Citizen of the Month

the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Page 3 of 187

2016

Imagine a Hallmark Christmas movie. It’s about a beautiful and scrappy Southern single mom who falls for a city slicker who lives in New York City.  He says that he is a writer and photographer which apparently doesn’t mean the same thing in the North because it doesn’t require making a real living. Still, being an aw-shucks optimist, she thinks that he is the bee’s knees. He actually adores her too, but whenever he finds himself in a real relationship, he always has one foot mired in doubt. He constantly says stuff like, “this is too complicated,” “we live in different cities,” “we don’t like the same movies,” and things like that.

Eventually, our Southern heroine gets fed up with the New Yorker’s negative thinking, and as Christmas approaches, through pure serendipity, she meets a divorced Southern gentleman who only lives ten minutes from her home.

He is perfect. He loves the same football teams as her son and he can whip up the best fried chicken in minutes. Most importantly, he knows how to treat a lady. They make plans for Christmas together.

Meanwhile, back in the city of the birthplace of Trump,  the evil city slicker,  a complete ne’er-do-well with the carpetbagging black heart of a true Yankee, is suddenly awoken with jealous feelings. He sends her emails trying to make her feel guilty for finding her own happiness, attempting to manipulate her with the fancy words he picked up at some Ivy League university. What will our heroine do? Who will she choose? The true and honest local boy with the heart of grits, or the fast-talking neurotic big city jerk who only wants what he can’t have?

I think we know the end of that movie. I mean if it is a Hallmark Christmas Movie and not some Martin Scorcese film.

That was my 2016.  I am the villain.   Which usually is the best role in a movie.   But not in real life.

 I didn’t blog that much.  I have no blogging recap like in the old days.

That was my 2016.

Oh, yeah, in November, I went to Hillary Clinton’s Big Election Night Ball at the Javits Center where she was to be crowned the next leader of America.

That was my 2016.

Also, I took a lot of photographs. Some came out good.

But I’m healthy. My mom is healthy. Most of my friends are healthy.  And I’m still friends with the Southern girl.  So, it wasn’t that bad.

The Eleventh Annual Blogger Christmahanukwanzaakah Online Holiday Concert

Happy Christmahanukwanzaakah!   Welcome to the 11th annual holiday concert!

It was a tough political year for many of us, and there is much uncertainty in the world.  But let us remember that camaraderie and music are important forces for good.   They can inspire us, touch us, and lead us into battle.   There is work to be done in 2017.  Our system has failed many, especially those that are already marginalized.    One non-profit organization fighting for justice in our educational system is Being Black at School.  

Being Black at School is a national nonprofit advocacy organization focused on addressing the complexities of being a Black student in the American education system.   Our mission is to utilize data and policy analysis to foster a movement for schools that are safer and more equitable for Black students.

Please help them by donating what you can.    You can read more about their mission on their website.

Happy Holidays and enjoy the show.  

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photo by Karen Delaney Dino

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Tim Minchin’s White Wine in the Sun performed  by Eileen of Eileen Chong

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photo by Bonnie Stewart of The Theory Blog

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The Peace Carol performed by Elly of  BugginWord 

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photo by Erin Cooper

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A British Christmas performed by Noel Katz of  There’s Gotta Be Music 

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photo by Pam of Outside Voice

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Joy performed by Elizabeth Robinson  (Kizz) of  117 Hudson and Sara Stopek

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photo by TL Roberts

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Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah  performed by Angela of  Fluid Pudding 

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photo by Carol of Buttercup Counts Her Blessings

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Christmas, Don’t be Late by Veronica (with help by Kacey Musgraves)

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photo by Louise Gleeson of Late Night Plays

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Madre Tierra performed by Charlie Miller with Danny Miller

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photo by Deborah Grinter of Blossom Bombs

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Hark the Herald Angels Sing performed by Lara Bolte

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photo by Laura

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Sugar Plum Holiday performed by Jenny Kelly and family

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photo by Jane

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Los Angeles Jingle Bells performed by Ellen Bloom of LA is My Beat

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photo by Maggie Christ of Magpie Musing

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Across the Great Divide performed by Tamar Jacobson and Tom Jacobson

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card from GK Khalsa

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River by Joni Mitchell performed by Anne Riotto

photo by Loukia of Loulou’s Views

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Auld Lang Syne performed by Elisa Camahort Page  of SheKnows Media

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photo by Lotus Carroll

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God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen performed by Tina Rowley

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photo by Martin Karaffa

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Happy Xmas performed song by Marty, Kevin, Christopher, and Colin Long

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photo by Jessica Rotenberg

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We Wish You… performed by Alejna of Collecting Tokens and family

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photo by Judy Carrino

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Black and White performed by Neil Kramer of Citizen of the Month and Junius Harris

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photo by Karen Rivers

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Here are the past blockbuster concerts —

2006  2007  2008  2009  2010  2011  2012 2013  2014  2015

See you at next year’s event!

