Since starting her Web site in July, Tarter has sold tens of thousands of $1.50 buttons, she said, with more orders coming in every day from Hampton Roads to Alaska. The money collected will be used for campaign purposes, such as marketing, travel costs to secure corporate commitments and possible legal expenses, Tarter said.

The initial success doesn’t surprise Tarter, who said people constantly underestimated what the Christian community could do.

“When Christians work to change the culture, that impact can be powerful,” Tarter said.

Regarding the likelihood of real change, she said, “If attention and slogans didn’t have the power to change retailers’ decisions, the stores wouldn’t look the way they do,” referring to what Tarter sees as the business community’s secularization.

The decline of “Merry Christmas” and what some people have called the war on Christmas have been annual talking points in recent years, led by conservative television and radio personalities who see America’s secular left as removing the true origins of the holiday — the birth of Jesus Christ — from Christmas in an over-reaching grab at political correctness. But national chains, government centers and other public gathering places have openly struggled to include citizens and shoppers who don’t celebrate the holiday.

Tarter doesn’t buy it. She cites a study commissioned a few years ago by the Fox News Channel that said 96 percent of Americans celebrated Christmas.

“Christmas is what it is, and people shouldn’t be offended that Christians are celebrating our holiday,” Tarter said. “For me, personally, you know what — if I’m spending all this money on Christmas, it’s actually offensive not to wish me a Merry Christmas.”

So can a mass movement of button wearers make a difference? Unlikely, according to local retailers and store managers. Susan Milhoan, president and CEO of the Norfolk-based Retail Alliance, a regionwide trade group, acknowledged that some retailers encouraged their employees to be as inclusive as possible to all shoppers. She said Tarter’s campaign “flies in the face of freedom of speech.”

Milhoan compared the effort to actions by public-smoking advocates. “When do individual rights and desires become more important than those of the society?” she asked.

One Hampton businessman has long balanced the religious with the secular. Mike Monteith, owner of Mike’s Surf Shop and a member of the Retail Alliance, keeps by his register a Surfer’s Bible. In it, the New Testament is combined with testimonies from pro surfers and skaters. Monteith also opens his indoor skate for free only once a week — for a devotional skate on Sundays. Posters advertising the event are on the front door and walls.

During the Christmas season, Monteith lets his workers greet customers however they please.

“I personally almost always, I think, say, ‘Merry Christmas,’ but I don’t have a stated policy,” Monteith said.

A handful of area churches have bought boxes of buttons. John Gray Sr., pastor at Williamsburg’s Bethel Restoration Center, has about 300 buttons sitting in his office that he plans to give to parishioners after Thanksgiving.

More people need to start feeling good about saying, “Merry Christmas,” to each other, Gray said. But he also said the meaning behind those words surpassed the Dec. 25 holiday.

“Christmas has a religious overtone, but I think it’s bigger than religion,” Gray said. “It speaks to family, coming together, giving to people less fortunate. Whether it’s applicable to Christ or not, it’s a time to give of yourself. I think it’s OK to express the sentiments of your heart and to not be afraid to say, ‘Merry Christmas,’ to somebody.”

Washington State to Allow Nativity Scene at Capitol

Nearly a year after state officials barred a Christmas Nativity scene from the Washington State Capitol Rotunda — drawing criticism from conservatives, including Fox News television talk-show host Bill O’Reilly, who equated such efforts in Washington and around the country with a liberal plot — the state has agreed to allow Ron Wesselius to display such a scene on behalf of citizens who celebrate Christmas.

With help from the Christian advocacy group Alliance Defense Fund, Wesselius filed suit last year after state officials denied his request to set up the Christian scene but allowed a Jewish menorah and a “holiday tree” to be displayed.

The state settled the suit and allowed the display.

“It’s incredible to think that Americans have to think twice about whether it is OK to celebrate Christmas in public,” said Alliance Defense Fund lawyer Byron Babione.

“Just as it is constitutional for officials to display a menorah and a holiday tree, it is also constitutional to include a Nativity scene. We are pleased that the settlement will allow for a Nativity scene in the rotunda this year.”

Babione said the Nativity scene is legal and appropriate.

“The state Capitol Rotunda is open for displays and exhibits during the holiday season. The state cannot bar a Christmas Nativity because of its religious viewpoint and allow other displays like a menorah and ‘holiday tree,’ ” Babione said.

Steve Valandra, spokesman for the General Administration Department, said the display would be up from Dec. 3 to 28.

He said the display was not allowed last year because the request came in too late. “There’s a little process that everybody goes through when they want to put up a display,” Valandra said.

Wesselius asked to display the scene after he noticed the menorah display, Valandra said. Valandra vetted the idea with the state Attorney General’s Office because of the religious content of the display and was told there was not enough time to research the issue.

Clay Aiken Caught Up in Christmas Concert Controversy

American Idol star Clay Aiken is caught up in a gay controversy after parishioners at a church where he is set to perform a Christmas concert demanded assurances the singer isn’t a homosexual.

Aiken’s sexuality hit the headlines last year when a former Green Beret soldier revealed he had spent a night of passion with the crooner, but Aiken refused to discuss the issue when it came up in interviews.

Then, fans threatened to file a class action suit against the singer if it was proven he was gay.

And now, elders at a Wichita, Kansas church want to make sure the singer is heterosexual before green-lighting plans for him to perform for their congregation on November 26th.

The Central Christian Church controversy reached a fever pitch shortly after the performance was announced, and the executive pastor Mark Posson felt compelled to send a letter to concerned elders.

