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What I said to Sarah Palin and a report from the frontlines of the 'Merry Christmas' culture wars

I had no idea what I was going to say to Sarah Palin when I got in line to get an autographed copy of her new book for my dad at the Mall of America rotunda Friday. I was an embedded journalist in the culture wars, interviewing her fans and followers; she was on the last stop of a book tour promoting “Good Tidings and Great Joy: Protecting The Heart of Christmas,” a 238–page mission statement (complete with recipes!) on how to preserve “Merry Christmas” as the world’s go-to holiday greeting.

I was near the end of the line, about a thousand deep, and as my face-to-face time with the one-time vice presidential candidate drew near, I realized I was at a loss for words. Turns out there would be no personalized autographs, so I was left with a dilemma: What to say to one of the most pilloried and polarizing figures in modern-day politics while simultaneously preserving my own soul?

As I stood in line perusing the steady stream of mall-goers who were gawking, snapping photos, and snickering at Palin and her flock, I flipped open my copy of “Good Tidings” to find, on the first page I turned to, one of my favorite C.S. Lewis quotes:

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

Then and there I decided to give Palin the most open-hearted greeting I know. It happened fast, on a stage flanked by a massive screen bearing Palin’s image, huge silver Christmas trees, and the glittery ornament-stuffed windows of Callister’s Christmas store.

It happened just after I took this photo of Palin waving to fans in the upper concourse, just after the mall worker in an elf’s hat took my jacket and put it in a blue carrying bin, TSA-style, to be retrieved after my audience with the former governor of Alaska.

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

“Well, hello! What’s your name?” said Palin, the sing-songiness of which reminded me of my days on the Santa Claus circuit and that Palin’s visit coincided with opening day of Santaland at the mall.

“I’m Jim,” I said, and shook her hand. Christmas music played brightly, surreally, over the mall’s massive sound system.

“Well, nice to meetcha, Jim.”

I took a step back from the desk, clasped my hands in prayer, bowed to her, and said, "I just wanted to say, ‘Merry Christmas’ and ‘Namaste.' " 

“’Namaste?!’ ” she hooted. “Well, ‘Namaste’ to you, too! I gotta get back to it. The downward dog, the locking the knee, camel pose … it’s been two weeks.”

“Yoga?” I stammered, a little flustered at hearing “downward dog” in her famously folksy accent. “What yoga do you practice?”

“Bikram,” she said, obviously surprised to find herself talking about yoga in the middle of a war on Christmas.

“Of course that’s what you do. That’s intense,” I said.

“But I gotta get back to it. It’s been two weeks!” she said, flashed two fingers, and I was outta there.

Photo courtesy of Shealah Craighead Photography

“Go get it, baby,” I said, pounding my heart and flashing her the peace sign as I walked away. She grinned and stared, and as I headed out I entertained a fantasy of Palin’s next book taking on “namaste” and her next act as a soldier of yoga, mindfulness, Eastern spirituality, and Fox News’s correspondent from Burning Man.

Which is unlikely to happen anytime soon, given the fact that the one time the word “namaste” appears in “Good Tidings” is sarcastically, on page 17, uttered by Palin’s fictitious “angry atheist” character, Joe McScrooge. Nope, for the moment and for all eternity, she’s all about “Merry Christmas,” as are the rest of the fans, shoppers, and fellow Christmas preservationists I waited in line with:

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Nancy Watson, Brainerd; Laura Watson, Brainerd; Karen Wold, Park Rapids. “I like Sarah Palin. I think she’s a strong woman and a good role model, and she stands up to people for her beliefs,” said Laura. “I think it shouldn’t be offensive to say ‘Merry Christmas’ versus ‘Happy holidays.’ In school, they change things so they’re more correct, but I believe that if you celebrate Christmas you should be able to say, ‘Merry Christmas.’”

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Zach Pilarski and Sarah Watzky, St. Cloud. “I’m a machinist at a factory in St. Cloud,” said Zach. “I came to see Sarah Palin because she’s awesome. She has great politics, great values, and everything she believes in I agree with. I think she’s standing up for what’s right. I’m supposed to accept everything else – everything else – but I have to stop saying, ‘Merry Christmas?’ I don’t accept that.”

