Holidays Unwrap Controversial Questions


Senior Libby Grimond shows holiday spirit in a Christmas sweater

The music is starting to get merrier, the shopping malls are packed with people, and the air is finally getting colder… well, as cold as Florida can get. That’s right Thunder, you know what time of year it is; it’s the holiday season. With the holidays coming up it seems only natural that we discuss what is on everyone’s mind: the holidays.

Lakewood Ranch is covered in bright and bold Christmas lights and the radio stations seem to only play Christmas classics. This may seem like the average Christmas fanatic’s dream, but to some, it is not so fantastic.

By now, many have heard about the Starbucks Red Cup controversy. Recently, the reveal of Starbucks’ annual holiday cup has sparked some unhappy outbursts on social media sites such as Twitter. This year, the cup does not feature snowmen or other holiday designs like in years past, but is rather a simple red and cranberry colored cup.

Because of the lack of Christmas designs, some think the cups are a “war on Christmas.” One Tweet read “Now @Starbucks is blowing off Christmas with their non-Christmas coffee cups.  I’ll never step into a Starbucks again. #boycottstarbucks” (via nick_mangene on Twitter). Others think Starbucks is doing the right thing by not featuring Christmas designs on their cups, and others simply do not care because it’s just a cup.

Is Starbucks really starting a war on Christmas, or is everyone just overreacting?

Some may still argue that Christmas is under-represented as @nick_mangene did on Twitter, but many others feel exactly opposite. One of the things that some notice around the holiday season, in fact,  is the lack of representation of other winter holidays and religions. Think back and try to remember when the last time you saw any type of Kwanzaa decoration or Hanukkah lights. For some, these holidays seem to not exist because they do not celebrate them, which is understandable. For those that do, however, the lack of recognition can be upsetting.

Locally, a bit of controversy can definitely be seen as well come holiday time. Driving around the University Town Center and its surrounding plazas the extravagant display of Christmas decorations is hard to miss. Some would say that these decorations are just what the town needs, yet others would say they’re a bit overdone.

“I don’t have any problem with the Christmas decorations at UTC, it’s just that in my opinion, they are a little overdone,” says senior Myra Singh.

“I love the holiday decorations! Benderson does a really nice job every year and it’s the perfect way to get in the spirit!” says senior, Jackie Olson, offering another view.

Besides the glaring decorations, the list of Lakewood Ranch holiday events could be seen as slightly controversial, as many of the events listed mention “Santa” or are Christmas themed events. Only one of the events, the “Chanukah Celebration”, is distinctly not a Christmas event.

“Honestly, I think it is a little unfair to the non-Christians in Lakewood Ranch to offer so many Christmas themed events without offering much of anything for other holidays. There is so much you could do for a Chanukah, or even Kwanzaa event.” says senior, Sierra VanSuch.

ODA faculty member Mrs. Mandel has much to say about such holiday issues. Every year, her street puts up an extravagant display of Christmas decorations including arches of Christmas lights over the street, which they have become very well-known for—a fact she was unaware of until closing on the house less than a year ago.

This holiday season, her first spent in the neighborhood, some of the street’s residents placed a Christmas arch in her yard.

“[I] felt closer to fainting than I ever have before, and I couldn’t even explain why, which made me feel worse, because if there’s one skill I’ve got it’s using words to describe things and suddenly I didn’t have any,” recalls Mandell.

Being Jewish, Mandel felt uncomfortable having the display in her yard, especially as it was placed there without prior notification, but being a member of the neighborhood community she felt as though she had to participate. Her husband had a word with the neighbors and they agreed upon making the arch blue and white in honor of Chanukah.

As far back as 2009, I can recall there being an imbalance in the holiday season experience. In the sixth grade, our class went to an elderly home to sing holiday songs to the elderly. The ensemble consisted of many songs like “Frosty The Snowman” and “The Christmas Song”, and one or two more religious songs such as “Silent Night”.

It is not that it made me particularly uncomfortable, but I remember questioning why we were only singing Christmas songs. After all, there were people in our grade who were not Christian or did not celebrate Christmas and it made me wonder if they felt uncomfortable. More than that, the possibility that some of the elders in the audience celebrated other holidays made me a little uncomfortable. All I could think was “is this really right?”

This was not the first time that question would surface.

Around September each year the Jewish holidays “Yom Kippur” and “Rosh Hashana” occur. These are two of the most important holidays in the Jewish religion, if not the most important, and they just happen to fall on a school day almost every year. These days are supposed to be no-homework, no-test days, and recently faculty has been doing a good job of keeping that in mind, but every year, the firmness of that rule for some is not totally clear.

Some Jewish students have reported in the past having to schedule later dates to make things up in class or that their teacher was unaware a holiday was even taking place. Some students take a day off for these holidays, which has sometimes resulted in them missing important things in class.

Some may argue, as a few ODA parents have, that there should just be no school on these holy holidays to avoid such an issue, however some might disagree due to the fact that there is a much smaller number of Jewish students in the school. It is definitely a matter that requires further discussion.

However, some balance can be found in certain areas of ODA. ODA’s chorus is doing a medley of songs for their holiday concert, including many that are not Christmas songs. “I think it’s great that we are singing a mix of songs that aren’t just Christmas songs. I think it makes a more welcoming concert that isn’t so ‘Christmas’. It’s really exciting.” The music department is definitely moving in the right direction with this concert, but the real question is, is this really enough to balance out the other issues?

So the next time you go to Starbucks, look at your plain red cup without reindeer or Santa on it and remember that the holidays is a time for more than just one religion to celebrate; remember that red cups are not a way to stir up controversy or create a “war on Christmas,” but rather a way to show holiday spirit without acknowledging only one holiday and religion. Remember that part of what makes this country so great is its diversity and acceptance of all religions, and that the holiday season is the time to celebrate that.