- The Washington Times - Monday, December 22, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

As predictable as tinsel and toys, the Christmas season brings forth a sackful of holiday haters with their vows of folly. These modern-day Ebenezer Scrooges find endless ways to pronounce, “Bah, humbug,” but like Charles Dickens’ quintessential character, they are no match for the Christmas spirit. Giving has a way of warming the uncharitable.

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty scans the American landscape each year in search of a worthy recipient for its Ebenezer Scrooge Award, which it presents as “its lowest honor, to the government official that makes the most egregious affront to the Christmas and Hanukkah holidays.” This year’s top prize has gone to the city of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and the city’s mayor, Mike Huether. Students at a local private school had gotten crossways with the city by painting brightly colored religious Christmas messages on the blades of the city’s snowplows. Sioux Falls responded to the artwork with a Bronx cheer and ordered the children to either paint over the words of good cheer or city workers would do it for them. Apparently, one atheist, a member of the Siouxland Freethinkers, objected to such inscriptions as “Jesus Christ: Whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst.”

Fortunately, the mayor recognized the foolishness of allowing the ill will of one to ruin the holiday cheer for many. He overruled the city, saying he wouldn’t order the plows painted over “unless, I guess, I get some Supreme Court case [that] says that I have to.” For undergoing a sudden change of heart, the Becket Fund soothed the sting of its Ebenezer Award by subsequently toasting Sioux Falls for its policy reversal.

Meanwhile, a troop of Scrooges in Florida has succeeded for the first time in gaining permission to install a holiday display to rival traditional Nativity scenes in the state capital in Tallahassee. A banner proclaiming “Happy holidays from the Satanic Temple” adorns the rotunda, along with a diorama of an angel falling into the flames of hell, according to the Tampa Bay Times. While Satanic Temple spokesman Lucien Greaves said the intent of the display is simply to celebrate hedonism, the timing of the group’s jarring display carries a distinctly anti-Christian overtone.

There was a time when all but the most misanthropic had the good sense to avoid offending fellow citizens needlessly and respected the wise advice to “First take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” Nowadays, legions of Scrooge types proudly see themselves as God’s gift to the world.

Still, not far away from Tallahassee in St. Petersburg, Florida, a phenomenon unfolded demonstrating that the spirit of giving can strike where one would least expect it. As the Tampa Bay newspaper tells it, a woman not long ago pulled up to a Starbucks drive-in window and ordered a caramel macchiato. As she paid for her drink, she also picked up the tab for the driver behind her, a complete stranger. Then he repeated the favor by paying for the customer behind him, and that driver did the same thing. Taking notice, Starbucks employees began counting the anonymous payments to see how long the trend would hold. Eleven hours and 379 customers later, the chain of generosity was finally broken when one non-English speaker who didn’t understand that her bill already had been paid insisted that the barista keep her money.

Although modern-day Scrooges are plentiful, it’s useful to remember that, like a cup of hot coffee, the spirit of giving — during the Christmas season or any other time of year — can warm the hearts of even the most cheerless.

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