“I’m a senior at St. Cloud State, studying international business and management,” said Sarah. “Going to a public state university, we know what it’s like not to be able to talk about Christmas or advertise it on campus, and that really bothers us because we really do like the religious aspect of it. Why do we have to say ‘holiday tree’ instead of ‘Christmas tree?’ It’s building up. Nobody should be prohibited from saying ‘Christmas,’ just because somebody might be offended. I’m from Germany, and it’s not that big of an issue there. I mean, our leading party is called the Christian Democratic Union, and nobody seems to have a problem with that.”

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Carolyn Messer, Janesville, Wis. “I’m the former librarian for [former Wisconsin presidential candidate] Paul Ryan, now I’m a tour director with a bus company, and that’s how I’m here. I’m with 43 other people I brought with me on my bus today. I agree with her book, that’s why I’m wearing my button that says, ‘It’s OK to wish me a ‘Merry Christmas.’ ”

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Callie Marohn, Elk River; and Nicole Bastyr, Osceola, Wis. “You see a lot of things like ‘holiday trees’ and ‘holiday cards,’” said Marohn; “and everybody’s afraid to say ‘Christmas.’ But I just say it no matter what: ‘Merry Christmas!’ And people just smile and say it back.”

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Eric Amidon, Elko. “I think it’s funny that people get offended when you say ‘Merry Christmas,’ because that’s a holiday. I work with people from other countries – India, to be exact – because I’m a computer programmer and I’ve been in the Air Force reserves for 26 years, and they enjoy saying ‘Merry Christmas’ because it makes them sound inherently American.”

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Linda Johnson, New Brighton; Chris Stang, Paynesville, Minn.; Courtney Engelmeyer, Munich, Minn.; Nikki Leko, Sauk Center.

Leko: “It’s good to bring back the simple things, like Christmas, and to not forget about it.”

Engelmeyer: “She shows you what being a normal family, a traditional family, should be and she keeps tradition in life. We should be able to talk about Christ in politics, because it’s how everybody was raised.”

Stang: “She’s bringing back the values that we all have in our hearts. It’s our right as Americans to believe in Christmas and the meaning behind Christmas.”

Johnson: “Our country was founded on Christian values and Sarah Palin is trying to make sure we stay that way as a country.”

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Jamie Trenbeath, Hoople, N.D. “I drove six hours to see Sarah Palin. She’s a very inspirational woman to me and her beliefs are much like what I believe, like Christmas is about Jesus and Jesus’s birth, and he came to save us from our sins. I wouldn’t be offended if someone said ‘Happy Hannukah’ to me. I’d just say, ‘Merry Christmas’ and go on.”

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Nate and Trish Freeman, Northfield. “We both believe that Jesus Christ came to save us all, and that is the true meaning about what Christmas is,” said Trish. “So the fact that she’s celebrating this and making it so vocal in her book makes us feel really excited and happy with all of it.”

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Comments (39)

Good story.

And great photos, by the way.

The pictures say it all

....you couldn't put together a more homogeneous group if you tried. Of course they "believe in everything she stands for." As long as she mirrors them back to themselves, they'll keep lining her pockets.

Huh?

"War on Christmas"? What 'war on Christmas'? You mean the one where radio stations play nothing but Christmas music for a month plus, where stores bring out their Christmas decorations in October (completely skipping Halloween and Thanksgiving, by the way), and where cities hang Christmas decorations on street lamps in early November? THAT 'war on Christmas'? It seems to me that someone, most likely someone who celebrates Christmas, saw an opportunity to sell a few books and created a fabrication about some 'war on Christmas'. Sadly, a certain group of the population fell for it and continues to buy books - lining the pockets of the author. Hmm.

Several people in this article mentioned that they can no longer say "Merry Christmas". Who says they can't? I haven't heard one single person say that someone can't say Merry Christmas. Not one. These people believe the fabrication that there's a war on Christmas and simply believe something that doesn't exist. People can't say "Merry Christmas"? Please. If you're a Christian and you see another Christian, then by all means, say "Merry Christmas". Problem is; what does a Christian look like?

"Happy Holidays" is a way to wish someone the best no matter what holiday they celebrate. I wonder how these people would react after, say, the 25th time of being told "Happy Kwanzaa" or "Happy Hanukkah"? Will they tire of it and begin to respond with, "I don't celebrate Kwanzaa" or, "I don't celebrate Hanukkah"? Probably. Then why do they want to wish someone a Merry Christmas when that person may not celebrate Christmas?

When I speak to someone who I know is a Christian, I’ll say “Merry Christmas”. When I speak to someone I know who is Jewish, I’ll say “Happy Hanukkah”. When I speak to a friend who celebrates Kwanzaa, then yep, you guessed it; I’ll say “Happy Kwanzaa”. When I see someone who I don’t know, I’ll say “Happy Holidays”.