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NYC, The Five Boroughs, the 2017 Calendar

 

I’m always curious about what the kids want for Christmas and Hanukkah each year, so I’ve been talking to a lot of my friend’s children, asking them, “What gift are you hoping Santa Claus brings you this year?” I was expecting the answer to be some trendy Japanese Pokemon/Furby type toy, so I was shocked when your kids answered in one voice, “This Christmas I want a 2017 Calendar of New York City Photos!”

I many not have kids of my own, but I care a lot about your kids, especially about making them happy. I’m assuming you want the same for your children. They ARE the future. That’s why I’m offering these NYC photos of the five boroughs for only $16.99! Not $17. I’m beginning to understand how business works. Only $16.99!

You can buy this NYC calendar on my ETSY SITE.   Tell me what you think of my oddball choices of  NYC photos, not one skyscraper or famous site in the bunch.

 

Announcing the 11th Annual Blogger Christmahanukwanzaakah Online Holiday Concert!

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 In 2006, when this annual concert started, it was a celebration of the  internet.    Blogging was an avenue for the sharing of personal stories.   Even if you lived in the most isolated rural town in Alaska, you found yourself, through online storytelling, befriending black bloggers in Baltimore, gay bloggers in Los Angeles, and Jewish bloggers in New York.   Christmahanukwanzaakah  was our buzzword for our changing world — one of inclusion, diversity, and empathy.

We were naive.   As our virtual world grew, the problems of the real world flooded in, and eleven years later, when we thing of the internet, we think of the worst aspects of society — the  hate, bigotry, and trolling.  

In 2008, we voted in Barack Obama, the first African-American president.   In 2016, we voted in Donald Trump.

This year’s concert is not just a celebration of the season, but an affirmation of the moral underpinning that connects all religions and creeds –

‘Don’t do unto others what you don’t want others to do unto you.’

Yes, we love to share our stories and photos with our friends, but we also need to remember to protect each other, speak up against the bigotry that poisons our nation, and make a difference, no matter how small.    

Especially now.  

This year, for the first time, I will be asking for  small  donations, both from concert  participants and viewers, for “Being Black at School,”  a brand-new national nonprofit advocacy organization focused on addressing the complexities of being a Black student in the American education system.

I wanted to end the concert last year because I thought we all had enough of “blogging” as we knew it.   We had moved on to more practical ways to connect with others.   But I get a feeling that we all could use a bit of love, joy, and community this year.   And singing.  

Here are the past blockbuster concerts —

2006  2007  2008  2009  2010  2011  2012 2013  2014  2015

This year’s concert will take place on Tuesday, December 20, 2016  right here online.

It is time to hear YOU PERFORM!   YOU are the CONCERT.  That gives you about a month to work your magic.

Interested?  Sign up in the comment to perform.    You don’t necessarily need a traditional blog to participate, but at least have an online presence in Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, or Snapchat.   Be part of this long-running tradition!

Concert FAQ:

1.  Create a video (or audio) file of you performing a holiday song.  If you need technical help, ask me.

2.  You must be performing in the audio or video.   Don’t cheat and have your cute kids doing all the work.

3.  You can sing, play an instrument, recite poetry, dance the Nutcracker, or write a symphony.

4.  Once completed, post the video on a place like YouTube and send me the link. Or just send me the file via Dropbox or email, and I will post it on YouTube.   Try to get me all files and links by Monday, December 19, 2016, the day before the concert!  That gives you plenty of time to be creative.

5.  If you are too afraid to sing a song, send me a holiday photo to decorate the concert page.  It could be of your tree, menorah, or plain ol’ winter solstice if you are a heathen.

6.  The comment section is the sign-up sheet.    By signing up, we can see who is performing what, so we can avoid having ten versions of “Jingle Bells.”

7.  Most importantly — don’t be intimidated if you can’t sing.    We like to laugh at you.

Join us in the longest-running holiday concert online — The Blogger Christmahanukwanzaakah Online Holiday Concert, in it’s ELEVENTH blockbuster performance!

