"Do we need to put stuff up for Ramadan?" asked Pamela. We were putting up the various holiday decorations at work and while she began to string garland through the big Spruce tree I tried my darndest to remember which symbol was which on a dreidel. It was my first job out of college and after four years of spinning the darned thing I still could barely remember which was which.
"No, it was in July and August this year. Lunar calendar, I think," I replied.
"Still, don't we have to represent it?" she asked.
"What? Why?" I tossed the toy onto the table and listened to it playfully whir against the tabletop before teetering over with the symbol for Nun face up.
"To be all PC and all that," she replied.
"It was months ago. That would be like hanging your stockings and breaking out the nog in May. There's no point. Plus, anyone who came in who was knowledgeable about the holiday would realize that it was misguided PC. Or, well, just think us idiots. If we wanted to honestly represent it we should have done so at the right time. I didn't know when it was and we don't celebrate all the holidays anyways. It's not like we lit candles for Diwali or anything this year."
"Well, at least we have a Christmas tree so people know what we celebrate," she said in most self-assured way, as if setting herself stalwart against imagined throngs of people bashing down our door to declare a War on Christmas. "I'm so tired of hearing Happy Holidays, when people mean Merry Christmas."
Pamela is the heavily religious type. Rather liberal on many social issues (you generally are if you work in social work as we do), but still strictly religious. She was the type who wore tacky holiday sweaters with fashionable abandon, pulsed with the thrum of her beliefs, and would lecture you about cursing if you said, "Oh Jesus," in her presence. Still her plump face, blond hair that fell to her waist in wheat-colored wave, violin chord voice, and amber disposition made her endearing to almost everyone.
"But not everyone here does celebrate Christmas. I think that, well, Christmas has evolved into a family holiday for a lot of people. It doesn't have quite the religious connotation I think it had," I replied as I tried to get pencil thin candle to stand straight in the menorah.
"What do you mean?" asked Pamela.
"Well, I mean, a lot of atheist and non-Christian people celebrate Christmas. I mean, you get the days off from work and some people like the cheer but not the religion," I said.
"We live in America," she replied in earnest, "Most people celebrate Christmas. You can't celebrate Christmas and be an atheist!"
"My boyfriend is atheist so I guess he put a tree up at his place for the heck of it then?" I shot back. Now mildly annoyed I began to rev up my sarcasm engine that, once running, was like a F-1 screaming across a frozen lake: near impossible to stop and likely to end up in a burning wreck with many casualties. "Though a Christmas tree is a stolen Pagan tradition so maybe he worships the Earth Mother? It used to be called a Yule tree. If you have a tree I guess that's what it means. Right? Maybe both? You have a tree, right?"
"Christmas trees are Christmas trees, they're no longer Pagan." She began to fuss with some tinsel, her fingers only knotting it worse than when it came out of the box.
"Unless you're Pagan and it isn't a Christmas tree."
"There aren't any more Pagans, Garrett!"
"That's because the Christians killed them all way back when!" I snapped back.
Deep breath. "Implosion may be imminent, but maybe I can diffuse," this I told myself.
"Yes, Pamela. Actually, there are. I roomed with two in college. We celebrated Yule together, as well as Hanukkah and Christmas. And the reason there aren't as many of them as there used to be is that the Christians killed most of them a few centuries ago and then stole their holiday traditions," I paused and took a breath. "The point is, I think there are two types of Christmas now: Christian and Non-Christian. Both are great, both encourage togetherness and love, both have presents and all that jazz. Just one has a special religious service that gets most lax practitioners in a Church for the one time a year and the other is governed by Amazon.com and Target."
"Garrett," she sighed, "you're just being difficult now."
"No, Pamela, I'm not. Honestly. My goal is not to attack you," deep breath. Try not to smack her one. Another breath. "Sorry for also getting snippy."
An apology, from me, for sarcasm. Christmas miracles do happen.
I started again, "I just want you to clearly explain your point of view. As for holiday greetings I honestly do not think that by saying 'Happy Holidays' people, politicians, and businesses are trying to attack the holidays. It's not an intended slight to baby Jesus who, by the way, I'm a fan and follower of, but in a far more liberal way. Yes, it might be partly PC-based, but then again how is anyone supposed to know your religion unless you wear a symbol of it on yourself? The phrase is simply just easy. Plus, 'Happy Holidays' is quicker than 'Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.'"
Still, she had somewhat of a point. PC Watchdog Cheer does seem to be laying heavier on the spiked nog this year, as if my boozy cousin was serving it drinks.
