Monday, December 22, 2008


Today is the first in our holiday postings and of course, since it's Monday, we start with an offering from our own Max Newport. Max didn't choose this picture to go with his article, Miss Vero did, but that's us - always stirrin up trouble.
Max Newport

Many a winter solstice has passed uncelebrated since I graced the stage of Beachland Elementary School’s cafetorium in December of 1962 as a wise man, of which I was neither. Due to a magical combination of bathrobes, sandals, crepe paper and aluminum foil, three ordinary sixth graders were transformed into Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthazar, also known as the three kings, the wise men or the Magi. Although our dialog didn’t involve calling each other by name, Max was Balthazar, the king of Ethiopia and stunningly sang to the audience of captive parents and siblings:

“Frankincense to offer have I Incense owns a Deity nighPray'r and praising, all men raisingWorship Him, God most highO Star of wonder, star of nightStar with royal beauty brightWestward leading, still proceedingGuide us to Thy perfect light”

Balthazar had chosen to bring incense to a newborn, which is the modern day equivalent to bringing a Lawrence Welk album to an AC/DC concert. Go to the local maternity ward, fire up some incense and see where that gets you. You will suddenly have a file created as thick as the Manhattan phone book and it will be public record guaranteeing a color photo on the front page of the local newspaper.

In 1962, Christmas in Vero Beach was most certainly a holiday dedicated to celebrating the birth of Christ. There were no protests outside or inside the cafetorium. JFK was in the White House. We began each school day with a few verses from the Bible, a recitation of the Lord’s Prayer and a salute to the flag. There was a lot of prayer in the classroom that year both sanctioned and unsanctioned. In October, we were certain that we would all be dead before Christmas due to the Cuban Missile Crisis. There was an alarm installed and when we heard it, we were instructed to dive under our desks. Every time a jet would fly over, the teacher would stop in mid-sentence and we would all look out the window. We had evacuation drills. When we would cross the original Merrill P. Barber Bridge we would see barge after barge of military equipment flowing south. There was also this woman who fished off the bridge every day. Every day. She might have hooked a jeep during that month. At Beachland, we were some scared kids. Everyone else seemed pretty frightened too, except for that lady on the bridge. Knowing that the adults were just as terrified as us sixth graders was not at all comforting.
Things have changed. I can only imagine what a Christmas Pageant would be like today at Beachland Elementary. It’s a safe bet that you won’t see a manger or shepherds or, my personal favorite, Balthazar. Dancing reindeer? A 12 year old Santa Claus? A lot of fake snow? Can you even sing songs with the word Christmas anymore? How many times can you sing “Winter Wonderland”?

The Newports are grateful Christians but we also understand that many folks are not and choose to celebrate what we call Christmas in a totally different manner. We have many friends who are not Christians and some who have no beliefs at all. I still wish those I see a “Merry Christmas”, since I am not a “Happy Holidays” type person. I am trying to share the joy of my holiday with you, not convert you to my religion or disrespect any belief or lack thereof you may have or not have as the case may be.

Max has the kind of job where I see at least a hundred persons a week and shake a lot of hands. So far no one has punched me during the past week for wishing them a Merry Christmas, but I can tell for some it is not a welcome greeting. To them I say, get over it. If I were trying to offend you, you can bet that I would know how to do that. But Max is not that kind of person, especially during this season offering tidings of comfort and joy. One gentleman did respond to my greeting by telling me that he and his family celebrated Kwanzaa rather than Christmas at which point I wished him a most joyous celebration of Kwanzaa.

But honestly, I do miss the school Christmas pageants with Balthazar and company and would like to see them return; at least from a sentimental, historical perspective. After all, our nation was founded on Christian principles.

Well Max, you might say, what about the separation of church and state? Read the constitution folks, it ain’t in there. The first amendment reads, and I quote, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” The courts have created an ever evolving separation most notably what is known as the Lemon test based upon a 1971 U. S. Supreme Court case Lemon v Kurtzman (403 US 602). The court articulated a three prong test for the utilization of government resources for parochial purposes: “First, the statute must have a secular legislative purpose; second, its principal or primary effect must be one that neither advances nor inhibits religion; finally, the statute must not foster an excessive government entanglement with religion.”

That explains the disappearance of nativity scenes on public property. A few years ago, I had a business meeting in Jackson, Mississippi in December. The ACLU had successfully fought to have a nativity scene removed from the lawn of the state capitol building. There are many buildings in Jackson that are quite tall, not by Manhattan standards, but tall enough that there were dozens of buildings in the city that left office lights on in the shape of a cross. I thought that was kind of cool. Take that ACLU. There was nowhere you could look on a Jackson night where you did not see a cross.

