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Doris writes a weekly column for LaGaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper, which has pages in English, Spanish, and Italian.  Begun in 1922 for Tampa's immigrant community, it continues to thrive more than a century later.  Her column is titled "In Context," as it aims to put contemporary issues in the context of the past.

Plural Holidays and Good Wishes for All!

We went to Bethlehem a few days before Christmas. No, not the one in Israel, but the one in Pennsylvania. That town, in Pennsylvania’s Allegheny Mountains, was named on Christmas Eve 1741, by Moravian missionaries.

Moravia, in case your geography needs refreshing in this ever-changing world, was a kingdom in what now is the Czech Republic. The area also is known as Bohemia, and “bohemians” long have been dissenters to the status quo. Indeed their Jan Hus, not Martin Luther, was the first to introduce Protestantism to Europe. The prevailing authorities, firmly Catholic, burned him to death in 1415.

But many Moravians clung to dissent and emigrated for that reason. They were akin to English Quakers, who, in 1682, were the first religious radicals to settle Pennsylvania. Both sects held the unconventional belief that Native Americans had souls, and the desire to spread their faith is what brought Moravian families to the wilderness that they named Bethlehem.

In the next century, the town became known for Bethlehem Steel, and the corporation was one of the world’s biggest and most fundamental. Steel mill employees, ironically enough, often came from places not far from Moravia: most were from Hungary, Slovenia, Poland, and other eastern European countries that then were under the dominance of Austria.

Bethlehem Steel was a big factor in the American economy until the late twentieth century, when management began to close its mills rather than update them with new technology. When the immigrants of the previous century became middle-class citizens who expected a living wage for their hard and dangerous work, the corporation went abroad for cheaper labor.

Now Bethlehem Steel’s fortress-like brick walls, its formerly fiery furnaces, and its tall dark smoke stacks are as quiet as dead giants. Snow and slush collected on what once were busy factory floors when we were there at Christmas -- but the earlier Pennsylvania Dutch heritage of Moravian and other Germanic-language speakers remains strong.

Part of one mill has been converted to a Christmas mart, ala the famous Christmas markets of Germany. Along with sausages, sauerkraut, and beer, hundreds of vendors sold mostly unnecessary items to thousands of shoppers still seeking things to wrap and give away.

But the most striking thing I saw was a group of children eagerly watching an ice sculptor. He had set up his open tent in the shadow of smoke stacks, and it seemed to me a perfect paradigm for how our economy has changed. Instead of making things that are basic to housing, machinery, and transportation, we now make things simply for their beauty or for their entertainment value.

And although my heart aches for the former steelworkers, their demise may not necessarily be a bad thing overall. Somehow we have become an experiential economy in which a high priority is leisure and learning experiences. Instead of manufacturing things, we do things for fun.

We can afford to pay admission to be entertained and we do so, everywhere from a Christmas market to the stadium for the Steelers. We support artisans who sell their often-ephemeral goods. We patronize Amish vendors partly for their unusual food, but also to get a closer look at these living anachronisms.

Diversity pays. And although Hitler derided Britain as “a nation of shopkeepers,” which side won the war?

* * *

You may have read about snowy traffic jams up North at Christmas. It wasn’t snowing the day we left Virginia for home, but I-95 nonetheless was a parking lot, even in the early afternoon. We diverted over to US 41 and checked out the municipal decorations in dozens of small towns. It probably was no faster than staying on 95, but it’s easier on the blood pressure.

Highway 41, of course, becomes Nebraska Avenue and 50th Street in Tampa. Here it is the old Tamiami Trail, as it linked Tampa with Miami in the heady days when automobile travel was new. Like now, though, Florida officials were slow to accept federal funds in the era after World War II, and I-75 didn’t open until the 1980s, two decades after most states had interstates. I well remember the 1970s, when it took three or four hours on US 41 to go to Sarasota during tourist season.

So I wondered again what happened to I-85, which logically should have been between I-95 on the east coast and I-75 on the west. Answer: it goes from Atlanta to Montgomery, Alabama, where it ends. Florida planners at work.

* * *

Finally, the Republican war on Christmas. Yes, the Republican, allegedly conservative, war on Christmas. As Republican House Speaker John Boehner held his members hostage throughout the holidays, I wondered how many Christmases were being ruined.
I know he made it difficult for people such as our Representative Kathy Castor, who has teenagers still at home, and for other members who actually live in the districts they represent. I’ll wager that Boehner and Mitch McConnell and other old bulls haven’t celebrated a Christmas in Ohio or Kentucky in forever. They decry Washington, but they invariably choose to live there, even after voters push them out of office.

It doesn’t seem to cross their minds that younger members have children in Christmas activities or want time to spend with parents and extended family. Or that others such as Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) face a daylong trip by even the fastest method of transportation to their homes. The old guys just tool down to Capitol Hill from Chevy Chase or Georgetown, while the real representatives make and cancel their flight reservations. Multiply those hundreds of members by thousands of aides who also worry about getting home for the holidays, and we’re talking tens of thousands of affected families. Some family values, those.

And re the term “holidays,” I’m also weary of the faux war that Fox News commentators and other conservatives are waging on that good word. I grew up in such a staunchly Christian home that when my parents decided to move south, they used the Lutheran Almanac to investigate potential property: they would not consider any place that was not near a Lutheran church. We went there every time the doors were open, including Christmas Eve and a just a few hours later, Christmas Day.

Before we moved from Minnesota, we celebrated Christmas Eve in my father’s Norwegian tradition, Christmas Day in the American way, and “the Second Day of Christmas” in the German culture of my mother’s family. Yet everyone said “Happy Holidays.” The word, you know, derives from “holy days.” By using it, we meant these Christmas occasions, as well as New Years Eve and New Years Day. Plural holidays, and good wishes for all!

Get over it, Fox. Even if the modern greeter intends to wish a happy Hanukkah or Kawanza or Winter Solstice – on which these holidays are based – what is the problem with that? We all should wish for more happiness, on holidays and every day.

Doris Weatherford writes a weekly column for La Gaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper. With pages in Spanish, Italian, and English, it has been published in Tampa since 1922.
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