Some people will always play the victim.

Ms Palin

The quote from CS Lewis was worth the article. I also respect and share your view of civility toward Ms. Palin. It seems as though society at large is forgetting the meaning of the word "civility."

Civility

The irony is the decline in civility is due in part to the behavior of people like Palin. Her book is basically an attack on the notion of civility as it pertains to people of different religions. C.S. Lewis is turning over in his grave knowing that his message of love has become part of Palin's message of hate.

Civility?

Yeah, nothing says: "civility" like creating fictitious Atheists who are at "war" with Christmas and pretending that a little respect for diversity is a groundswell of religious war in America.

Wonder bread

I find it interesting that she apparently (as evidenced by this set of photos) fails to speak to a broad spectrum of people. It's not surprising, considering her politics...just more evidence of her irrelevance to American life and politics.

It's a cultural thing

Mrs. Palin is from Alaska. She enjoys hunting, fishing, camping, running, ice hockey, and other activities you would expect in mostly rural places like Alaska. And Minnesota. Her belief in God, serving your country in the military, and other traditional values are consistent with people from that culture.

It's not her fault, nor is it surprising, that the typical urban liberal has virtually nothing in common with her or those like her.

Or...

she's speaks only to the dominant culture, saying mostly nothing, never realizing that there are people out there who care about real things.

The war on Chritmas is a myth...

After reading some of the quotes, it seems to me that the people who are offended aren't the ones who hear Merry Christmas and complain...it's the people who hear Happy Holidays. The " traditional values" people are the real instigators here. They're all for freedom of religion and traditional values...as long as they're both their own.

Fighting the Wrong Fight

It'd be interesting if these people would drive 6 hours to have a book signed by someone who was fighting the war on education, or poverty or hunger.

There's a certain wing of the right wing that has made subterfuge an art form, finding a battle where there isn't one for a very specific, uninformed but powerful demographic. A sleight of hand for a certain type of person to chew on, while their real rights and privileges are stomped on. Enter Palin and her dopey spangled campaign of fluff and nonsense.

We need people who are truly castigated and people whose real rights have been squashed to speak out against this. It's an insult to all of those who have to fight for their rights and terribly sad to hear a white, American, conservative Christian spout this nonsense while standing in front of a Christmas Tree in a mall.

I only wish Mr Walsh had been able to bring a Chinese or Egyptian Christian, or a Tibetan monk or a Saudi woman or a homosexual Russian or a North Korean to ask Mrs Palin how their freedoms compare to her own.

It's always so ironic..

that those most concerned about "American" values really haven't the first clue about what they really are.

"We should be able to talk

"We should be able to talk about Christ in politics, because it’s how everybody was raised.”

Pure ignorance on display, right alongside the tinsel and stockings!

How pathetically sad that

people has such a pathetic need to feel superior to someone else because of some criteria, religion, race etc,

Don't they remember the Alabama song "Dust in the Wind?" We are all pretty insignificant in the great scheme of things.

And I thought it was Kansas

Who wrote and sang "Dust in the Wind".

Merry Christmas

The people who make a big deal out of this are people like Palin, Bachmann, extremist religious types and other like opportunists who use their selective agenda to degrade people who think differently than they do so they can promote their political points.

These people are fakes and thankfully, the majority of this Countries citizens see through that.

"Who Said That?

"I’m supposed to accept everything else – everything else – but I have to stop saying, ‘Merry Christmas?’" Who told you to stop saying that? Must be a pretty powerful person to make you feel that way. btw, this morning in my central MN town, the combined crews of the municipal Power company and the City street department along, blocking the streets with a fleet of bucket trucks, were hanging the Christmas Decorations. If only the all powerful person who has banned the words "Merry Christmas" could come here and use his or her awesome persuasion to save some tax dollars for us.

Sorry Dennis,

but like most chickenhawks, Palin and her brood have avoided serving in the military like the plague. Frankly, your continued statement that no one on the left ever serves their country makes you look foolish.

Say what?!

Governor Sarah Palin's son, Track, was assigned to an infantry brigade and deployed in September 2008 for twelve months to one of the most dangerous corners of Iraq. 10 seconds on Google would've saved you egg on your face.

Egging him on

Track enlisted in the Army, largely at his mother's behest, to avoid legal problems. I don't recall if it was drug charges, or criminal vandalism charges.

