Editorial: Welcoming the menorah
Arguments over the alleged "war on Christmas" have become our least favorite modern holiday tradition. By comparison, the recording of dogs barking "Jingle Bells" is music to our ears.
This year, the nonsense has broken out in North Andover, where a holiday decorations policy that wasn't thought through and some overreactions by town officials tripped off the media's "war on Christmas" alarm. As a result, a small, easily-resolvable issue over a Jewish menorah has people needlessly steamed across the continent.
The North Andover menorah has been lit for years without controversy. Since the last holiday season, however, selectmen have adopted a new policy that limits displays on the town common to a single day. But Hanukkah is an eight-day event, so limiting the menorah's presence on the common to a single day didn't make sense, just as it doesn't make sense to limit the presence of a nativity scene on town property to one day.
There was wide local support for the rabbi's request, and discussions between him and town officials produced several possible compromises, including having the town issue eight one-day permits. Several Christian ministers had offered to seek one-day permits for the menorah under the names of their own congregations, if that was necessary. An agreement was set to be finalized at the selectmen's meeting Dec. 8, in plenty of time for Hanukkah, which begins at sundown Dec. 11.
But somehow, something went wrong. Town officials abruptly had a "Merry Christmas" sign taken down from the front of the fire station, something no one had ever requested. Rabbi Asher Bronstein - and just about everyone else - objected to that action, which red-faced selectmen soon reversed. Then selectmen scheduled a rare - and poorly timed, given the subject matter - meeting last Friday night, at which they announced they had suspended the policy and lashed out at the rabbi.
"We were threatened with all the holidays being taken away from the community and we reacted," Selectmen Chairman Tracy Watson told the Lawrence Eagle-Tribune. "It was that or have the candy canes taken away from the kids."
Nonsense. No Grinches were threatening to take away North Andover's Christmas. These menorah cases, and we've seen several here in MetroWest, aren't even based on the Constitutional separation of church and state. All they argue is that if one religion is permitted to erect religious displays on public property, all religions must be granted the same rights.
But such legal nuances carry no weight with radio talk hosts who peddle the myth of a "war on Christmas" with seasonal glee, or with those Christians who celebrate the Christmas season by complaining that other people aren't celebrating the season correctly.
December is a time of celebration for three major faiths - Christianity, Judaism and Islam - and for people who don't consider themselves religious at all. That is cause for sharing, not conflict, as seen in North Andover, where Christians and Jews have publicly supported each other's right to display religious symbols.
Despite some media sensationalism and some unfortunate comments by selectmen, religious pluralism is not a problem, in North Andover or elsewhere. Neighborliness, common sense and our American heritage dictate that all religions, their symbols and traditions be respected. That doesn't sound like a "war" to us.
The MetroWest Daily News