Friday, December 3, 2010



The little Salvation Army lady at the door of the swarming Costco store in southern Etobicoke used to ring small bells to encourage people to come to her traditional kettle and contribute to all the wonderful good the Sally Ann does every day.
She hasn't been able to do that for years. 'They don't like it," she said, meaning Costco bureaucrats. I said I wouldn't swear and offend her sensibilities by saying what I thought of idiots who would ban the tinkle of silver bells..
But I can now. Let's call them a fundamental part of an ass. Oh, is that too Biblical? Let's say a donkey's patootie! But why point out that they are bigots and politically correct nerds who really don't understand the tolerant Toronto communities when they've already proved that by banning a simple instrument of joy. After all, they are little bells or a small hand-held school bell, not gongs or sirens.
Now she didn't volunteer that info about the ban. I asked, because of the Toronto Star story about the ban on bells beside the Sally Ann kettles inside the giant Eaton Centre. And there has been the usual rash of stories about Sally Ann officers/ volunteers being ordered out or even to keep off the sidewalk in front of shops.
Santa keeps a list of who's been naughty or nice. I think we should too. (There's a list on the Internet of what chains like Christmas and those that say humbug.) We should keep a boycott list and email complaints about any bans.
We can always shop at Scarboro Town Centre or Yorkdale Mall where the managers welcome the bells and kettles. After all, they're cheaper than parking at the Eaton Centre. And it's easy to try alternatives to the Costco zoos, particularly after the Etobicoke one just sold me a roast chicken with only one leg.
Let's not forget that boycotts and protests do work. After a week of being roasted by shoppers and the media, the operators of the Eaton Centre and other shopping conglomerations announced that the Sally Ann bells could ring again. And there was a nice celebration at the Centre as the Salvation Army gave away more than 500 bells to Christmas shoppers.
Let's not let the Cadillac Fairview boys try to wiggle off the hook like a fat worm. The muddled explanation was that a previous management had banned the bells and the current staff didn't know about it. Oh sure! The ban has been in effect for eight years because of complaints made eight years ago. Oh sure!
What has happened is that the plaza people were happy to have the ban because the public and media hadn't made too big of a fuss and the courteous Salvation Army brass wouldn't complain or lobby. So the few sour jerks who had made the original complaints won for eight years.
Can't the zealots and the PC kneejerks get it through their prejudice. Christmas is a wonderful large ball of nostalgia and customs that bounces around happily in many homes where there are no Bibles. It's not just a Christian celebration. It has long been honoured by people who have never been inside a church and worship sort of a Coca Cola version of St. Nick. There is plenty to celebrate at Christmas without mentioning the cradle, although I wonder why creches are seen as so threatening.
The basic message of Christmas, of "peace on earth good will to all" surely is acceptable to all faiths and people of no faith. Of course terrorists and arm dealers would not be that agreeable. Or those who make their living posturing or stirring up hate.
It offended me when I went across the street to Sunnylea school and watched a "holiday" pageant where there was more about Jews, blacks and Muslims than Christmas. I wrote about it on Dec. 8, 2008, in a blog titled It's Okay To Say Christmas Even At Sunnylea School.
As much as I love the soaring songs of Christmas, and a concert of carols will transport me to a past where sleigh bells were for real, I also love the icons of the season that have nothing to do with the Bible. It's easy to defend Santa Claus even in Toronto schools where they are more terrified by Christmas than they are of any proposal to freeze salaries. After all, Santa is a jolly commercial creation based on a nice poem and ancestors in Turkey and Holland. (I've often played Santa and wrote a blog on Dec. 5. 2009, titled I Got Fired As Santa.)
It must not be forgotten by those of us who hate any interference with the good soldiers of the Salvation Army that this bell ban hurts their efforts to raise money during a season when demand for their charity peaks. And it's tough times for even the queen of the charities to raise funds. (Protectors of the Army must be vigilant. We even had a dumb move years ago at City Hall to ban the Sally Ann from Nathan Phillips Square. That was squelched by a tsunami of indignation.)
I grew up with good will towards the Army because my Dutch grandparents, mother and aunts, were brought here by the Army to flee religious persecution.
As a kid reporter, I was assigned within a week of my being hired in 1958 by the Toronto Telegram to collect for the Army in its May campaign. I was surrounded by legendary writers and editors who all seemed decades older even when they weren't. I was terrified, just trying to hold on to a summer job. And so I approached my first reporter, a red-faced profane cigar-smoking police reporter named Howard Rutsey who was covering famous stories before I was born. 'What do you want, kid?" he snarled. He scared the hell out of me. I managed to get out that I was collecting for the Salvation Army. He stood, peeled $50 off a roll of bills (which is what I was taking home a week) and declined a receipt, saying the Sally Ann did more good than any other organization in the world.
I remember working for both the Red Cross and Salvation Army cleaning up after Hurricane Hazel and learned early that Rutsey was right. This was reinforced during their fund drives, where people of all religions and no religion volunteer to knock on your door. No organization commands more respect because it is a gentle courteous missionary movement that doesn't force its faith on you in exchange for its compassion.
If they don't let the Sally Ann tinkle their bells and place their kettles wherever it wants, we should take the offending officials and tie them in a belfry somewhere and let them listen, close up, to some really big bells of Christmas. Why do I think of that Wizard of Oz song about
"Ding-Dong! The witch is dead." At least they've killed another one at the Eaton Centre.

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