Those who put up decorations make society better

Dennis Prager

12/14/2004 12:00:00 AM - Dennis Prager

Among the most foolish ideas to emanate from the foolish '60s is that what you feel in your heart is more important than what you publicly express. According to this thinking, to cite one example, patriotism is a feeling, not a flag displayed on national holidays. On the contrary, such displays are derided as "flag waving," which has been rendered a pejorative term.

We have lost an appreciation for the monumental significance of public ritual in maintaining our national identity and values. We have also greatly overstated the ability of feelings to be maintained without public expression of those feelings.

Additional examples make this point clear.

Ask your wife if she would feel equally loved and appreciated if you never gave her a card or gift on her birthday, your wedding anniversary or Mother's Day. After all, if you really believe that feelings need not be manifested in any formal, ritualistic way, why bother with a card or gift on her birthday? Presumably you love her just as much on that day as any other, so why engage in card waving?

The reason is that for the vast majority of people, their birthday is a significant day, and its significance should be publicly manifested and even celebrated, not just internally felt. "Honey, there's no card, no dinner out, no party and no gift, because I don't believe in those things. I love you in my heart" -- that doesn't work.

Nor does, "I love my country, so any public manifestation or celebration of that love is pointless." So many Americans are tone-deaf to patriotism as anything more than public dissent, or affirmation of the Constitution, or personal feeling. Yet, Americans have died for the flag, and members of Congress had tears in their eyes (as I had in mine) when Republican and Democrat alike sang "God Bless America" after 9-11.

That is why many of us want the Pledge of Allegiance with the words "under God" said in schools every day. The argument that anyone can do all the God-talk they want at home or at church is no more convincing than the argument that anyone can sing the national anthem at home, so why have people do it at baseball games? Public expressions of societal values are crucial to keeping those values alive.

An America without its flag displayed on national holidays is an America that has lost its sense of self. I am not arguing that displaying the flag guarantees patriotism, only that (a) it is an indispensable aid to its survival, and that (b) never displaying the flag will eventually kill patriotism.

Which brings me to Christmas decorations. A Christian can feel deeply religious and personally celebrate Christmas with great fervor without hanging one light bulb in front of his home. But society suffers from such a self-directed faith. It will be a very sad day in America if Christmas decorations are entirely absent. I am a religious Jew who deeply bemoans the absence of Christmas decorations (or menorahs in windows) in large parts of my city, Los Angeles. My city and I are the poorer for it.

Life is greatly enhanced for Americans of all faiths by people who take the time and pay the expense to put up Christmas displays. Do some people put up displays so lavish that the purpose is partly to outdo their neighbor? Probably. But so what? The rest of us benefit from such competitions.

So here's the bottom line: If you celebrate Christmas and you put up no public display, please reconsider. It is one way you can immediately have a positive impact on our society. But if you won't, at least consider this -- send a thank-you note or some other token of appreciation to your neighbor who does put up a display. They are doing a major public service.