The Judge Who Stole Christmas (9 page)

BOOK: The Judge Who Stole Christmas
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The night was nearly over by the time Vince Harrod approached Thomas Hammond with another subpoena. Thomas took the document, stared at Harrod with thinly veiled contempt, then finally looked at the papers in his hand. This time the subpoena required Thomas to attend court on Monday, December 11, at 9 a.m. in Judge Cynthia Baker-Kline's courtroom.

“You know the drill,” Harrod said.

“I sure do,” Thomas replied as he turned to survey the manger area for sheep droppings.

MONDAY, DECEMBER 11

Thomas sat stiffly in the front row of the courtroom. This was a travesty! First, Harrod had examined Mayor Frumpkin for nearly an hour. Now the judge was taking her turn pummeling the poor man. And all the while the town's attorney just sat there, scribbling notes on a legal pad, not even looking at the witness.

Thomas wished that Jasmine could be here—at least she would say something! But she had a final exam this morning that she couldn't get moved, leaving Ottmeyer to fend for himself.

“So you're saying that this was just a secular holiday display about Christmas and not an attempt to get around my earlier ruling?” Ichabod leaned toward the witness.

Frumpkin shifted in his seat. “Judge, we weren't trying to get around your earlier ruling—we were trying to comply with it. I mean, the sign didn't even say, ‘The History and Traditions of Christmas.' It said, ‘The History and Traditions of Xmas.'”

Ichabod frowned. “The easiest way to comply with my ruling is to keep the crèche off the town square.” She let out a sigh as if she detested where this case was taking her. “Who was the architect of Operation Xmas Spirit?” she asked. Under questioning from Harrod, Ottmeyer had referred to his scheme as Operation Xmas Spirit rather than Operation Christmas Spirit.

“I was.”

“In putting together the plan for this celebration, did you happen to read the Supreme Court's opinion on the Ten Commandments cases handed down just this summer?”

Frumpkin's hesitation told Thomas that the mayor had indeed read it. But like many politicians, Frumpkin wasn't about to let the facts stand in his way. “No, Your Honor.”

“Then you may be interested to know that in the case of
McCreary v. ACLU
, one of the things the Court considered was the history of the Ten Commandments display and whether it demonstrated an improper religious purpose by the county officials. In that case, the county first hung just a framed copy of the Ten Commandments on a courthouse wall all by itself and only later, after the display was challenged by the ACLU, did they add other historical documents like the Magna Carta. That's what you've done here—tried to camouflage a religious display by adding secular elements to it. And in this case—with a live manger scene and the potential for proselytizing still there—it also remains a fundamentally religious display, doesn't it?”

Frumpkin made a face as if the argument had never occurred to him. “With all due respect, Your Honor, I have to disagree. This was just a straight-up display of history and traditions.”

“Was it?”

Frumpkin squirmed for a moment but then rallied. After all, he knew where the voters stood on this issue. “That's all it was, Judge. A fair and balanced view of the history and traditions of the holiday.”

“I see.” Ichabod leaned back in her chair and reviewed some notes. The silence hung like a guillotine over the courtroom.

“Well then, it would be important for the display to accurately reflect the holiday traditions and history. So let's start with this question: how far back did you go?”

“Huh?”

“How far back did you trace the history of Christmas? Who did your historical research?”

Frumpkin twitched his nose at the question. He took a quick drink. “We went back hundreds of years, Judge. To a time when Christmas wasn't commercialized like it is today. And I guess I was pretty much the one doing the research.”

“I see.”

This time Frumpkin waited through the silence, though he squirmed so much he reminded Thomas of fishing, the way a worm would wiggle around as you skewered it with the hook.

“So you were aware that the church first began celebrating Christmas on December 25 in reaction to the Roman pagan festival honoring Saturn, the god of peace and plenty?” Ichabod eyed the silent witness with amusement. “And I'm sure you were aware that the Roman holiday called Saturnalia was one of the most pagan and debased celebrations ever imagined.”

“I'm not really up to speed on Saturnalia,” Frumpkin admitted. “When I said ‘history,' I was actually referring to as far back as the colonial time frame.”

“Oh,” Ichabod replied. “Then I'm sure you had a display someplace on the square commemorating the fact that the Puritans banned any celebration of Christmas when they landed in the New World in the 1600s. As you know, anyone caught celebrating Christmas in the New England colonies would be subject to arrest and fines.”

“Um . . . I didn't happen to run across that one law by the Puritans.”

“Oh, it wasn't just one law.” Ichabod had a look of smug satisfaction on her face that was driving Thomas nuts. “You see, Mayor Frumpkin, similar laws were passed throughout the colonies, and Christmas wasn't celebrated until the Revolutionary War. You know why?”

“My research didn't exactly reveal why.”

“Because the celebration of Christmas by Christians in Europe had become almost as bad as the celebration of Saturnalia by the Romans. And the Puritans didn't want any part of it. Take for example, Christmas carolers. Did you have any of those in your town square celebration?”

“Yes, Your Honor.”