A school in California recently banned all teachers from putting up Santas, trees, and even pointsettias in order to prevent religious discrimination. Seriously? The district is sort of like the Grinch who stole Christmas, only this time the Grinch has been smoking crystal meth for two weeks and is now wearing the freshly carved skin of Cindy Lou Who before terrorizing the townspeople of Whoville.
Teachers, please, celebrate Christmas in the classroom. I encourage it. But make it educational. Talk about the history of the holiday. And don't just do Christmas but Yule, Kwanza, Lunar New Year, Divali, Ramadan, Passover, and so on. Put the decorations up and expose children to all the various celebrations and joys that people have and the ways they give thanks for the blessings in their lives. Enlighten them to other people.
Of course, if teachers did this then the people complaining about the fact that schools are being forced not to celebrate the birth of Christ and the rejection of prayer in schools would complain that their children are being indoctrinated to become Islamic terrorists in the second grade classroom. Those safety scissors may not be able to cut butter, but they'll stab out an infidel's eye if wielded correctly.
On the other side of things, a choir teacher omitted the word "gay" from the song "Deck the Halls," apparently clueless that in this case "gay" referred to jolliness and not steamy man-on-man balls touching action. I mean really? Socially conservative people are waging their own war on Christmas, just on a different and somewhat dictionary-absent front while simultaneously complaining about socially liberal people and atheists neutering Jesus.
Not that that scene woulnd't make for a very different and unique nativity set to display in the living room.
The gays are also pissed that "gay" was taken out for completely the wrong reasons, and some of the religious right are pissed because "gay" was taken out, thus infringing on their sacred holiday song. On this issue though you have everyone pissed.
So you know, at least there is some semblance of togetherness.
Still, the teacher may be onto something. Any song about being a snappy dresser and redecorating probably falls into the "slightly homo" category.
Either way, I'm sure the news outlets and crazies on either side of the debate will continue to go on and on about this.
Pamela and I put the issue aside and finished our job making the office more festive with ornaments hung and dreidels spinning. We went online to print a little faq sheet about Yule, the both of us learning a few things or two and decided to pin a few quills of cinnamon around the office to spread prosperity and joy.
We then moved to stringing a few garlands in the break room. We began to talk about how we both used to string popcorn and cranberries on finishing line and used them to give our homes some homespun festivities on a budget.
"My mom used to pop so much extra corn. Two huge bowls full. One bowl for stringing and the other for eating. She's melt butter with cumin and chili powder and then pour it over. Oh! It was so warm and fun," Pamela reminisced.
I realized that I hadn't popped fresh corn myself since I was a child. Back then my mom and dad used an air popper; far before microwave popcorn drenched in strange yellow oils became the de facto corn used in most households today.
The next day I picked up a bag of popping corn at the Farmers' Market then went home and made popcorn. It was fun watching the first kernels explode into poofs of white crunchiness, bouncing and twirling in the pot like dancers in a Nutcracker performance. Soon those kernels were buried as more and more burst inside-out and the level of white corn rose and rose, steam escaping the seems of the lid before the corn pushed it up, up, and off the pot.
After the corn was done and in the bowl I tossed in the hot pot a knob of butter and a spoonful of curry powder. The butter browned and the spices blended, turning dark yellow and aromatic as savory steam stirred through the room. A quirk swirl and over the popcorn it went to be tossed with a flurry of salt.
The popcorn, needless to say, was epic. Perhaps curry isn't a traditional yule-tide classic, but maybe it should be. It seems like a rather novel way to ring in whatever happy holiday you choose to celebrate, and while we may not all agree on how to greet each other in this festive time of year I think we can all agree to debate it fairly over a big bowl of popcorn.
Happy Holidays, everyone. Whatever and however you celebrate.
~Garrett, Fiance, and Eat Beast
Adapted from Simply Recipes
2 tablespoons canola, peanut or grapeseed oil (something with a high smoke point)
1/3 cup high-quality popcorn kernels
2 tablespoons or more (to taste) unsalted butter
1/2 tablespoon curry powder
Salt to taste
1. Heat the oil in a 3 quart sauce pot with a lid over medium-high heat. Toss in a few kernels and cover the pot.
2. When those kernels pop take the pot off the heat to allow the heat to temper a bit. Count to 30 before putting it back on the heat. The oil may smoke a bit, no worries as it's what happens.
3. Add the rest of the kernels and they should begin popping. Once the popping starts be sure to shake the pot a bit to prevent the kernels on the bottom from burning. At the same time keep the lid slightly ajar to allow steam to escape as this will ensure crispy popcorn. Once the popping stops take off heat and put the popcorn in a bowl.
4. Toss the butter and curry powder in the pot (it will still be hot). Stir the butter together with the curry powder and pour over the popcorn. Add salt to taste, toss, and serve.