Public opinion exploded last week after Charleston Mayor Amy Goodwin decided to rename the city’s Christmas Parade. She explained it was going to be called the Winter Parade because the new name would make it more inclusive.
Her announcement was a lead balloon and a Molotov cocktail combined into one, dropping on her foot and exploding in her face. Hundreds grumbled. Thousands mumbled. Goodwin brought forth uncommon unity where none before had existed. Citizens, churches and other groups announced that they would be giving the cold shoulder to a Winter Parade, some less politely than others.
After careful consideration and “conversation with religious leaders from all faiths and community leaders,” Goodwin reversed herself.
The mayor did the right thing. And good for her. Politicians less possessed of their weak moments might have charged on through messes made because of them, despite the outcries. Perhaps the fallout ultimately forced her recanting. Or maybe she peered through a window of leadership and spotted in the distance the virtue of prudence: We should not go searching for a problem to match a solution we have cleverly devised.
That is the case here. Who upon inspection, or re-inspection, could fathom that a Christmas Parade in all of its nakedly secular display violates the modern dogma of inclusiveness? There is little in the public square that is more inclusive, and axiomatically, less religious than a Christmas Parade.
A fixture of American life for a century, the Christmas Parade from its inception firmly declined to express an opinion about Christianity. A belief in Christianity is neither investigated nor expected in the staging or viewing of a Christmas Parade. The event has nothing to do with the essential Christian understanding of the religious feast or the historical figure for which it is named. The mention of the Divine Incarnation would return mostly puzzled responses of parade-goers interested in feats of baton-twirling and unsynchronized line dancing.
For observers, the Christmas Parade proposes nothing except an opportunity to enjoy a spectacle of low production values. The event demands only a few hours of inattention that otherwise would be spent in front of a television or computer.
Anyone with initiative is invited to march in a Christmas Parade, so long as he brings crepe paper and bags of cheap giveaways for distribution along the route. The lousiest middle school marching bands are welcomed to play medleys of “Frosty the Snowman” and “Silver Bells.” The television stations dispatch their eager on-air personalities to stroll down the street while flinging candy at undiscerning toddlers. The Shriners, bless them, roll out their miniature cars and clown units. The Sally Dingle School of Dance piles its squads of dolled-up students onto a flatbed truck borrowed from a local wrecker service.
In short, the Christmas Parade is one of the many quirky things to love about America. There is something for everyone.
So are controversy, and our relatively short attention spans for it. The Goodwin example is the kind of episode that quickly grips an entire community and then lets it go as quickly. For that moment, everyone is talking about it, and it vanishes, leaving a residue of faint recollection.
Later, we ask, what was that all about again?
By the time the real Christmas arrives, no one will have remembered the incident, as there will be a new controversy to sow and a new outrage to be plowed through.
Lately, I have noticed two kinds of outrage. The first kind arises from the frustration of the average person who doesn’t understand the cultural winds that are shifting and eroding their understanding of the world around them. They are victims as when a Winter Parade is imposed upon them when none has asked for it.
The second kind is more contemptible. It is the outrage of the sneering elite in response to the first kind. A Gazette-Mail reader elevated the issue to a civil rights matter. She proposed dire consequences for all of the moralizing troglodytes who wanted to retain a Christmas Parade:
“Seriously, if we really mean to keep religion and government separate as the Constitution states, then obviously the city cannot promote a Christian event. I doubt anyone thinks of the parade in religious terms anyway. Other believers and our Constitution deserve the respect of not having Christianity promoted by City. Those who disagree with the Constitution can move.” Thus, it becomes a federal case.
Delegate Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, added to the ire.
“If you are more upset by a perceived ‘War on Christmas,’” he tweeted to his followers, “than you are by the real war being waged against the Kurds, the people who’ve been fighting ISIS for us for years, then you might want to go back to Sunday school.”
Pushkin’s is a false choice, and its own type of moralizing, too. People can be upset by more than one thing and they can express different displeasure in different ways, including by appearing at the ballot box.
Or by skipping a parade.