When I was growing up back in the 1940's, my parents and their friends did lots of entertaining at this time of the year. Their favorite was to gather together to sing Christmas carols, and then have a drink or two followed by supper.
In those pre-television days, everyone had a wonderful time celebrating their friendship and the Christmas spirit. But as time went on and their generation gradually passed away, the custom died out.
Died out, that is until my wife Kathy and I started talking about our happiest childhood memories, including those Christmas caroling parties. And so we decided to resurrect the custom. For nearly 25 years, our friends have gathered at our house in mid-December. The invitation reads "4:00 p.m., Christmas caroling, 6:00 p.m. cocktails and nibbles," the idea being those who wish to sing would do so while voiceless celebrants could gather a little later.
Throughout the years, we've had something like 70 people of all sorts and cultures, religious practices and beliefs, all brought together by ties of friendship and a shared wish to celebrate the coming of Christmas in a traditional way.
Granted, it’s also become a politically incorrect event, since our present social climate discourages singing and learning Christmas carols in schools the way it used to be done. Happily, most of our friends are of an age when they don’t need much prodding to easily remember the carols we all learned as children in school.
Our group does include a wide mix of folks: Christian, to be sure, but also Jewish, Buddhist, agnostic and atheist. In my mind, the fact that we all gather and sing together in the spirit of the season confirms the truth that shared culture among friends trumps political correctness and narrow sectarianism.
And that, in turn provokes me to reflect on the popularity of today’s “identity politics,” in which people's particular racial, gender, religious or cultural background has come to define one's very nature as a social and political being. Both political parties have increasingly fallen prey to this self-damaging habit, damaging because, taken to an extreme, it puts self-limiting shackles on our political process.
Democrats, long a coalition party representing many different groups, find it important for members in good standing to check off all the appropriate boxes: Gender (and anti-misogyny), support for income redistribution, minorities and immigrants, labor and working class, environmentalism, support for children and the downtrodden.
Republican boxes include anti-government and anti-government programs, anti-immigration, pro-trickle-down economics, support for business and the workings of the free market.
Indeed, Republicans have gone so far in identity requirements as to coin the term "RINO" ("Republican in name only") for those who do not toe the line of correctness and who therefore – many of them believe -- should be drummed out of the party.
Yet I've come to think that perhaps the most concrete attitude defining and separating the parties is their differing attitude toward patriotism. By "patriotism" I do not mean the knee-jerk, flag waving patriotism that is so often the final refuge of scoundrels who have little to say and much to hide about policy or the public good.
Rather, it has to do with the recognition that as American citizens we have accrued enormous benefits by our citizenship and that fact alone must deserve honor and respect. It's why I am puzzled at the absence of overt patriotic symbols ‒ the American flag in particular ‒ at most Democratic-liberal events. I would have thought that if Democrats of all people would want to encourage flag waving at their events to provide as much room in their party as possible for people who find it important to show pride in their being Americans.
But, judging from what I've seen up close or on TV, it's hard to find an American flag at a liberal rally.
Which gets back to our Christmas caroling party next week. We will all gather together as diverse Americans united in our respect for our country's tolerance for differing customs amongst differing people. For we have learned that culture does trump political correctness, every time. And that's why our singing together brings tears of gratitude to my eyes and fullness to my heart.