Friday, December 2, 2005
Twenty-three days 'til those "happy holidays"
If you start counting today, you will find that there are only 23 days left until Christmas and Hanukkah, both of which will fall on Sunday, December 25. Already we have seen advertisements for gifts to buy for the holidays or read about shoppers storming department stores on "Black Friday," the day after Thanksgiving, to get a jump on holiday gift-giving. Soon we will be wishing our friends and neighbors "Happy Holidays" as we greet one another at the transfer station, Ferns or the Gleason Public Library. I'm sure to be one of those using such a greeting in the days ahead.
But what has happened to the American holidays — Christmas and Hanukkah? Is political correctness robbing us of our traditions and dumbing down our culture? A Christmas tree becomes a "holiday tree." "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" becomes "Frosty the Snowman." There is no tolerance for a creche on the Boston Common. Yes, these are religious traditions, but they are more than that. They are part of the fabric of our society.
I'm trying hard not to be caught up in the commercialism of this holiday season. I'll start making Christmas cookies next week to send to my family abroad. I'll compose a Christmas letter to be included along with a hand-written note in the cards I send out. Later in the month, I'll continue the family tradition of driving into Cambridge for the Christmas Carol Service at Harvard's Memorial Church. On Christmas Eve, I'll attend the 5 p.m. Christmas Eve Service at the First Religious Society, followed by caroling under the Christmas tree on the Town Green. Plans for Christmas Day have yet to be finalized.
Enough about Christmas. My friends Bea and Hal are preparing for Hanukkah, the eight-day celebration of The Feast of Light. At sundown on the 25th, they will sit down for dinner with their extended family and light the first of eight candles on the Menorah, a nine-branched candelabrum. Hal will prepare his delicious potato latkes, while Bea roasts a brisket.
This brings me back to my original concern of the dumbing-down of the holidays. Yes, there is a tradition of honoring Jesus, Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem; sitting down to dinner with the family during the eight days of Hanukkah; listening on Christmas Eve for Santa on the roof-top with his sleigh and eight reindeer. Can't we be tolerant of all these traditions and take joy in our friends' religions?
So at this time of year let me wish you a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and if I must, "Happy Holidays."
Good dog fences and good neighbors
In Washington, D.C. the saying goes: If you want a friend, get a dog. In Carlisle, the dynamic is a little different. If you want to get to know your neighbors, get a dog.
When we moved here, nearly a dozen years ago, we didn't have a dog. But the Lord provides. Our long-time babysitter and her family had a less-than-pet-friendly landlord. So Sadie, barely three months old at the time, visited us temporarily to be housetrained, only to become permanently enamored of a town without leash laws.
We soon made the acquaintance of many neighbors all over the southwest part of town, courtesy of Sadie. She liked to visit Jake the beagle, and another dog named Sadie. Our Sadie delighted in lazy afternoons in neighboring barnyards among the horses and goats. And while Sadie clearly possessed sufficient talent to travel outbound, some in our house could not bear to test her skills at finding her own way home for dinner. We spent a fair amount of time coursing the neighborhood to collect Sadie. You might say our mutt had two retrievers.
We'd heard about the marvel of electronic dog fences from friends and colleagues, but the cost seemed extravagant. Having provided us with a hound, however, the Lord also saw fit to place in our path a less expensive competitor to the better-known invisible fence brand. A (relatively) mere $500 later, we possessed the base station, wire, receiver collar and special training flags. We diligently installed the equipment and set about training Sadie to the perimeter warning sound and mild (not to my touch!) shock that would follow from lingering too long near the established boundaries.
No sooner had we trained Sadie than one of our neighbors brought home a puppy named Bailey. The presence of this potential friend, a stone's throw through the woods (who, not being tethered electronically, could come and go at will), proved too much for Sadie. She would risk any pain to chase and play with Bailey. Sadie would sit, just out of collar-shock distance, and howl with despair when she saw Bailey across the invisible divide, then dash across, yelping from the shock as she passed through the forbidden zone. Later she would howl again to be fetched home (she refused to suffer shocks for the return trip). This was untenable. The dogs were now engaged in aversive training of their humans. We and our neighbor spliced more wire in and expanded the loop around both our lots. Bailey acquired a radio collar of her own, and both dogs roamed at will over three acres of lawn and woods.
Peace reigned. Well, more or less. The barely underground antenna wires are susceptible to over-enthusiastic lawn mowing, brush cutting and worse, to errant snowplow blades. The dogs inevitably discovered their broader liberty several weeks before ice-out, and so before such breaks could be found and fixed. And two households now have to keep kitchen trash out of reach of two dogs. But all in all, we both count it a success. Two dogs have grown old together, snoozing in the patches of autumn sun, patrolling their common turf against deer, woodchucks, rabbits, foxes, coyotes and other hounds, and on occasion, testing the boundaries and re-discovering the joys of long-distance romps. Then, the humans get the excuse to repair a fence together, and in the meanwhile to chat with the neighbors six lots over cross-country, to catch up, and to maintain the social bonds of traded favors that hold a neighborhood together.
© 2005 The