Merry Chris Mis

Cleveland Heights has long been known for its diversity. That’s why—well, one of the reasons—I was surprised to read a letter to the editor in the Plain Dealer a few years ago by a person from Cleveland Heights, who complained that people who aren’t overjoyed by someone saying “Merry Christmas” to them just aren’t . . . I don’t know—Christian, I guess.

So I wrote a letter to the editor myself. I don’t write many letters to the editor. My letter was, well . . . it was the only one I’ve ever written. It said:

“The Dec. 16 letter from Chris Mis ("Merry Christmas! Now did that hurt?") succinctly summarizes the attitude of many well-intentioned people who just don't get it. It says, ‘No one is being damaged or deprived by being wished Merry Christmas.’ Well, maybe not in the writer's unintentionally biased opinion.

The letter goes on to say, ‘Those who feel that it is improper to use the phrase Merry Christmas' should add their names to the list that includes Scrooge and the Grinch.’ Right-along with billions of Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, atheists and others who aren't Christian. People who consider themselves followers of faiths other than Christianity don't observe or celebrate Christian holidays.

Are we really damaged by being wished Merry Christmas? A little—over time it grinds away at you, makes you feel as if you're not part of the club. Deprived? Yes. We have our own beliefs, different from many others but just as valid. By constantly ignoring, denying and dismissing our beliefs, Christians are depriving us.

I'm sure Chris Mis is very merry, and I hope he stays that way. But he should try to see the other side.”

The morning my letter appeared, my phone rang at 9 a.m. I answered. An unfamiliar man’s voice said, “Hello, Dave?” I said, “Yes?” He said, unnaturally loudly, "Merry Christmas to you and yours!" and then slammed the phone down. He was still using a phone that you could slam down to end a call.

I went back to what I had been doing. About a half hour later the phone rang again. I answered and had the same brief conversation with the same man. The guy was old and simple, so he didn’t know that I could hit star-6-9 and find out the number of the phone from which the call had originated. And because he was old and simple, he also had no idea that I could enter that number into a reverse-lookup site on my computer and find out the address of that phone number.

The call had been made from a phone booth—one of the few left in the world—on a Cleveland Heights corner I knew well. A pay phone—because the guy was old and simple and the last movie he had seen was made in 1942, when people used pay phones to retain their anonymity.

A half hour later, the same thing. I did star-6-9 and then reverse-lookup and found that that he’d made the third call from his own home. So I now knew his name and address and phone number. He lived not far away from me. I drove past his house.

I found it ironic that he lived in an area that John D. Rockefeller had commissioned a man named Taylor to map out for development in the early 1900s, in what became known as the Taylor Plan. And it seems to be common knowledge—in the form of a badly kept secret—that the plan stipulated the neighborhood had to remain restricted: no Jews or blacks. I figured my cowardly phone caller had lived there since Taylor had laid out the area. And had been friends with Taylor. And had suggested the part about no Jews or blacks. No—insisted on it.

Two days later, I received a Christmas card in a bright red envelope. It was not signed, but inside someone had scrawled in large, angry letters: “DEAR DAVID – YOU DON’T HAVE TO BELIEVE IN JESUS TO ENJOY CHRISTMAS SANTA CLAUS IS NOT A CHRISTIAN SYMBOL. JUST BE HAPPY AND LOVE.”

Except that I hadn’t mentioned Santa Claus. And you kind of do have to believe in Jesus to enjoy Christmas. Unless you just need an excuse to buy people presents. But Christmas does have a pretty specific meaning.

The next day I received another, identical Christmas card, in a bright red envelope, unsigned, in which was scrawled in large, angry letters: “I WISH YOU AND ALL OF YOUR LOVED ONES A VERY MERRY AND HOLY CHRISTMAS.”

Now that one was kind of religious, I’m thinking. I mean, can you have a holy Christmas without being religious? He was beginning to lose his perspective.

The next two days, two more cards: "Merry Christmas, Dude!" and "Hope it's good XXXXX Honey Buns."

This guy had gone to quite a bit of trouble just to make me feel bad because I didn’t agree with his very happy message that everyone should be Christian. You may not think so, at first glance, but that’s what he was saying. And that’s what makes this country great—that we’re all one religion, and all one race and all of one national origin. Oh, wait—we’re not. Well, that guy is. If you know what I mean.

Okay, so I understand that many people think and feel the same way this guy who calls himself Chris Mis does. That’s never going to change. And I don’t really care if people say “Merry Christmas” to me, because I understand that many people don’t think about a lot of things—plus, it is a nice time of year (or, at least, it can be). The amazing thing, to me, is that the guy actually used Jesus, theoretically a symbol of love and peace and acceptance, as a weapon, to literally try to hurt me. Ironic. And increasingly common.

David Budin

David Budin is a freelance writer for national and local publications, the former editor of Cleveland Magazine and Northern Ohio Live, an author, and a professional musician and comedian. His writing focuses on the arts and, especially, pop-music history.

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Volume 8, Issue 12, Posted 3:02 PM, 12.01.2015