Up here in Strawberry, a person starts to hear sleigh bells this time of year, not because there are many sleighs, but because it can snow almost any day.
In places like this, we use the imaginations we were given long ago, as kids. We start dreaming of a White well, you know whatever you want to call it.
Most of the cards you pick up say something bland like, "Happy Holidays," or "Season's Greetings." Sometimes they say, "Peace on Earth," even "Good Will to Men."
But those latter words are lifted from the Christian New Testament and they get a little too "Christian." At least that used to be the case until Joseph Lieberman became the Democratic nominee for Vice President. Joe Lieberman was good news for Christians. If you're a Christian or a church person, you are now free to celebrate Christ mass, what the church-year calls "The Nativity of Our Lord."
Joe Lieberman is an Orthodox Jew, not necessarily an orthodox Jew. He uses good old American God-talk, and he gets away with it, which is something that hasn't been easy to do in public for sometime now.
And if Joe can talk about God and mother, then all of us can speak our own religious languages, whether they be Jewish, Christian, Muslim or secular. If Joe can be an Orthodox Jew and engage in American God-talk, it clears the air. For 30 years or so, the air was clouded because Jews felt excluded from much of the American religious culture. Of course, even Joe can't sound too Jewish; it wouldn't be prudent.
Beginning early in the 20th century, a whole new holiday was created; one we could all get along with without offending the ACLU. We called it Christmas for awhile, but then it became the Greeting Season, the Happy Holiday, the Gigantic Sale.
Now everyone has a choice. There are several options. We can celebrate the Christ-mass. We can celebrate Hanukkah. We can celebrate our private whims and fancies. Or we can engage in the orgies of consumer power, singing carols of self-indulgence, celebrating the new American holiday. We have a choice now, you see. Or do we?
Try as I will, I wonder whether I can escape celebrating that grand ritual of buying and exchanging trinkets, of looking to see what new humdrummery the television producers will invent. This new holiday has more power than Christ-mass or the new Hanukkah. Sometimes it will borrow sentiment and symbol from both to make us feel good enough about what we're doing.
The "Happy Holiday" of consumer power is one of the grand holy days of an established church that tells us what to believe, how to celebrate and what to belong to.
Richard E. Wentz is a resident of Strawberry, holds a doctorate from George Washington University in American history and served on the faculty at Penn State. Comments and questions can be sent to the Roundup at P.O. Box 2520, Payson, AZ 85008; c/o Richard E. Wentz.