This was pretty widely known back in 2008.

Vandalism

He and his buddies cut the brake lines and deflated tires on school buses. Whether that is why he joined the military is unclear - they aren't supposed to take you if you have a criminal record. But when your mother is the governor who thinks nothing of abusing her power, anything is possible.

Like his sister, Track also knocked up his girlfriend. He did marry her for a couple of years, but they are now divorced.

But I'm just an urban liberal that can't relate to the Palin family's traditional values.

No

I drove from Wisconsin to see Sarah Palin. I was "one of those" people you all are referring to. I don't recall anyone saying one cannot say Merry Christmas anymore. You are trying to put words in mouths. It comes down to more than that. This country was founded on God and Christianity. Her book isn't all about a war on Christmas but also a war on Christianity. It's not just about Christmas music but sure, that is a part of it. Perhaps you didn't hear about the school in Wausau, WI that cancelled their school Christmas Program because they were afraid some people may be offended by too much Christianity in the songs. Seriously?!- Christmas is about celebrating the birth of Christ. The fact that some schools and businesses are now calling a Christmas Tree a Holiday Tree is ridiculous! In fact another example is everything going on with the Hollidazzle Parade. This country is becoming so sensitive it's sickening! Now some schools can't even say the Pledge of Allegiance because it says God in it and they don't want to offend anyone. That right there is an insult to God and our veterans. You see this isn't all about Christmas but keeping the core values our country was founded on.

You have a lot to learn about this country you call your own.

Many of our founders were not Christian.
The Christmas Tree has pagan origins.
The Hollidazzle Parade is a civic event.
"Under God" was added to the Pledge of Allegiance during the Red Scare of the 50s.

The only 'Core Values' that an American should be concerned about in regards to civic life are the values put forth in our founding documents. Period.

An insult to god?

Do you really think god is insulted because schoolkids don't say the pledge of allegiance? I'm also pretty sure our country was founded in not having a state relig-...wait a second - is this even a real letter I'm responding to? Or did some smart**s write a parody of what a Palin supporter would write? Can this actually be real? I can't tell.

Christmas

Actually Christmas is a fake made-up holiday. It's based on the pagan ritual where they put up an evergreen tree (the only thing green in December) and hung fruit from it (now bulbs) and candles (Christmas tree lights) to beat back the darkness. Jesus arose after three days in the tomb, the three days the sun us at its nadir in the sky. Jesus, the sun of God, arises the same time the sun starts getting higher in the sky each day.

Early priests put a star or an angel on top of the tree in an attempt to get the pagans to worship God at the same time they were dancing around the tree.

Need I go on? Christmas is a complete co-op of an ancient pagan holiday.

December 25

Jesus was not even born in December (shepherds aren't abiding in the fields with their flocks in the winter). December 25 is the Roman holiday of Saturnalia. Early Christians adopted that day as Christmas to avoid standing out.

CLearly Nichole needs a history lesson

I don't have the time or the energy to teach Nichole something that should have been taught to her in grade school so I'll just ask her to educate herself on the subject of 'the founding of our country'. I will also direct Nichole to read the article again. We're not putting words in anyone's mouth as someone in the article does in fact state that 'they can no longer say 'Merry Christmas''.

No one that I know of has any issues with God, Jesus, our veterans, or anyone else. In fact, not a day goes by that I don't have a 'conversation' with God, but I also don't fall for the myth of some 'war on Christmas' or 'war on Christianity'. You state the following: "...they were afraid some people may be offended by too much Christianity in the songs. Seriously?!" So you're offended that someone else may be offended???

Clearly some people can't see the irony.

"No" indeed

Nicole,

The fact that you can't require that everyone else practice your religion doesn't make you or "Christians" victims of religious persecution. It means you live in a free country. I put Christians in parenthesis because most Christians, unlike Palin, actually know what faith is and appreciate the fact that they live in a free country.

Comforting the persecuted

Sarah is comforting, Sarah says you are the real Americans, your values are being destroyed by the other. Sarah reinforces the idea of being persecuted, identifying with ancient Christians, who were persecuted, and with some contemporary Christian minorities around the world, who are persecuted. Amercian Christians? The majority, the powerful, the ruling class, but nevertheless many of them for some reason insist upon identifying with the persecuted. That's the demographic Sarah sells to. You can lash out, you can be intolerant, you can deny human rights to your fellow citizens, why? Because you are being persecuted. It's your religious duty to stand up and be intolerant to those who are being intolerant of you, and if anyone points out how goofy your opinion is, why then Sarah will comfort you and ring up another sale. Next, please.

