Dancing Nude to Oppose Christmas

When Ria Ora danced nude in Harvard Square, she said she was just expressing her opposition to the commercialization of Christmas. A judge agreed, tossing out a lewdness charge against her.

But on April 10, the state’s highest court reinstated the charge. The Supreme Judicial Court found that the state’s open and gross lewdness law does not violate Ora’s First Amendment free-expression rights.

Ora was arrested after she danced nude during an annual protest June 25, 2005, against the commercialization of Christmas.

A judge found that state law completely bans public nudity and therefore violates free-speech protections. But the Supreme Judicial Court said it has already limited the ban to nudity imposed upon an unsuspecting or unwilling audience.

The court reversed the judge’s dismissal, and sent the case back to Cambridge District Court.

Ora’s lawyer, Daniel Beck, said he was disappointed in the ruling and believed the law was overly broad in restricting public nudity.

“Certainly there are circumstances under which people should be allowed to do that, and this statute doesn’t make exceptions for those types of circumstances,” he said.

City Looks to Redeem from Christmas Tree Fiasco

The city of Manchester, New Hampshire has a Christmas tree problem.

Tradition dictates that every holiday season the city puts up a Christmas tree. Somehow during the hubbub of Christmas 2007 the city ran a little late in making arrangements to get a tree and at the last minute desperate city workers uprooted a tree from a local cemetary, leaving a gaping hole near several headstones. A couple of folks called to complain and the whole affair turned into a fiasco.

So for Christmas 2008 the city is looking to redeem themselves. They have earmarked $6500 to move a live tree from deep in the woods to just across the street from Veteran’s Park.

The problem now?

Nobody wants to spend the money. Seems that Manchester has both a pot hole problem and recent budget cuts in local schools that has the population there looking again to the cemetary for Christmas 2008.

City Says Aspen Christmas Lights Killing the Earth

Holiday lights in Aspen and Pitkin County should have been off by March 30.

But not everyone is following the rules — and there are plenty of loopholes — according to city and county officials.

Carrington Brown, Pitkin County code enforcement officer, receives regular calls about Christmas lights still burning bright in places like Red Mountain. And recently, Brown ran an ad in local newspapers asking people to turn off holiday lights.

But the county lighting code is not simple, Brown said.

Holiday lights on county residences can be left on from Nov. 15 to Jan. 30, and on commercial properties from Nov. 15 to March 30.

The county ordinance, however, has a loophole: Residents can hang holiday lights in celebration of any religious, national or local holiday for two weeks prior to the event and for two days after, Brown said.

That means anything from Arbor Day to Yom Kippur can be cause to burn up some wattage.

“It may be legal, but is it the right thing to do?” Brown asked of residents who use the loophole to keep lights on for longer periods.

The county code is up for future review, he said.

In the city of Aspen, the rule is that both residential and commercial properties can keep holiday lights on from Nov. 15 to March 1.

“It’s excessive right now,” said Mayor Mick Ireland, who is frustrated that despite global energy concerns residents are “burning Christmas lights in March.”

Ireland hears regular complaints, he said, adding that the city council could look into the matter in coming sessions.

“It’s just not special if it’s 365 days per year,” Ireland said of downtown lights.

City-owned holiday lights (mostly strung on trees in the downtown core) were replaced by efficient LED lights in 2006, said Kim Peterson, director of the city’s Canary Initiative

The new lights cost $35,000, but it’s money the city will recoup in energy savings within three years, Peterson said. The new city-owned holiday lights use 93 percent less energy and generate about 2,500 pounds of carbon each year (compared with some 25 tons produced by an average home).

“We don’t view it as problematic,” Peterson said of energy use from city-owned lights downtown.

Efficient lights, however, do not give the city carte blanche to run lights, Peterson said.

“We want to dress up the town. On the other hand, we want to be as green as possible,” Peterson said.

Peterson could not estimate the cost or impact of privately-owned lights, but said she works with business owners to help them make better choices.

No one in the city or county is writing tickets for hanging twinkling lights on eves, though.

The city response is complaint-driven, and Todd Grange, the city’s code zoning officer, said he hasn’t received any complaints.

In most cases, he talks with residents about their lights and then they comply. And though there is a provision in city code requiring a special permit for event lighting,
he’s never seen one.

Carrington Brown in the county has a similar philosophy, and whether it’s outdoor lights or bear-proof garbage containers, Brown tries to help bring residents into compliance.

“To me being punitive is not a constructive way of doing code enforcement,” Brown said.

He talks with homeowners and said most — nine out of ten — cooperate, and that he’s able to work out solutions and compromises after knocking on doors or leaving notes.

The county code restricts use of not just holiday lights, but any wasteful outdoor lighting, such as driveway lights or large landscape lighting, Brown said.