Skating by Vince Guaraldi performed by Angela Reiner Downing of Fluid Pudding

The Election of Donald Trump and the Hallmark Christmas Movie

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I voted for Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary, but after it became clear that he wasn’t going to be the nominee, I instantly backed Hillary Clinton. Ms. Clinton, an accomplished and intelligent public servant, was the obvious choice, compared to Donald Trump, an incompetent demagogue who used hate as his campaign message.

Last week, I waited an hour to get tickets to the big Clinton Election Night Party at the Javits Center, where the symbolic “glass ceiling” would finally be broken. I was excited to be part of history.

On Election Night, the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood around the convention center was chaotic, as thousands of Clinton supporters and the mainstream media crammed into an area blocked off by armed police officers. Those who had general public tickets, like myself, were sent to the back entrance to airport-style security. A few campaign volunteers grumbled about being stuck with the regular folk when VIPS, in their Wall Street suits, were guided inside without waiting in line.  But, all in all,  we all felt like we were on the same team, confident in a Democratic victory.

By nine o’clock, we knew Trump was going to win. The crowd turned to the brightness of their iPhones in a desperate attempt to distract themselves from making eye contact with others. It was heartbreaking.

In the subway going home, you could feel the gloom in the claustrophobic underground air. A homeless man sitting alone in the corner was screaming at his demons in Spanish. The darkness outside the windows grew ominous as the metallic screeches of the train’s wheels pulled us further into the unknown. I asked myself, “How did this happen? “How did Donald Trump become elected when we were so sure that Hillary Clinton was our next President?”

When I returned home, I was too wired to sleep, but too anxious to watch the news. I needed something stupid for entertainment, television as innocuous as possible. I went to my DVR and found my choice.

Every year, around this time, the Hallmark Channel starts showing their annual Christmas movies. These “feel-good” cable movies are hopelessly corny, like the type of network “movie of the week” starring B-list actors that felt outdated even back in 1975. But like many things lowbrow, people like me have turned them into an ironic guilty pleasure. I’m even involved in a Facebook forum where we dissect each new Christmas Movie premiere on the Hallmark Channel. These movies have become so popular, that Hallmark has even started to show them as early as October! I had recorded a few last week, so I picked a rerun that I missed. On election night, with Donald Trump now as the president-elect, I watched a Hallmark Christmas movie.

One of the reasons these Hallmark Christmas movies have achieved a cult- like status is that 85% of these films are the same story told in a slightly different way. It’s amusing to watch the writers tell another yarn from the same basic plot. The protagonist is someone from the big city who travels to a small town in Middle America for some nefarious reason. It can be a real estate guy who wants to turn the “old mill” into a Chipotle, a self-absorbed actress who returns to her roots for some photoshoot about her origins, or some snooty marketing executive who wants to sell off the family farm after her father dies. All of these urban characters have disdain for these boring small towns. They are blind to the fact that they are unhappy in NYC/LA/Chicago and that their big city fiancé or fiancée is self-absorbed and unfaithful.

You know what happens. The protagonist falls in love with the small town values. He/She falls in love with a cowboy/waitress/farmhand. And he/she pays back the small town by saving the mill/the farm/the Christmas parade.

The myth of these Hallmark Christmas movies has nothing to do with the Miracle of Christmas. They are about America. Big cities and small towns need each other, and learn from each other. The big city is more trendy and knows how to get things done in the outside world. They can teach the small town citizens about modern art and rap music. The small town can teach the urban dweller how to fish/hunt/farm, and most importantly, how to live in a loving community where people care for each other.

This pop culture myth of big city/small town, and their need for each other, has been part of American culture for two generations, especially popular after the Second World War, in which the country was required to be unified, and American soldier stood with American soldier, bonding together to save our country.  Our most popular Christmas movie, It’s a Wonderful Life, is about a small town man, George Bailey, who dreams of moving to the big city and living the exciting life, like his big-shot, college-educated brother. Instead, he is trapped in a crappy old town, living in a drafty old house with a broken staircase. But what is the final message of the film? Yes, George Bailey’s brother become a war hero, but it is George who saves the town and America’s values from Mr. Potter. George is as important as any soldier. He didn’t march into Berlin, but held the fort at home. Bedford Falls, and George’s values, is why America was fighting.   Small town values. America’s cities were important to this country, but if we let them create the values alone, we get the darkness of Pottersville.

Big city and small town must coexist or else America ceases to be. The big city is America’s muscle and brain, but the heartland is American’s heart.