A source tells the National Enquirer, “Pastor Posson thought it was in the church’s best interest to circulate a letter.”

In the note, the pastor avoided the gay issue, declaring Aiken was a Christian who didn’t “drink, smoke, swear or womanise”.

The clergyman also recalled interviews Aiken gave to Rolling Stone magazine and an internet site, in which he stated he was not gay.

Posson also incorrectly declared the Green Beret, who claimed to have spent the night with Aiken in a hotel, later recanted his story, explaining he was encouraged to “scandalise the singer” by so-called Aiken haters. In fact, the soldier, John Paulus, has never gone back on his story – and passed a lie detector test when he took his story to the Enquirer.

As Wenn went to press, the Aiken concert at Central Christian Church is still scheduled.

What does any of this have to do with Christmas? Ask the parishioners at Central Christian Church.

California Man Has to Tone Down Christmas Lights

Last year things got violent over Richard Viselli’s Christmas light display. The Claremont, California man has a passion for exhuberant displays each Christmas on his home and last year took it to a new level by broadcasting music via a low frequency FM transmitter to synchronize his “show” to festive tunes. Things will be a little less merry for Viselli this year after agreeing with the city to ditch the music and tone down the lights.

If the compromise hadn’t been reached Viselli might have had to conform to a proposed “entertainment” ordinance that would have required a city permit and perhaps paid policing of the site during each night of the Christmas season when the lights would have been on.

“It cut my heart out,” Mr. Viselli later said. “It’s my passion, but I have to live with it. I am happy that I get to at least keep my lights with no restrictions.”

The council did agree to allow Mr. Viselli to display a limitless amount of Christmas lights and urged him to continue compromising with his neighbors.

Despite the agreement to tone down the show, Mr. Viselli promises his Christmas display will still be impressive. His goal is to have up to 45,000 lights at his house and also plans to decorate 5 neighboring homes “to their fullest.”

“I’m just looking to add some Christmas spirit to this neighborhood,” Mr. Viselli said.

(Source: Claremont Courier) 

Halloween Noose Display Nixes Christmas Decor in NJ

Recent news reports surrounding the racial overtones represented by the hangman’s noose in Jena, La. and other areas has reach into the festive seasons of Halloween and Christmas. From New Jersey today comes this report:

Chesla Flood couldn’t believe her eyes. A hangman’s noose circled the neck of a black-hooded, jeans-clad dummy suspended from the chimney of a house in Madison.

Flood called her mother, Millie Hazlewood, who reported the Halloween display to police. She wasn’t the only one. Police went to the property at least three times starting Sunday, and even the mayor asked the homeowners to take down the figure.

At 8 last night, the family relented, saying they feared for their safety.

“It’s no more like freedom of speech anymore,” Cheryl Maines said. “My son had to take this down because these people have blown this thing out of proportion.”

Before the figure was removed yesterday, Madison Mayor Ellwood “Woody” Kerkeslager said “the appearance and the suggestion (of racism) is there, and it’s inappropriate.”

At least four recent noose displays — one each in Jena, La., and Philadelphia and two in New York City — are drawing renewed attention to a potent symbol of racism, lynchings and the era of Jim Crow segregation.

Unlike those incidents, the Madison figure was part of a Halloween display, and for two days, homeowners Cheryl and David Maines, the borough’s superintendent of public works, refused to budge. They said they had done nothing wrong.

Meanwhile, the state chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People denounced the display as offensive, racist and insensitive.

“I think there are many people who understand the significance of a noose as it relates to the history of African-Americans,” said James Harris, president of the NAACP’s state chapter. “We thought we lived beyond the era when people felt it was okay to have that type of display.”

Last night, the Maines family said they would be replacing their Halloween display and erecting a sign reading: “Thanks to the assistance of Millie Hazlewood and her friends, Halloween and Christmas decorations will no longer be celebrated here.”

The incident revived the persistent question of what is entertaining and what is offensive.

“The lines have all been blurred, and people push the limits just to see how far we can go” to shock each other, said James Farrelly, a Halloween expert and professor of Irish studies at the University of Dayton. But Farrelly, a Newark native, said, “I don’t know if we have a blank check to celebrate this by putting out our own sense of what we think is evil or might scare people.”

D.J. Maines, the 27-year-old son of Cheryl and David Maines, has bedecked the house for seven Halloweens using $5,000 worth of decorations he has collected. He has used the hanging dummy each year, but usually it is partially hidden by other decorations.

George Martin, a deacon at the First Baptist Church, which Hazlewood attends, said the noose evoked personal memories of terror and loss growing up in the South in the 1950s and 1960s. He said he lost his great-uncle to a lynching in South Carolina. His father watched his uncle and a friend die in a lynching, he said.

“It’s the same imagery we saw as young people — black faces, dungarees and ropes around the body and neck,” said Martin, who is also a member of the district board of education.

Cheryl Maines said she was not swayed by Martin’s personal history.

“Don’t bring your ancestors into this — it’s something that happened; you’ve got to get beyond it or you’re going to make yourself sick,” she said.

Madison police checked with the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office to determine whether the noose display was illegal or could be ordered down, according to police records. Two assistant prosecutors and a detective reviewed the matter and answered no to both questions.

In New York, politicians, community leaders and activists are calling for a law that would make it a felony to use a noose to harass or play a prank. State Sen. Eric Adams and New York City leaders gathered Sunday on the steps of Columbia Teachers College to call for the stiffer penalty on noose incidents.

(Source: New Jersey Star Ledger – 10/16/07)