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River Town Chronicles: Great orations on holiday decorations

This holiday season has fostered many great debates, including tax “reform,” the “she said – he said” revelations of sexual harassment and the question of who should control the button to launch a nuclear strike.

However, these volcanic considerations seem trifling as a drinking-fountain squirt compared with another crisis under scrutiny, the deliberation over holiday preparations. Yes, the contested machinations of Halloween and Christmas decorations far outweigh the diminutive gravity of a congressional bill that makes the one-percenters richer still, the brave denouncements of empowered men accused of unwanted verbal and physical aggression, and leaving our nuclear stockpile in the hands of a child president toying with Lego-like intercontinental ballistic missiles.

The clash of holiday traditions came to light recently by my class of high school freshmen when I asked them to write to the prompt: “1. Are Halloween decorations needed? 2. When should Christmas lights be put up?”

Regarding Halloween, Jack Scales thought Halloween lights “bring the spookiness into full effect,” observing that some lights “flicker and flash,” mentioning “exotic strobe lights.”

Jack Wardynski countered demonstratively: “I am a firm believer in no Halloween lights whatsoever. Halloween’s supposed to be a night of fear and delight, but if lights are everywhere, and it doesn’t seem like nighttime, what’s the point?”

Ethan Bello’s piece sounded like a compromise: “I don’t feel Halloween ‘lights’ are needed, but I do feel some quaint festive decorations should be put up to entertain passers-by.”

Christmas lights inspired stronger emotions. Ethan continued, “Christmas lights are only allowed to be put up two days before Thanksgiving and thereafter as if it is too pre-emptive, it will seem strange and almost like you’re TRYING to get people upset.”

Jack Scales’ response nearly echoed Ethan’s: “Christmas lights should not go up until after Thanksgiving because then Thanksgiving is ignored and people are only focused on Black Friday deals and Christmas. Christmas is a season that shouldn’t be rushed into. Instead, people should ease into it and take it for its actual meaning.”

While reading myriad responses aloud, the class was generally accepting of each others’ positions, with only a few demurring on the particulars.

That is, until Jack Wardynski read his declaration, as revolutionary as Martin Luther’s 95 Theses. “On the one hand, I want to say that putting up Santas and snowmen on Nov. 1 is a little ridiculous, but on the other hand, I really like Christmas. Especially here in Chicago, where we get lots of snow, the Christmas vibe is very present. Not to mention that Thanksgiving decorations are incredibly boring. A snowman is more exciting than a pilgrim, if you ask me.”

Nov. 1? The class went up for grabs. When I called for calm, hands shot up, begging to be recognized. Incredibly, what I thought would be a ho-ho-hum prompt met with disinterest, even derision, had turned into a civil war between before-Thanksgiving Christmas rebels and post-Thanksgiving Christmas lights purists.

You never know what will light up students’ days – or nights.

Rick Holinger lives in Geneva and teaches English at Marmion Academy. Contact him at

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