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12/12/2006 - 1:20 p.m.

CHRISTMAS AND FOG

At first, the fog was patchy. Here it was clear. There I saw only outlines of trees and buildings. Over there was nothing at all---or so it seemed. The fog was intermittent, beautiful, dangerous, and seemed not of my world. In other words, from where I am, it was just like Christmas.

I've always had an uneasy relationship with Christmas. Somewhere around Thanksgiving or Halloween, or recently even earlier of late, the first hints of Christmas creep in on little cat feet. Just like the fog creates a fairyland of the India ink trees branching up to the sky without their leaves, so too does Christmas create a fairyland of shiny lights and ornaments. Just as the world that fog creates is not quite my everyday world, so too is the world of Christmas foreign to my Jewish upbringing and beliefs. No, I don't believe in Santa and I never have. (For that matter, I also doubt that Judah Macabee was the type to bring toys to good girls and boys.)

Yes, the fog was pretty today. But driving up to one of our fine state prisons through the Kettle Moraine, I also was aware of just how dangerous it was. Although I did not go far enough north on I-43 to go by the exact spot, I remembered that it was on I-43 just a few years ago, in a dense fog such as today's, when there was a pile-up, fiery crash, and multiple deaths. The danger was lurking, just below the surface. Was I going too fast for conditions? Was I going too slow and in danger of not being seen? What was the best way to make it through intact?

And Christmas? What possibly could be the dangers of Christmas? Just ask Seattle's Rabbi Elazar Bogomilsky. He made the mistake of asking that Seattle's airport displays include a menorah. Personally, I'm not inclined to celebrate my religious holidays that publicly nor am I inclined to advance a minor holiday just to compete with Christmas, but there was nothing inappropriate about his request. The menorah was secular. A regulation religious menorah requires wicks. (Okay, so it's a bit of a stretch but that area of my imagination was stretched long ago when Christmas trees were declared secular.) If the Christmas decorations are okay, so too are Chanukah decorations or any other seasonal decorations. But Seattle's airport staff initially decided that the solution was to remove all the Christmas trees. And the reaction, in too many instances, was far from Christian. The rabbi received "odious" threatening and hateful calls and e-mails.

But it doesn't take that much to generate fear. Years ago, when my children were younger, a Green Bay area kindergartener was suspended for telling other five-year-olds that there was no Santa Clause. They spoke of her as though she were murdering Santa or, at the very least, their children's childhoods. I've been accused of being a bad mother for depriving my children of belief in Santa. I've been accused of being un-American for my failure to know some of the more obscure Christmas carols. (Could you sing all the words to "What Child is This?" for a choral try-out? I bet there are a lot of Christians who couldn't. Yes, the director accepted the substitution of "Greensleeves" but she continued to frown although she did let me into the college choir.)

I tried to explain my fear to Christian family members a few years ago. The person there who had never made me afraid felt guilty and I wound up reassuring her that she was one of the good guys. A few others tried to make me feel crazy or oversensitive. The whole experience has resulted in yet a more uncomfortable Christmas with family and even more fear on my part. I hate having to decide whether being tolerated or hated bothers me more.

Christmas will always be an intruder of sorts in my world but it's time to face facts. Christmas is my world every December, whether I like it or not, and the only other solution would be to withdraw from the world. I'm too rooted in reality for that approach. But please, please, when I go to visit FogieKnight's family this year, could Christmas sit on silent haunches and then move on?

****

P.S. Speaking of fog (as in "Night and Fog")..Does it strike anyone else as ironic that the ultra-orthodox Satmar Chassidim are participating in an Iranian conference of Holocaust deniers on the same day in history that the head of the Zionist rescue operation in Hungary rescued the Satmar rebbe, their leader Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum, rescued from Bergen-Belsen?

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