Friday, November 18, 2011

The Santa problem...

Grumpy parents and movie villains often joke about canceling Christmas, but at the Hollings Cancer Center in Charleston, SC, that nearly happened.

Earlier this week, the Center's administration decided that because of its state affiliation (it is part of the Medical University of South Carolina), they weren't going to have a "Santa presence" this year. And that meant telling hospital volunteer Frank Cloyes, who has spent the last two years dressing as Santa and spending time with chemotherapy patients, that his services were no longer needed.

Center leaders also decided to make decorations "more secular and respectful to all beliefs," said Hollings spokeswoman Vicky Agnew. "We don't want to offend a volunteer with good intentions, but we need to think of the bigger picture. People who are Muslim or Jewish or have no religious beliefs come here for treatment," she said.

This decision, of course, caused a great deal of public outcry all over the country, leading to more criticism that political correctness had gone too far.

The Center received so much negative feedback that Agnew released a statement saying, "We’ve received a number of strong responses to the Santa story, and it prompted another discussion on our end. As a result, we’ve decided to allow a Santa presence this year." But Agnew did clarify that the initial decision to end Santa's visits was made after complaints from patients.

Being Jewish, clearly Santa doesn't have the special meaning to me that he does to those who celebrate Christmas. But that's fine with me. I've always viewed Santa as more of a representative of the commercial nature of the holiday than the religious one, so the presence of Santa doesn't offend my religious beliefs or anything. If emphasis was placed more on Jesus Christ or the Nativity scene, I would have more of an issue with it, especially if equal weight wasn't given to other religions.

The holiday season is a traditional touchstone for many, especially those dealing with stressful situations, such as undergoing chemo or having a family member with cancer. If the presence of "Santa" brings comfort, then I see no reason to ban him from a cancer center during the holidays, unless his presence is making more patients unhappy and uncomfortable. And if you don't want a volunteer dressed as Santa to spend time with you, it's easy enough simply to say "no, thank you."

Sometimes political correctness for political correctness' sake isn't correct.

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