Christmas, at its core, is holy-day

Posted: Friday, December 22, 2000

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- It's that time again in the nation's capital. Now that the post-election confusion has lifted, now that the outcome is official, this is a place in flux. Bill Clinton and Al Gore and their administration are on their way out; George Bush and Dick Cheney are on their way in, their long-awaited transition in full public swing at last.

Washington has been transformed once more into a place where the mail is filled with resums and the streets clogged with moving vans. In the air, there is anticipation ranging from high-minded policy talk to the purely social. And it's all getting condensed into half the usual time.

It's exciting right now, inside the Beltway, in a way that only happens during a change of administration, and especially when the presidency also changes party hands. At present, of course, the Republicans are a good deal more excited than the Democrats. This much is clear: There's a new guy at the top, and he's on his way in.

Yet there is lingering uncertainty as a reporter surveys the end of one political era and the construction of a new one. Questions remain, some of which would have been asked sooner if not for the history-making, post-election spectacle.

On the Democrats' side, the questions are toughest. I am brought to Washington by a chance to sit down with President Clinton, to urge him to reflect on the past eight years and also to look ahead. The president is pensive, and while he's outwardly relaxed, it is clear he is having a difficult time reaching complete peace with the finality of leaving 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. -- perhaps more so now that it's clear his onetime political protg will not be the next tenant.

Bill Clinton seems to recognize where his administration stepped most surely and where it stumbled. What remains less certain is the degree to which he understands that its high and low points were inextricably tied to him, personally. With his legacy unsure and many years presumably ahead, look for his to be a most active and public (especially now that he's a senator's husband) post-presidency.

Will Clinton once again become, as some have suggested, the face of the Democrats? This is a central question for a party that now finds itself wholly in the role of the loyal opposition. Within it lies also the question of Al Gore's future, which is at least as uncertain as Clinton's legacy. Will his dogged fight and gracious concession pave the way for another serious run at the presidency in 2004? Or will the vice president instead be remembered for his inconsistent, at times unfocused and even outright sloppy campaign?

The Democrats, as some of them will admit, are a party in search of a new star. On the outs -- at least for now -- in Congress, that person might be hard to find. Like Bill Clinton, it might be someone instead who comes from a governor's mansion. Or, in a final affront to Al Gore, it might come in the person of Hillary Clinton.

The Republicans? Plenty of uncertainties there, too, even as the Bush Cabinet takes shape. Right now, the big question seems to be: To the right or to the political center? At present, the big posts are going to moderates in the mold of Bush Senior (and from his administration). As this Bush administration takes shape, the policy, personnel and political questions will become clearer, and we'll ask them. For the moment, we wait and see ... and speculate over what the next four years will look like.

Change is in the air.

HEAD:Out with the old, in with the new; change in air at nation's capital

HEAD:Society's feminist movement has been harmful to girls' dignity

In response to "Wrong Message Being Sent to Young Girls":

As a "young girl" I found this letter part of a distorted epic of feminism that has been needlessly plaguing our society.

As we all know, the English language often uses masculine pronouns to generalize and encompass both genders. Similarly, the feminine "she" is often used to personify things like ships or cars.

Why complain about the term "paperboy" being discriminative against girls, when we all know a girl is just as eligible to be "paperboy" as a boy? It's just an easy way of wording something that everyone understands to apply to both genders.

If anything, discrimination has gone the other way. Unless you're part of a minority, being a boy is the most difficult way to get a college scholarship. Society is so intent on accommodating "young girls" that one scarcely has to work to get what she wants.

If anything, society's feminist movement has been detrimental to the dignity of young girls. Instead of coming across scholarships for my 4.0, sports or community involvement, I'm finding things like the "Girls Going Places Award" in my mailbox, targeted at my gender alone.

I would very much prefer a society that stopped favoring girls and taking special initiatives to make them feel included. As a "young girl" I have never felt incompetent because the world seemed to favor the interests of guys.

Jenny Miller


HEAD:To send a Letter to the Editor:

NEW YORK -- I love a New York Christmas. There are shows to see, shopping to do and window-shopping at stores with things that are mostly unaffordable except to that "wealthiest one percent " we heard so much about during the presidential campaign. There are animated window displays to admire and a general spirit of wonder. But something is missing, even here.

A Bloomingdale's newspaper ad features two gift certificates. One says Happy Chanukah, the other Happy Holidays. What happened to Christmas? Was it thought some might be offended at the mention of His name even as part of a holiday, the true meaning of which has been lost in the shopping shuffle? Surely not, as I hear that Name on the streets, though it is uttered with irreverence, not admiration or gratitude.

Who came up with this idea of celebrating someone else's birthday without inviting the honored guest or invoking His name, or giving Him a gift? What kind of party is that? Not much if one is the honoree but can't swing an invitation to one's own birthday celebration.

Our preoccupation with not giving offense in some categories (but having no reservations about offending in so many others) has replaced the idea of Christmas -- or X-mas for some -- with the all-inclusive holiday in which one may attend, or not, the church, or un-church, of one's choice. Something for everybody amounts to nothing for anyone.

But wait. I look up "holiday" in the dictionary and what to my wondering eyes should appear? The first definition of the word, before we get to the part about taking off from work, is "holy day. " So this holiday, especially, is a holy-day, holy being defined as "exalted or worthy of complete devotion as one perfect in goodness and righteousness." That's pretty good for a dictionary. It's probably better than some Christ-mas sermons. If those who have tried to turn Christmas into a generic observance knew this definition of "holiday," they might feel required to come up with an even better euphemism to further obscure the meaning of Christmas.

One of the very nice things about Christmas, this holy-day, is that virtually everyone knows the story. Even pagans know it, though they claim not to believe it. It's such a beautiful story. If it is objectively true, it is the most beautiful story ever told: Emmanuel -- God with us.

The problem for many is the noise level of Christmas, which overwhelms the quiet message. This year, especially, the political noise has all but drowned out the day's significance. Oh, there's been a lot of talk and caroling about God (even Jesus, so long as we can keep Him as a baby in the manger, because when He grows up He makes demands of us we do not wish to hear), but not much listening to the message of Christmas.

Our politics and our busyness are the antithesis of this holy-day. Jesus projects weakness as a baby and later meekness as a servant. There are no college courses on becoming weak or meek, only about becoming strong. And what schools offer majors in servanthood?

Our studies are about leading, not following. Our focus is on capturing the government and political power. His is about capturing the heart and soul. In fact, Isaiah tells us that the government shall be upon His shoulders, which is a lot better place for it than the weak shoulders of the political parties and the politicians.

The hymn writer puts it beautifully:

How silently, how silently,

The wondrous gift is giv'n!

So God imparts to human hearts

The blessings of His heav'n.

No ear may hear His coming,

But in this world of sin,

Where meek souls will receive Him still

The dear Christ enters in.

Charles Dickens picked up on this thought when he wrote: "It is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when its Mighty Founder was a child himself. "

This universal message is true, not only in New York and Washington but in every other large city and small town in every nation and in every generation. Like our petty Christmas gifts, one needs to do more than hear about it. One must receive it.

Happy Holy-day!

Cal Thomas' column is distributed by Tribune Media Services Inc.

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