Shakespeare made the point – and made it well – that it matters not what something is called, but what it is. “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Let me play devil’s advocate, however, first by invoking my least favorite reportorial cliché: ’Tis the season.
It’s the holiday season. By “holiday” we mean everything from All Saints Day to Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, New Year’s, Orthodox Christmas, Boxing Day, and the Feast of the Epiphany. When we send holiday cards, host holiday parties, and partake in holiday sales, we gather up friends – and customers – of all persuasions. We pat ourselves on the back for being politically, and even ecumenically, correct.
I can live with that. On a personal level, I’m mindful to send the appropriate greeting to the appropriate friends. At the same time, is it so wrong to hope that everyone enjoys the Christmas season or the eight nights of Hanukkah? Is it the height of rudeness to hope that the spirits of all these holidays could intermingle and rub off on all celebrants? Wouldn’t we rather have an abundance of holiday influences infusing our comings and goings this time of year than none at all?
Apparently not. A group of merchants in a nearby city has taken PC-ness to ridiculous lengths. Following a decades-long tradition, on the Friday after Thanksgiving, a downtown business group lit a 50-foot blue spruce in the city square. You and I would call this a Christmas tree. Even if you and I were Jewish, Muslim, Agnostic, or Atheist, we still would recognize this as a Christmas tree. But this year, in a frenzy of inclusiveness, the merchants elected to call it a “tree with lights.”
A Christmas tree was unwelcome at the lighting ceremony, yet Santa Claus was front and center. Apparently a “tree with lights” made sense where a “man with red suit” was just silly. (Perhaps Santa’s association with gifts allowed him to make the cut with the merchants.)
People still came to see the tree with lights, but many did so baffled by the embarrassing idiocy of the merchants’ association and its defense that “words matter.” Yes. Yes they do.
O tree with lights, O tree with lights,
How lovely are your branches.
Days later, on the first night of Hanukkah, in the same city, there was a city-sponsored menorah lighting ceremony. City officials didn’t call it a candelabrum with lights. They called it a menorah and acknowledged its significance to Hanukkah with remarks from a local rabbi. Citizens of all faiths were invited to enjoy the celebration – and they did. Many came away with new understanding and appreciation for a holiday that isn’t their own, but is a part of the world in which they live.
These two events were perfect illustrations of good and bad marketing – in which what something is called mattered as much as what it is. How did the city get it so right and the merchants’ association get it so wrong?
Both wanted to prove that downtown is a welcoming place that includes everyone and excludes no one. The business association stripped the tree of the obvious Christmas connection, apparently hoping that all non-Christians would think of the giant tree with lights as heralding the shopping season and nothing more, while the city held an overtly religious ceremony open to the public with an explanation of the tradition, a call for peace, a reiteration of the importance of religious freedom and tolerance… not to mention free latkes.
Guess who got the good publicity and guess who got a week’s worth of public ridicule?
A rose by any other name would, indeed, smell as sweet. But sometimes a tree with lights is just a cigar.
Felicia Knight is President of Knight Vision International, LLC: www.KnightVisionInternational.com
Image: Girl From South