Let’s not forget the commercial value of a secular Christmas. Mrs. Newport told me that she heard “Happy Holidays” (the song) playing over the sound system at the local Walgreens while shopping for Halloween candy. It seems that a good portion of our economy is based upon spreading good cheer, in the form of expensive gifts, on Christmas. Where would the retail industry be without the "holiday season"? Many a business would go belly up without the "good tidings we bring to you and your kin". We understand the now diversity of what was once a holiday primarily celebrated by Christians and certainly hold no ill will toward a business who instructs the employees to greet shoppers with a "Happy Holidays" rather than a "Merry Christmas". We understand. Balthazar was on the Santa Claus prowl a few days ago looking for some incense to deliver to the hospital and was so greeted. I responded with a thank you and a "Merry Christmas". (Be on the lookout for my mugshot). Where would the economy be without Christmas?

If you are ever in the hubbub of commercialism, New York City, make sure you go and see the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. It will set you back a few bucks but it is one great show. It concludes with a nativity scene of Biblical proportions. Cecil B. DeMille could not have done a better job. We forked over the money for prime center seats in the orchestra section and it is the most impressive stage show I have ever seen. (“The Lion King” is a close second.) The Radio City folks aren’t shy about what they consider the true meaning of Christmas. With those prices, there were certainly no protests.

“Bring your entire family! Audiences of all ages will delight in this multifaceted spectacular including Santa flying high above the crowd, childhood dreams coming true in the Nutcracker and touched as the true meaning of Christmas is brought to life with the awe-inspiring Living Nativity - the beautiful story of the first Christmas.”
Spend the extra bucks for the good seats. This is a show you will never forget.
Well, Max has taken a long road to reach a somewhat brief and post-flu induced conclusion. No matter how you celebrate December 25th, the Newports wish you a joyous and happy Christmas.
. . . of peace on earth, good will to men.”

And a Merry Christmas to you, Max Newport!


BlessUrHeart said...

Nice memories, Max - the school pageant! and I remember the lady fishing on the bridge, along with a few other regulars, along with the bridge tender.

Since this is Vero, back then one could hardly quibble openly about including other religions in the seasonal displays or pageants. Social suicide. Same season, but the few who weren't Christians have to pretend to be delighted. Or move away. Ah, the good ole days!

This country was founded on freedom of religion, and even though the white founding fathers [no mothers, that was forbidden, too] were mostly christians, they didn't want people here to face what most of the rest of their brethren and been escaping in Europe - government persecution for their faith. Many of them had to fight hard to keep that in our constitution, although the anti-slavery bunch didn't get their way. Sometimes it takes a few years, and a lot of suffering, before governments get things right.

It's not about no religion anywhere, of course, and since you are obviously well-versed in the law, you know that it didn't start in 1970. It's about forcing one religion on others by the government. You think the ACLU wants to ban your personal Christmas trees? They don't care about non-government office buildings lighting up crosses.

But you know, it's awful nice that now a great many businesses recognize that treating jewish or hindu or other religious people as though they are a part of our culture, or our community, helps teach tolerance to everyone, including kids in grade school.

Say it any way you want, but Happy Holidays to everyone is a lovely thought, too, and the best for the new year!

LDouglas said...

Hmmm. Did you ask me a question on TCPalm today? If so, I answered it.

Otherwise, I think excluding "Christmas" or rather its Christian roots from Christmastime is a little ridiculous. When my son was in private school they celebrated several religious and non religious traditions. I felt it was more an asset to, rather than a threat or an insult to our beliefs.

Otherwise, maybe some people have a hard time with "have a Merry Christmas" not because of the religious part of it, but because it may not be possible for them.

Job losses, illnesses, recent deaths, family dynamics etc. can make it hard to reciprocate someone's wish for a "Merry" Christmas- even when we want to.

For some reason, Happy Holidays are easier to deal with as the prospect of a New Year holds some promise.

Max Newport said...

LDouglas, I have pretty much stopped commenting on TCPalm rather than join a gaggle of fools, except for your stuff, which is the exception. I did notice a guest column this morning which was similar to what I wrote yesterday, at least as the bottom line. I don't know this guy but he has some good memories of downtown Vero. I guess to answer your question; no I didn't ask a question.

BlessUrHeart, I totally understand your position and agree. If I had been an outsider or non-believer, I might remember things differently. Last night I found my high school yearbook and we had a nativity scene on stage. One of the shepherds was wearing black horn rimmed glasses, which I'm sure was quite the vogue in Old Bethleham. That was 1969, just a couple of years before the Lemon decision.

Make sure you all watch "The Ref" during this holiday season.

BlessUrHeart said...

LOL Max! Those horn-rimmed glasses in the manger.

Yes, that's the idea, I don't say exclude anyone, keep all the pageants -- Jesus was Jewish, ya know -- and have it all represented. The season is about more than just Xmas, although that's good, too!

btw I don't blog on the PJ for the same reasons noted, gave up on the nasty crowd there, so I didn't ask questions of you, LDoug, either. I did indeed see the letter from the guy longing for all the decorations -- hitting some of Max's notes -- and agree that it is a large part economics that has caused the reduction in decorations. Even the city has trouble keeping up, as the decorations have to be repaired and replaced, and there's now more area to cover, etc. etc.

BTW #2, "The Ref" is brilliant -- take Max's advice. And a very merry chriskwanukah. Or Festivus.