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"But the angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people."

-- Luke 2:10

What’s the point?

A group’s introduction of a Confederate-themed float into Springdale’s Christmas parade was an abuse of the host organization’s community spirit.

The American Civil War, which for a time rent asunder a nation born just 85 years prior, spanned four Christmases.

They were awful Christmases, as the devastation of battles and the longing for loved ones' return inspired heartbreak and a longing for better days. Soldiers and families mustered whatever small celebrations they could, hanging on dearly to memories of holidays together, prior to the bloodshed. Would those days ever return? When a divided nation is engaged in battles within itself, it is perhaps expecting too much for war-worn men and families to entertain notions of peace on earth, good will to men.

Such sentiments come easier in better times, such as those in which we are blessed to draw breath today. Or at least they should. Certainly here in Northwest Arkansas, there are ample reasons to be filled with good tidings of joy.

For nearly two decades now, the good people who invest themselves in the Rodeo of the Ozarks organization have organized a Christmas parade for the community in Springdale. There's some work to it, but the concept is pretty simple and straightforward: Come one, come all to celebrate the Christmas season and the birth of a Messiah celebrated by Christians the world over.

"We want to give families a wonderful time of cheer in the season," said Sach Oliver, a member of the rodeo organization's board of directors.

Cheer. Good tidings. Rejoicing. For 22 years, we'd say mission accomplished.

This year, though, was different. Oh, there was plenty of yuletide festivity amid the 70 floats that responded to the Rodeo of the Ozarks invitation for floats. Then there was the trailer with the tent, a man in a military uniform and four flags. Confederate flags.

Oh yeah -- and a string of colorful Christmas lights draping the trailer's perimeter. Just like back in the War Between the States, we're sure.

This entry in the Christmas parade represented a group called the Sons of Confederate Veterans. The organization is made for male descendants of Confederate soldiers and is dedicated to "preserving the history and legacy of these heroes so that future generations can understand the motives that animated the Southern cause."

Yeah, that won't be controversial at all, right?

As almost anyone in 21st century America might have

predicted, a few people along that parade route were shocked to see a Confederate-themed float in, of all things, a Christmas parade. We remember stories of the little drummer boy, and the biblical telling of the Magi, or the shepherds who visited a baby in a manger. We don't quite recall a visit to Bethlehem by Gen. Beauregard.

So, surprise of surprises, offense was taken. Tweets about how the Rodeo of the Ozarks organization should be ashamed of itself. One parade watcher took a selfie photo as she faced away from the float, then posted the photo to social media.

"Everything that goes along with Christmas was supposed to be celebrated," said Alice Gachuzo-Colin of Springdale. "It was completely the wrong place and the wrong time to celebrate your 'heritage.'"

Officials with the Sons of Confederate Veterans' defended themselves, something we suspect they're quite used to doing. Nobody did anything wrong, they suggest. Their trailer simply showed a Civil War-era encampment as it would have looked during one of those awful Christmases between 1861 and 1865, they say.

Hey, let's give everyone the benefit of the doubt for a moment. Let's assume for a moment that everyone's heart was pure in this flare-up. In 21st century America, it is still beyond naive, and perhaps blindingly ignorant of what builds community and what divides it, to fail to recognize that the introduction of a Confederate flag into a civic event will inject controversy where it does not belong.

These advocates for Confederate history surely know by now, if they've spent any time at all in the real world post-1865, that it's impossible to promote Southern pride or heritage in a contemporary setting without stoking the embers of emotions still remaining from that most destructive of conflicts.

They know it. They just believe their style of appreciation for Confederate history ought to be widely embraced in the modern South. Some will immediately jump to calling them racists, but recognizing the inappropriate placement of the Confederate appreciation in a community-oriented Christmas parade doesn't require such a finding.

The group's advocacy for preserving Southern heritage is hardly reasonable within the context of the parade.

If the Rodeo of the Ozarks is guilty of anything, it's being a community-oriented organization that has now been wounded by a group that took advantage of its openness to all comers. It's too bad the Sons of Confederate Veterans didn't exhibit the gentlemanly consideration to avoid embarrassing their hosts.

So, what now? As unfortunate as it is, the Rodeo of the Ozarks will face a decision about whether it needs to do something different. The Christmas parade is now in danger of becoming a battleground in the ongoing reverberations of the U.S. Civil War. Next year, who knows what groups will try to drive home their point? Floats of Baphomet? People in drag? Protesters of all stripes? Rather than celebrating Christmas, the parade will become a political clash.

The Rodeo of the Ozarks will have little choice but to put measures in place to establish some limits, to ensure the parade it's trying to put on -- the one that so admirably has served a wonderful community purpose for so long -- isn't hijacked by others who have different priorities. And it will be hard, because discerning what might be "offensive" isn't easy. Some will find offense that it's even called a Christmas parade.

We hope the Rodeo of the Ozarks can find the right balance, because they have done a great community service by sponsoring this parade for so long.

At the end of next year's parade, we hope everyone will be filled with the spirit of Christmas. No controversy. No in-your-face displays serving some other agenda than a community celebration of Christmas. Just floats that unite the community in peace and joy. That will be a successful Christmas parade.

And hopefully, everyone who watches it can embrace the spirit Charles Dickens once wrote of: "God bless us, every one."

Commentary on 12/02/2018

Print Headline: Soldiering on

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