Michael Smerconish: 'Village' idiots in Philadelphia

Posted: December 02, 2010

I WAS tempted to begin by using the phrase "It takes a village." Better, I decided, would be "Village idiots."

Every year at this time there are PC battles across the nation over how and where to recognize the holidays.

This year, the most ridiculous of them all was at City Hall. How else to explain the city's decision to replace "Christmas" with "Holiday" on the sign marking the entrance to what is obviously a Christmas village, and then to remove the sign altogether - before the mayor finally changed his mind?

The original move was made after some residents and city workers reportedly objected to the sign, even though this is the third year for the Christmas village, which is modeled on a 15th-century German farmers market in the days leading up to . . . Christmas!

Now, I guess, we're all supposed to patronize the village and act like it's a total coincidence that it was erected one month before Christmas and happens to close on Christmas Eve.

And that creche they moved from the front of the Municipal Services Building to the JFK Plaza is what, just some baby bunking down in the hay?

And how about that "holiday tree" set to be lit this afternoon? I haven't seen it, but something tells me it's not a bonsai or a fig. Maybe it's part of Mayor Nutter's Greenworks Philadelphia sustainability plan.

And the Nat King Cole classics providing the village's soundtrack? Maybe the city can get the name of "The Christmas Song" changed to "The Winter Number."

Therein lies the absurdity of the entire exercise. The "offensive" sign was indeed taken down before Nutter did an about-face. But the event's name - Christmas Village in Philadelphia - wouldn't have changed. Nor would the brochures and posters describing it as such. And trinkets depicting Nativity scenes wouldn't have been banished.

"Christmas"? It's apparently the new "Voldemort." The name that shall not be spoken in the city of the nation's birth. Even as it banks on the revenue that the Christmas season inevitably produces.

It's been reported that, according to Managing Director Richard Negrin, a Jewish child strolling past the Christmas market with his father had asked, "Dad, don't we get a village?"

"Yes" should be the answer. I'm all for building Hanukkah City - as long as it's right next to the Christmas Village and Kwanzaatown. Include them all. Because right now, we are teaching that child the exact opposite of what the lesson should be.

"This is not about taking Christmas out of the holiday. It's about being more inclusive," Negrin said on Tuesday. "I expected some complaints. Sometimes you have to make tough choices."

Inclusion apparently now means exclusion. Those tough choices? Figuring out how to celebrate Christmas without actually calling it Christmas.

The same story quoted a Sufi Muslim vendor (at the "Christmas" Village) who thought the goal should be to transcend religion.

I love that she has no problem being a vendor at an event that would not exist but for Christmas, so long as it's not recognized as being tied to Christmas.

The answer isn't to scrub the word from our vocabulary or shoo it from City Hall. It's to treat Dilworth Plaza like Disney World. Put the Magic Kingdom next to Typhoon Lagoon and the Hollywood Studios. Let everyone in on everyone else's party.

IN THE SAME way that my family can eat at El Vez one night, Beijing Garden the following and Maggiano's after that, these holiday celebrations should include acknowledgment of as many religious traditions as possible.

We should be interacting with each other's cultures for what they are - not sanitizing them until they all look the same.

Listen to Michael Smerconish weekdays 5-9 a.m. on the Big Talker, 1210/AM. Read him Sundays in the Inquirer. Contact him via the Web at www.smerconish.com.

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