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Tuesday, Feb 20, 2024

Duking it Out Santas In Proctor Commercialism Overload or Pretty Decorations?

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Nothing Wrong With a Little Holiday Cheer

Drew Pugsley '04

I would like to preface this article by saying that Estye chose this week's topic. So if you have not done so, I would suggest that you read Estye's column first. In light of the holiday season and the events of Sept. 11 there have been two new, very distinct decorating themes in Proctor that Estye has — surprise, surprise — found particularly revolting: the American flag and Santa Claus. Needless to say, Estye was highly concerned about these "shameless decorations of propaganda". While many a Middlebury student simply passed by these atrocities without batting an eyelash, our freedom fighter of the Left felt there was something to rant about, as she has done, at great length. In response to the flags, all I can say is that the United States is at a very critical and unique point in its history; our economy is reeling and our national security has been threatened. I would like to remind everyone that Middlebury College is located in Vermont, a state, which is within the boundaries of the United States of America. Furthermore, I would like to question whether Estye would be so offended if the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 (and subsequent bombings in Afghanistan) had not occurred. Would there be anything to rant about if, instead of putting the flags up in the spirit of national unity at a time of crisis, the staff at Proctor Hall had just experienced a random moment of patriotic inspiration and put the flags up because of that? I don't think so.

Estye's objection to the placement of Santa Claus on the salad bar and other Christmas related paraphernalia about Proctor may not be completely unfounded on the basis of cultural or ethnic diversity. However — and at this point I would like to mention the fact that my learned counterpart is sitting next to me singing "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" at this very moment — there is a strong point to be made for the fact that the image of Santa Claus does induce a state of mind that is important for the improvement of our economy. We all know that the holiday season and its festivities do not necessarily revolve around Christianity and the celebration of the birth of Christ. However, like Frosty the Snowman, Santa Claus puts people in a happy, jolly mood to buy things. Though this may be indicative of the materialistic society in which we live — a point that Estye wishes she had made — every financial analyst in the country as well as the general public expect that this "holiday spirit" will help bring the United States out of its recession. Of course, I do not have the opportunity that my counterpart has of looking at this situation from the perspective of a religious minority — only an economist.

Of course I believe it is essential that the College promote diversity and understanding across cultures, across the campus. Through communication and education conflicts like the "war" in Afghanistan can be tempered in the future. However I do not think that the likeness of Jolly Old St. Nick perched atop the salad bar is a particularly unwelcome reminder of the homogeneity of the Middlebury College community.

Nevertheless, as my astute and learned colleague has proudly broadcast, I do not have any solutions to offer at this time, other than communication. I understand that a significant portion of the Proctor Hall dining experience is the ambience. I understand that Proctor Hall ought to promote a welcoming environment for all religions, races and creeds. But I just can't see how the inclusion of nationalistic symbols at trying times, and the statue of a traditional seasonal figure, whose true origin is ambiguous at best, should sour someone so much.

X-mas Extremes Disrupt Dinner Peace

Estye Ross '04

American flags and Santa Claus. The two undying symbols of our republic. I don't want to see either of them in Proctor. Proctor should be a neutral environment. I want to eat in Proctor. I want to make my salad — lettuce, cucumber, green pepper, peas, no dressing (gotta be a stick-figure Midd-kid) — without having anything shoved down my throat. No Proctor peach cobbler. No plastic Santas. No political or religious or cultural or plainly consumerist ideologies that I might not necessarily agree with. I didn't make a fuss when the American flags found themselves stuck in the hanging plants. We're in the midst of a national security crisis. OK. Perhaps the placement of the flags wasn't even an official college action, but that of a concerned and patriotic Proctor worker who hasn't been jaded by Marx, Engels, Che and Chomsky, as I have. I was in objection. But I whined to my friends over breakfast and otherwise kept quiet. Anyway, this is America, and far be it from me to say that the American flag shouldn't be proudly displayed.

However, I find Santa quite offensive. Why does Middlebury decorate for Christmas at the exclusion of all other winter festivities? Why does Middlebury fail to recognize diversity in its Proctor decorations when the rest of the country goes out of its way represent diversity? I don't know. I grew up in a heavily Jewish suburban environment, and you'd better believe that if a store wanted to make it through the holiday shopping season, there was a menorah in its window. And coming from the Washington, D.C., metro area, Kwanzaa was everywhere. There were decorations for Ramadan and decorations for Chinese New Year. I remember seeing pagans hanging Pentecost on lampposts. I always thought we got a bit excessive. I would roll my eyes at the dinky blue Jewish star hanging in the corner of a huge, awesome, gorgeous Christmas display. But now, entering my first December here at Middlebury, I feel as though something is terribly wrong.

I tried to examine the root of the issue. The majority celebrates a holiday. Is all this some kind of Hallmark-driven utilitarianism? Must we all be forced to deal with Santa on top of the salad bar because a self-selecting ruling class (of Middining employees) has decided that he represents our collective values? Wow, don't get me started on the notion of us even having any collective values at all. Apparently, the answer is a resounding yes. I find all of this an insult to those who do not accept Christmas as a holy day to those who do not accept American consumerism as something we should be proud of, and to those who simply want to get their salad as quickly and easily as possible. I find it truly reprehensible that we're being forced to celebrate something that we might not feel comfortable celebrating.

This week, I even have solutions! So what if I don't know what to do about American foreign policy or peace in the Middle East. I know what to do about the decorations in Proctor, and I hereby impart my suggestion unto the Middlebury community: decorate for winter. Winter is as close we come to a collective value here in Vermont. Snowflakes. Snowmen. Frosty, if we absolutely must work pop-culture into it. The only way to truly be egalitarian vis a vis the season's holidays is to make a conscious decision to celebrate none. There is no reason that Middlebury College needs to celebrate Christmas, outside of personal observance (jingle bells screen saver, decorating your own dorm room) or events dedicated to sharing the wonderful and rich culture of Christmas in isolation from American culture as a whole.