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On Holidays and a Bigger World

July 19, 2016

Lou Holtz

Lou Holtz at the 2016 Republican National Convention (photo borrowed from The Guardian I think)

In what can’t be more than the third most ridiculous piece of political bluster in the last two days, former North Carolina State, Arkansas, Notre Dame, South Carolina and (briefly) New York Jets head football coach Lou Holtz let his views on immigration be known today at the Republican National Convention. The man who now at least a little ironically helmed a team named for Irishmen derided what he saw as an “invasion” of immigrants, saying, according to the Daily Beast, “I don’t want to become you. I don’t want to speak your language. I don’t want to celebrate your holidays. I sure as hell don’t want to cheer for your soccer team!”

Let’s forget the old man yells at clouds knock at soccer. I’ve gotten myself into enough trouble defending soccer lately. No need to head down that road again.

I’ve written in this space my thoughts about the immigration situation. I didn’t know then what the answer was. I don’t know now. I doubt that will ever change.

Still, what Holtz said troubled me. “I don’t want to celebrate your Holidays.”

I used to drive to South Bend with my uncle. Uncle Frank was a Catholic priest and he had been a Notre Dame season ticket holder since the days when season tickets were easy to come by. We cheered Holtz’s teams there together.

I saw Holtz speak at a Catholic men’s conference once. He spoke of faith and family and responsibility. It was compelling. It was also all apparently garbage.

“I don’t want to celebrate your holidays.”

We celebrate “foreign” holidays all the time of course. Again, more than a little ironically the Irish-themed St. Patrick’s Day holiday. There’s Cinco de Mayo, a more or less Mexican holiday that gives us “real” Americans an excuse to drink margaritas and hammer down chips and salsa. There are others. There are different ethnic variations on the Christmas season. My German family celebrated St. Nicholas Day, for example.

“I don’t want to celebrate your holidays.”

I have been disappointed by sports figures before. I’ve been sad for them too. I’m more of the latter for Holtz.

“I don’t want to celebrate your Holidays.”

This Christmas, something unusual happened. Our neighbors brought us a Christmas gift. That part wasn’t strange in and of itself. Thousands of neighbors give thousands of neighbors Christmas presents across the country every year. My neighbors, though, are Muslims.

“I don’t want to celebrate your holidays.”

The mother of the family next door rang our doorbell. The smile on her face was enormous. Her and her youngest son handed us a wrapped box that turned out to be cookies. She smiled. Her son smiled. I smiled…until I closed the door. Then I cried.

A simple box of cookies was one of the most perfect Christmas gifts my family had ever received. It was given with nothing other than joy and in the true spirit of the holiday – not their holiday. My holiday.

“I don’t want to celebrate their holidays.”

When Ramadan began this year, I kept track – for the first time in my life. Whenever we saw each other we talked of their holiday. How difficult it is for them – not eating from sunup to sundown during the longest days of the year. I kept checking to see how far we were from the Eid – the end of Ramadan, the breaking of the fast. I asked a friend who lives in the middle east what an appropriate gift was – sweets, it turned out. I made sure I found something that didn’t violate their food restrictions. Chocolate cake works if you ever find yourself in that situation. I grabbed a chocolate cake (I don’t bake), and at sundown my older son and I took it to their house. Their family – the whole extended family — was there, everyone dressed up, everyone smiling and celebrating and exchanging gifts. There were colored lights everywhere. Holtz would be interested to know that aside from a missing evergreen it looked a fair amount like Christmas. We gave them the cake. I smiled. They smiled. They acted as if we had given them the greatest Eid gift ever, their own box of cookies. It was one of the greatest holiday experiences of my life – not my holiday. Their holiday.

I grew up in a wonderful place. Edgewood, Ky., was – and still is – the ideal setting to grow up in. But I also grew up in a very small world. Nearly everyone was exactly like me. Until college I was fundamentally afraid of nearly everyone from the middle east.

As time has gone by, I haven’t forgotten how wonderful a place Edgewood and the people in it are and I haven’t forgotten the lessons I learned there. At the same time, I have allowed my world to get bigger. I have learned to welcome people into my life who look, live, love and worship differently than I do. It has made me no less American. It has made me far happier.

Lou Holtz may not want to celebrate “their” holidays. But I sure as hell do. He has no idea what he’s missing, in so many ways.

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3 Comments
  1. Josh permalink

    What does Holtz think about Quantico?

  2. Dad permalink

    I hope you realize that you are a much better person than you hold yourself out to be. I wish I could take a lot of credit for that, but in reality you have grown immensely since you left here. Beautiful post!!

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