“The county is trying to control unnecessary light pollution,” Brown said. “There’s no reason to have your house lit up like Wal-Mart.”

Brown said he’ll make exceptions for security lighting, but added that he regularly knocks on doors of homes where entire driveways, for example, are lit up “like a runway.”

There is much confusion between county and city rules about holiday lights, Brown said.

Residents on Red Mountain, for example, might wonder why they are required to douse their holiday lights on Jan. 30, while the city of Aspen below is glowing like Christmas Eve until March 1.

“That’s the kind of thing we should clean up,” Brown said, adding there could be some coordination to city and county codes. “We’re aware that certain parts of the light code need to be updated and tweaked.”

Sacred or Secular?

Leslie Carroll had seen enough.

When his 8-year old son starting singing “holiday carols” learned at school Leslie knew he had to get involved. In calling the school he was told that Christmas was “equalized” with other cultural events during December. Along with Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, Christmas was “observed” in a teaching unit titled “celebrating diversity”.

For Leslie, a born-again Christian, the offense was almost too much to bear. To him, Christmas is held sacred. The Carrolls celebrate Christmas in their home with a tree and “a few presents”, Leslie notes. But central to their Christmas observance is a season of worship.

“The school was making every effort to be politically correct,” Leslie admits. “And in the process they represented just about everything wrong about Christmas. They didn’t touch on a single religious theme. At no point did they even approach mentioning Jesus Christ. In fact, they portrayed Christmas in such a way that it caused a conflict within my son – who learns at home that Christmas is a holy day, while the school tells him it is merely a holiday. If they are going to teach Christmas at all, why can’t they also cover how Christmas is observed religiously in our society? Why just represent the secular view of Christmas? That’s not balanced teaching. That’s not fair. And it is not really politically correct either.”

According to a 2005 study more than 85% of all Americans celebrate Christmas. You would think that overwhelming majority would mean relative peace about Christmas in the public discourse. But the devil is in the details.

Of that 85%, more than half consider Christmas to be a religious observance. Less than half view Christmas as a purely secular holiday. That clear division is what muddies the merry waters of the “war on Christmas”.

Complicating matters, of the majority who view Christmas as sacred, 77% say not enough spiritual emphasis is placed on the holiday. Popular cultural influences such as movies and music, teaching of Christmas in the schools, and the portrayal of Christmas in the media detract from the spiritual significance of the season, according to study participants.

From where Diane Knoffler is sitting, the view is a little bit different.

Diane’s family background is Jewish but they celebrate Christmas every year with a tree and a Menorah. “Christmas is just as much an American holiday as it is a religious observance for some,” Diane says. “We don’t believe in Jesus and we don’t celebrate his birth, as great a story as that is. We don’t believe in Saint Nick but we do love Santa Claus. We keep Christmas in this way because it is an American thing to do. In July we light firecrackers, in October we carve pumpkins, in the spring we hide Easter eggs and every December we celebrate Christmas. We love it.”

Diane says she takes no offense of Christmas taught in the schools.

“I don’t really care,” Diane admits. “My kids can learn about Jesus at school. Obviously he is a significant historical figure that affects many people. So was Mohammed. So was Moses. If non-Jewish kids learn about the Menorah at school it seems to me that exposure is good for the Jews. Likewise the same can be said of what Christmas represents for Christians. I’m fine with it. Just teach it, don’t preach it.”

Not every one has Diane’s open mind. Of the nearly 1300 respondents to the Christmas study, more than 93% admit that teaching religious history relative to Christmas at school is a bad idea.

“We’ll never do it right,” admits Charlene Heald, an elementary school teacher in Roy, Utah. “Christians cannot agree on the very nature of Jesus and God, let alone which version Christmas history to use. We’d offend more than we do now. Secular representation of Christmas is much safer than trying to satisfy all the viewpoints that exist about Christmas. Besides, it’s December and curriculum needs are far beyond giving that much time and that many resources to holidays.”

Ironically, just who is “offended” by Christmas in public schools might surprise you. “I’d rather they just take Christmas out of the schools,” Leslie Carroll says. “If they cannot represent it completely they shouldn’t
represent it at all. We don’t teach the American Revolution and keep George Washington out of it, do we? Neither should we short-change Christmas in the classroom.”

This Christmas, as we see every Christmas, the debate will continue. Somewhere someone will be offended at Christmas in public. A school will come under fire, a parent will be outraged, politicians will preach
tolerance and television pundits will raise warning flags of the demise of Christmas.

But for the Carolls and the Knofflers, Christmas will come. The Carrolls will pray. The Knofflers may not. But both will open their presents together by the tree and wish each other a Merry Christmas.