As I’m watching this Hallmark movie on Election Night, enjoying this absurd romance of a lonely prima donna fashion editor from New York and a hard-working cowboy who’s wife had died, I ponder the mythology of the narrative. The myth of the big city and small town needing each other, learning from each other, was a myth that allowed us to live in the same country, to believe in one America. But as we started to watch different TV, get our news from different outlets, and follow different leaders, this all changed. The cultural interaction stopped. The cities grew more diverse and prosperous, but ignored any of the issues in the small towns, stereotyping their fellow Americans as fat racist losers who only shopped at Walmart. The small towns, at least the ones which declined as we shipped off jobs abroad, retreated into their comfort of white supremacy and anger at the elitism of the establishment. Hillary Clinton felt it was useless to woo small town America, especially in the Rust Belt. Donald Trump exploited the anger of small town America by spreading his vision of bigotry and racism.

We all discovered the real truth about our country today — the big city and small town now hate each other. Both Hallmark Christmas movies and America need a new myth.

Orange is the New Autumn

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woman with popsicle

woman in harlem

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tourists in nyc

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Boyhood

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The Oculus at the World Trade Center

The World Trade Center Transportation Hub’s concourse will ultimately connect visitors to 11 different subway lines; the PATH rail system; the Battery Park City Ferry Terminal; the National September 11 Memorial & Museum; World Trade Center Towers 1, 2, 3, and 4; and Brookfield Place (formerly known as the World Financial Center), which houses the Winter Garden. It represents the most integrated network of underground pedestrian connections in New York City.

The “Oculus” serves as the centerpiece of the World Trade Center Transportation Hub, incorporating 78,000 square feet of multi level state-of-the-art retail and dining. The concourses emanating from the Oculus link the entirety of the site above and below grade. With an additional 290,000 square feet of exciting, multi-level retail and dining space, the World Trade Center site is the focal point of Lower Manhattan.   (Port Authority of New York and New Jersey site)

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The Bus Driver in Queens

There are two MTA city buses that go from Flushing, Queens to Jamaica,  Queens.  They are named the 25 and the 34.  One bus goes the local route, making all the stops, and the other is  the express, skipping a few.  I usually get onto whatever comes first, because the amount of time saved using the express is negligible.  But today, I ended up on the express bus, heading towards Jamaica. There were ten passengers on board.  The only passenger standing was a mop-headed middle-aged white man who was carrying six plastic Key Food bags filled with grocery items.

“I want to get off here,” he yelled as we passed his stop.

“I can’t.  You can get off at  the next stop,” said the bus driver, a portly black man.

“But I want to get off here!” repeated the passenger.  “This is my stop!”

“I don’t stop here.”

“How can you not stop here? I always get off here.”

“This is the express bus.  This is a local stop.   I don’t stop here.”

“I demand that you stop!”

“I cannot stop. There are RULES.”

The passenger edged towards the front of the bus, his foot hovering over the white line separating him from the space of the driver.

“I know you,” he said to the driver.  “You’re a control freak. You’re always like this. You get pleasure from sticking it to others. You’re a cruel man. A cruel, cruel man.”

Another passenger, an African-American woman in a short dress, stood up, hoping to ease the tension.

“It’s an express bus, mister.. Chill out.  He doesn’t make the same stops. You must be used to being on the  local bus.”

“Fuck that,” spewed the man.  “He could stop if he really wanted. He just loves the power. I know his type.”

The rest of the passengers nervously glanced at each other, preparing for the worst. They turned towards me. I assumed that since I was the only other white passenger on the bus, and they wanted to see if I was to be an ally in case things turned racial.

The tension dissipated when the bus pulled into the next stop.  The angry white passenger stepped off,  two blocks from his usual stop,

“I know who you are,” he snipped once more at the driver.  “All of us know who you are. You enjoy it. The way you stick to your rules. You’re a sick man. You’re crazy!”

The bus driver remained silent, ignoring his insults. The moment he left the bus and the door was closed, we all erupted in laughter.

“That guy was nuts!” said the woman across from me, sitting with his young son.

We all looked out the window as the man struggled with his bags, walking in the opposite direction.

There was a red light at the intersection where the stop was located, so the bus needed to wait at the curb until the light turned green.  We sighed; our ride had reverted to normalcy.  Just then, an elderly black man, a cane in his hand, knocked on the closed door of the bus, wanting to come inside. He was relieved to not miss the bus.

“I can’t let you in,” said the bus driver.

“Why not?” asked the man. “You’re still here.”

“I closed the doors already. There are RULES.”

The light turned green, and the bus sped away, spewing smoke in the elderly man’s face.