No. Nichole...

this country was NOT founded on God and Christianity. As for the pledge of allegiance, the words "under God", were added back in 1954 after lobbying from the Knights of Columbus and conservatives like Joe McCarthy were looking for commies behind every bush. The fact that some people actually that think God plunked his magic wand down on this country and designated us better than the rest of the planet is, frankly, frightening.

Well said Mr. Myron

I am always surprised by those who tout the Pledge of Allegiance (post McCarthy) as part of their "proof" that America was founded on christian principles. It is those pesky facts causing trouble again.

Not only was this country not founded on god and christianity, but the "War on Christmas" is also not new. Christmas celebrations were banned in Massachusetts for several decades in the 17th century. No, I don't have a cite. It's an odd fact that I remember from American History class decades ago.

Per Merriam-Webster "tra·di·tion noun \trə-ˈdi-shən\
: a way of thinking, behaving, or doing something that has been used by the people in a particular group, family, society, etc., for a long time." I guess that is the trouble with "traditional values"; they are only relevant to a particular group at a particular time.

The comments here are instructive

as to why people like Mrs. Palin are so popular with real Americans and despised by the liberals

Real Americans

Mr. Tester, I am a real American. I am also a liberal.

Deal with it.

Indeed...

There is a reason. It's not a good one, but there is a reason....something about 'false prophets'...

Mr. Tester, You seem to be

Mr. Tester,

You seem to be implying that
"people like Mrs. Palin" are "real Americans", and
"people like Mrs. Palin" are not "liberals", and therefore
"liberals" are not "real Americans."

Could you be so kind as to define what you mean by "people like Mrs. Palin", "real Americans" and "liberals"? Maybe that will help me understand your logic and figure out what you are trying to say.

Chill!

I'm fine with people saying "Merry Christmas" if they want to. I respond randomly with "Happy Hanukkah!" or "Have a blessed Solstice" which are equally fit for the season. Or, "Happy Holidays" because anyone who takes offense at inclusiveness can kiss my grits.

Egg on my face?

No, a mistake made when I scanned Palin's profile.... something I'll gladly admit to. Perhaps I dozed off from the utter vapidity of her biography. Now, let's see if you'll deploy the same laser focus used in pointing out my mistake, at how ludicrous the statement was that I was responding to...you know, the one about the left having no interest in serving their country...or is that omelet okay with you?.

Having been to several book

Having been to several book signings, it is not surprising to me that those gathered are a homogenous group. After all, they are there for the same purpose; to meet an author who wrote something that resonated with them. I mean no disrespect to those quoted in the article, but I do have issues with their statements.

“It’s our right as Americans to believe in Christmas and the meaning behind Christmas.” I whole heartedly agree, but it is also our right as Americans to not believe in Christmas or the meaning behind Christmas.

We should be able to talk about Christ in politics, because it’s how everybody was raised.” Everybody? Really? It has no bearing according to the Constitution. "No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."

“Our country was founded on Christian values and Sarah Palin is trying to make sure we stay that way as a country.” I think this point is covered enough in the comments to the article.

What I said..

Funny how rearranging words can change the "mood" of what one says. Why Mr. Walsh mentioned my military status, and inaccurately at that, is beyond me. (collective years of service on Active and Reserve status is 26 years) My service to this country isn't relevant to this article. What I did mention was that "some" of the people I work with as a civilian have said to me that it "makes them feel more American" to say "Merry Christmas" and that they clarified, "that's the name of the Holiday right?"

It seems like the only ones who are really "offended" are rich white liberals who despise traditional values shared by the majority of Americans. (the vocal minority would have you believe otherwise)

I've been blessed to have traveled to more than 27 countries and in each and every one no one is "offended" to say "Merry Christmas" to Americans on what they perceive to be a special holiday celebrated by all Americans.

Try saying you're offended by Eid Al-Fitr or Eid Al-Adha. Try getting them to change their customary greeting to each other during these holidays and see how far you'll get. As far as people in other countries are concerned if you don't like their holidays, then don't celebrate them. Now if only everyone in this country could practice common sense and a little of this "tolerance" that keeps getting thrown around.

I don't believe in forcing anything on anyone...just that the proper title for the holiday be used. It's okay to agree to disagree. If you're "offended" it doesn't give you the right to change how people who celebrate the holiday for what it is, greet each other. Just don't participate....you're allowed to do that.