Sunday, December 14, 2014

Merry Christmas

A few years ago, when we still lived in New York, we attended a middle school band, orchestra and chorus concert at "holiday" time.

(Note: this was not unusual.  We spent the better parts of our lives in New York attending elementary, middle and high school concerts.  However...)

The band played, the chorus sang, and then the orchestra came on stage.

The orchestra conductor was rather a talented man.  He'd formerly taught at the high school, but he made the decision to move down to the middle school level in an effort to correct bad habits earlier, and thus produce better musicians in the long run.

I'm pretty sure that he was Jewish, which makes this story all the more meaningful.

His orchestra played a classical piece or two, and then he stopped and turned to address the audience.

"I just want to say, " he began... "I just need to say this.  I was at the grocery store the other day, in the bakery section.  I was looking for cookies.  I found Holiday cookies, and I found a beautiful package of Hanukkah cookies.  I even found a package of Kwanza cookies.  This got me thinking, so I began to search and search... but try as I might, no matter where I looked, I could not find a package of Christmas cookies.  There were no Christmas cookies anywhere.  So tonight, I just wanted to acknowledge those of you who celebrate Christmas.  We are going to play a medley of Christmas carols, and our wish to you is that you have a very merry Christmas!"

Stunned silence.  Then a few of us broke into applause, which was sort of enthusiastic in a "Do-we-dare-admit-that-we-celebrate-Christmas?" kind of way.

A row of school-board-type people sitting ahead of us across the aisle stiffened ramrod straight, not applauding, with mouths that looked as though someone had tried to jam large, sour pickles into them.

I believe that teacher moved out of the district shortly thereafter.

We don't live in a Christian nation, not at all.  I remember feeling like I was sucking Hitler air, there in that auditorium that night: the feeling of fear ("What has he said?"), of relief that someone had acknowledged that Christians are unfairly cast aside, and the tentative collective appreciation for the conductor's sentiment, which was the scariest thing of all.

But Merry Christmas, all the same.

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