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Seasonal Affective

By Russ Smith | Posted 12/22/2004

The instructions were clear: I was to be seated in the school’s auditorium by 8 a.m. sharp, or risk finding the doors closed and missing the holiday pageant. Repeatedly warned by my sixth-grader, there was no dilly-dallying last Friday—and so there I was, in a front-row folding chair, the first parent to arrive. It turned out the festivities didn’t actually commence until 8:45, and with Mrs. Smith off on a dental emergency, it left yours truly alone without any company except the thoughts ricocheting in my caffeinated brain.

There’s a vehicle parked nearby the North Baltimore school, an environmentally unsound SUV with stenciled letters on its back window reading bush=satan: stop the war, the irony of which is probably lost on the driver.

I chuckled aloud, reading The Washington Post’s sports pages—justifiably ablaze with controversy over D.C. City Council chairwoman Linda Cropp’s 11th-hour effort to ban baseball from the District—amused that the steroids scandal, which two weeks ago threatened to ruin the national pastime, was now on the back burner.

A small item in The Wall Street Journal’s “Washington Wire” column reported the results of a joint poll taken by the paper and NBC indicating that 51 percent of Americans have no opinion of Bush’s new cabinet nominees. The pollster was kind enough not to let on that most likely 90 percent couldn’t name even two of the designees. In addition, “about half” of the respondents had never heard of Tom DeLay or Antonin Scalia.

Granting a Yuletide mulligan to Gov. Bob Ehrlich for his slothful past year, I imagined that if he got off the sofa and stopped watching re-runs of Law & Order, his political future might still be bright. An aggressive session in Annapolis next year, transferring his pique to legislative opponents rather than reporters and editors at The Sun (who have no influence on his agenda anyway), followed by a fundraising blitz to clinch a 2006 re-election in this trending-Republican state, could lead to a higher political profile. If, on Ehrlich’s watch, unemployment remains lower than the national average, and he keeps his promise not to raise taxes, there’s plenty of reason for GOP officials to promote the Governor as Sen. George Allen’s running mate in the 2008 presidential election. Allen’s not a bad pick (aside from the natural candidate, Jeb Bush) and a Virginia-Maryland ticket has a lot of appeal.

I mulled over the invitation of a family friend to give my sons lessons in shooting guns, so they could, once mastering all the rules and safety precautions, join a few buddies on the occasional goose hunt out in the county, but found myself meandering back to a spot-on column by John Eisenberg in The Sun on Dec. 15.

Eisenberg, like many Orioles fans, is frustrated by the snail’s pace taken by Peter Angelos and his cautious subordinates Mike Flanagan and Jim Beattie in making significant improvements to the team for 2005. The columnist suggested that the Birds mortgage the farm to make a deal for Oakland’s Tim Hudson—who was subsequently traded to the Braves—based on the reasonable premise that if Baltimore once again finishes with a losing record, it’ll be that much harder to attract players to strut around the confines of Camden Yards.

In time, the crowd grew for the school’s presentation, and when it began, with a lovely rendition of “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” my vaguely sour mood completely dissipated. While the kids were on stage for almost an hour with a highly traditional pastiche of Christmas and Hanukkah songs and skits, I was sure the ACLU was bound, at any minute, to bust through the doors and stage a protest for the crime of mentioning the names Jesus and God about 150 times. Not to mention the Christmas (not “holiday”) trees that were not only on stage but also in the school’s main lobby.

At one point, with a nativity scene before the audience, the kids and parents all sang “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” and I got a tickle in my throat just thinking that here in a “blue” city in a “blue” state, such overt expressions of religion were taking place.

It was an isolated moment, certainly, but seeing 12-year-old Nicky—with his younger brother Booker in the crowd—dressed as one of the wise men, while a violinist played “What Child Is This?” was uplifting. Just the night before I’d told him to cut the volume on his Modest Mouse CD, finish his homework before watching another South Park episode, and maybe consider taking a shower—and the next morning he’s standing by a manger.

The audience—a mix of white, black, and Asian parents and grandparents, some Christian, some Jewish, some probably neither —were equally rapt, and it made me wonder all the more why so many busybodies across the country, in isolated school districts, are wasting time by objecting to Christmas carols, wreaths, menorahs, and candy canes at a time of the year when a fleeting nod to tradition does a lot more good than harm.

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