“Well, that tradition is centuries old. In England during the days of King Charles, drunken mobs would roam the streets in a tradition that was a cross between Halloween and Mardi Gras. These mobs would bang on the doors of the houses of aristocrats and demand food, drink, and money. If they didn't get it, they would loot these nice homes and carry away everything inside.”

Frumpkin's eyes were wide with amazement. This was obviously not the type of history he had in mind.

“My law clerk researched all this,” Ichabod continued. “It's publicly available on the Internet.”

Thomas had always hated the evil Internet for a number of reasons. Now he had one more.

“The song ‘We Wish You a Merry Christmas' originated during this era. Mobs would go from rich house to rich house and sing ‘so bring us some figgy pudding.' Then they would follow it with a threat: ‘We won't go until we get some . . . so bring some out here!' Did you realize that, Mr. Frumpkin?”

By now nobody in the courtroom was surprised when Frumpkin simply shook his head.

“And did you know that as late as 1828, in New York City, they had to hire a whole additional police force to guard against Christmas looters on December 25?”

“No,” Frumpkin answered. “But that doesn't surprise me. After all, New York City is New York City.”

Got that right,
Thomas thought.

“And also,” Ichabod said, undeterred, “let me ask you a few questions about your use of the term
Xmas
.”

“Okay.” Frumpkin scooted a little forward in his seat as if he was finally on solid ground.

“Do you know why that term is used?”

“Yeah. Retailers and such decided that they couldn't use the name of Christ anymore because it wasn't politically correct.”

Ichabod studied Frumpkin for a moment, sizing him up. “Yes, but do you know where the word
Xmas
originated?”

Frumpkin scrunched his face and thought. It seemed to Thomas that the little mayor was growing weary of admitting his ignorance. “Sure,” he said. Though he didn't offer any details.

“Then you know,” Ichabod said, “that it actually originated with the Greek followers of Christ during the time of Roman persecution. The Greek word for the name of Christ is X-R-I-S-T-O-S. Like the symbol of the fish, the letter
X
became a powerful symbol for the early Greek Christians, especially Christians being persecuted for their faith. The letter
X
would often be used to mark the spot where a martyr died. So when Christmas celebrations started in this country, the use of the term
Xmas
served as a powerful reminder of both the birth of Christ and the martyrs who paid the ultimate price in the first century to spread the faith.”

“Interesting,” Frumpkin said.

“So you see, Mr. Frumpkin, even the use of Xmas on the sign at the front of the square could lead a reasonable judge to conclude that you were just using an ancient symbol of the Christian faith as a way to trick me into thinking you had secularized the celebration.”

A reasonable judge,
Thomas thought.
Wonder where we could find one of those?

Thomas had the urge to stand up and tell this judge a thing or two. Though he didn't know much about court proceedings, he was pretty sure that Harrod wouldn't be calling him as a witness today. Frumpkin had already given away the farm, and Harrod wouldn't need Thomas. He was equally sure that Ottmeyer wouldn't be calling him to testify, since Ottmeyer looked like he just wanted to get out of the courtroom as soon as possible.

So, Thomas reasoned, his only chance to be heard, his only chance to say how utterly ridiculous this all was, would be if he stood up right now and spoke his mind. What could they do to him—throw him in jail?

Then another thought hit him. Something more effective. More controversial. The judge had inspired him with her little speech about Christian martyrs.
It's about time somebody stood up to our own government,
Thomas thought.

It's about time to put the
X
back in
Xmas
.

Jasmine left her exam and headed straight for her apartment, calling Ottmeyer's cell phone on the way. She left a message with the town attorney and another on the Hammonds' home answering machine. While driving, she flipped from one radio station to another but couldn't find anything about the hearing. It was driving her crazy not to know.

She grabbed the remote as soon as she got inside her apartment and started flipping through the channels before even removing her winter coat. The noon news had just started and the nice-looking brunette on channel 3 led off with the manger story.

“In a controversial ruling issued just minutes ago, Judge Cynthia Baker-Kline deemed another holiday display on the Possum town square unconstitutional. Her ruling has infuriated conservative activists, who claim that Baker-Kline has ignored controlling Supreme Court precedent and distorted the very history of Christmas.”

Wording from the Court's opinion suddenly filled the screen as the anchor read along. “‘The Puritans outlawed Christmas celebrations because they thought the birth of Christ was too sacred an event to be associated with such a secular celebration,' Judge Baker-Kline wrote. ‘Likewise, I am convinced that Christmas is, by definition, a religious holiday celebrating the nativity of Christ. I also find that the Possum town square celebration in question, though it had many secular trimmings, was still a religious display on public property. Like the Puritans, I find myself constrained to rule it illegal.'”

The news then flashed to video footage of Pete Winkle soliciting signatures for his Impeach the Judge petition. “It's judicial tyranny plain and simple,” Winkle was saying. “And I don't care what the Puritans did.”

Five minutes later Theresa Hammond called and confirmed that things were every bit as bleak as the television news made them out to be. “You've got to talk with Thomas,” she said. “He said he's not going to take the court's ruling lying down.”

BOOK: The Judge Who Stole Christmas
5.56Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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