The bus passengers bonded again in secretive looks, but this time, you could see in our eyes that our opinion of the bus driver had  forever changed.

How I Explained Black Lives Matter to My Mother’s Mahjong Group

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“Liberals” are sometimes stereotyped in the media as elitists. I wonder if there is an element of truth to this. We say we want to discuss issues with our friends and relatives, but then use abstract language more suitable for a Yale graduate school seminar.   If your conservative Uncle Joe on Facebook is willing to agree with you that there is too much police brutality against African-Americans, does it really matter at this point if he “accepts” the concept of white supremacy on your latest post?

I understand this tendency to sound elitist because I can be that person myself. I’m the type of guy who came home from my first semester of college to scold my mother to stop reading her “stupid Sue Grafton mystery novels” and pick up Plato’s Republic instead.

“Do you want to live your entire life in the shadows?” I told her after my freshman year.  “How can you live without ever getting a strong foundation in Greek philosophy?”

Yeah. That type of guy.

Who would have guessed that one day I would be back living in the same apartment with my mother, reading her Sue Grafton novels?

Twice a week, my mother sets up a bridge table in the living room and plays mahjong with her friends.   Her friends are smart, compassionate women, feminists at heart, open to neighborhoods of diversity, but born of another generation.   Each woman is over eighty years of age,  the children of immigrant parents, and have worked since an early age.  None of them had the opportunity to attend college.   It would be haughty of me to lecture these amazing women based on my advanced education, right? But sometimes I just can’t help myself.

I remember a few months ago, the mahjong group was taking a break from the game, having coffee and cake, and gossiping about their neighbors in the building. I entered the kitchen to grab a piece of the cake myself when I overheard one of them mention the cute children of the “Oriental” neighbor in apartment 3D.

“You probably shouldn’t say that,” I said. “She’s Chinese, not Oriental.”

“What’s so bad about Oriental? I’ve always said Oriental. Like someone from the Orient. Like Oriental salad!”

My mother and her friends teamed up against me.

“Yeah, Neil, what’s so wrong with Oriental?” asked my own mother.

I explained the different of Oriental and Occidental, and how the term Oriental comes from a European perspective and gives off the aura of “the other” and exoticism.

No one understood what the hell I was talking about.

“Just don’t say it! They don’t like it!” I shouted, giving up.

A few days ago, I came back from this rally in Union Square. The women were playing mahjong. I showed them a few of the photos I took, including one of a protester holding a sign that read “Black Lives Matter.”

“I don’t get what this means — Black Lives Matter? Don’t ALL lives matter?”

I went to the kitchen and made myself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, in order to give me time to think about my answer. What was the best way to talk to a group of eighty-year-old Jewish women about this subject?

I had an idea.  I returned to the living room.

“Remember when you were kids, everyone said “Merry Christmas” to each other?”

I figured this was a good way to draw them in, with an analogy.

“We didn’t say Merry Christmas to each other,” said Louise, my mother’s friend.

“Yes, that’s because you’re Jewish,” I replied.   “But the average American said Merry Christmas. People felt like it was a Christian country, so they just said Merry Christmas. This is the equivalant of saying White Lives Matter, but it’s more like Christmas Matters. Or Christian Holidays Matter.”

Now, everyone just looked confused.

“Hear me out. But as time went by, Americans wanted to include everyone in the holiday spirit, particuilarly their Jewish friends, so they started saying Happy Holidays. This is like saying All Holidays Matters — Christmas, Hanukkah, whatever.

“And what’s so wrong about that? Saying Happy Holidays?” said my mother. “You just made the argument for saying All Lives Matter.”

“Well, yes, but we all know that deep in our hearts, All Holidays Matter is really about Christmas, with Hanukkah and the other holidays sitting in the back row. It’s still Christian Holidays Matters in disguise. So someone who really celebrates Hanukkah might not want to be a mere appendage, but wants Hanukkah to be celebrated as worthy of it’s own meaning. So someone might say, “I never liked when you just said Merry Christmas, because it excluded me, and I did appreciate that you started to say Happy Holidays, but we both know that I was never an equal part under that All Holidays Flag, so now I just want to hear Happy Hanukkah so you are acknowledging that my holiday has meaning in itself. There is nothing inherently wrong with saying Merry Christmas, or Happy Holidays, but sometimes you just want to hear Happy Hannukah. And it is the same with saying Black Lives Matter. It’s a matter of giving respect.”

And I think I won them over. Either that or they just wanted to go back to their game.

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