TIME society

Why Pro Athletes Won’t Stay Silent Anymore

Cleveland Cavaliers at Brooklyn Nets
Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James in Brooklyn, New York on Dec. 8, 2014. Jason Szenes—EPA

“I knew it would be coming sooner or later,” says Olympian John Carlos

For nearly 50 years, John Carlos, the American sprinter who raised his arm and clenched his fist at the 1968 Olympics to protest racial inequality, has waited for a group of athletes to follow his example. To stand for something more than scoring points and pushing products.

His wait is finally over. In the weeks since grand juries returned non-indictments of police officers in the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, dozens of professional and college athletes have abandoned the safety of the sidelines to lend support for the protests over their killings. “I knew it would be coming sooner or later,” says Carlos, whose “black power” salute with teammate Tommie Smith has become an iconic image. “I’m extremely proud of these athletes. I think they have a brave heart. I think they have a vision. And I think they would like to see these issues resolved.”

Some of the biggest names in sports are leading the charge. LeBron James wore an “I Can’t Breathe” T-shirt before a Dec. 8 game to support the family of Garner, the New York City man whose last words — captured on video as police wrestled him to the ground — have become a slogan of the emerging movement. Even President Obama took note of James’ decision. “You know, I think LeBron did the right thing,” Obama told People in an interview published Thursday. “We forget the role that Muhammad Ali, Arthur Ashe and Bill Russell played in raising consciousness.”

Those athletes represented the peak of socially-conscious sports stars. Since then, most have followed the disengaged template perfected by Michael Jordan. In the early 1990s, Jordan refused to endorse an African-American Senate candidate trying to unseat right-winger Jesse Helms in Jordan’s home state of North Carolina. Though he might not have actually uttered the famous excuse for staying neutral that’s been attributed to him –“Republicans buy sneakers too” — Jordan followed this philosophy, and turned it into a marketing blueprint: Play nice, don’t offend, grow your personal brand. And whatever you do, stay out of politics.

James, the modern-day Jordan and Nike’s premium pitchman, and Derrick Rose, Adidas’ biggest name baller who was the first NBA star to wear an “I Can’t Breathe” T-shirt, have rewritten the rules. “We went through a long stretch there where [with] well-paid athletes the notion was: just be quiet and get your endorsements and don’t make waves,” Obama told People. “LeBron is an example of a young man who has, in his own way and in a respectful way, tried to say, ‘I’m part of this society, too’ and focus attention.”

For these players, the lack of consequences shows that they can take certain stances without sacrificing corporate clout. “Companies are a now little more willing to allow endorsers speak their mind,” says Paul Swangard, managing director of the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon. When asked about LeBron’s gesture, Nike said in a statement that “we respect everyone’s right to share and express different points of view.” Adidas says it supports the position of NBA commissioner Adam Silver; he appreciates free expression, but prefers that players stick to the pre-game dress code.

In Jordan’s day, brands could control what their athletes were saying. Nike, Adidas, and other companies now realize that since so many athletes interact with social media, where the protests played on a 24-hour loop, they’re bound to join the conversation. “It’s kind of an undercurrent that pulls you in,” says TNT analyst Kenny Smith, a former NBA player in the 1980s and 1990s.

For the athletes, it’s easier to speak if you know you’ll be heard — and supported. Social media offers a ready platform to spread a message. “When you have a million Twitter followers,” says Etan Thomas, who played in the NBA from 2001-2011 and was known as one of the more outspoken pro athletes of his era, “there’s tremendous power in that.”

And don’t discount the emotional element. A majority of NFL and NBA players are African-American, and many have had personal experiences of being profiled by cops. “Today’s athletes are starting to reflect outside of themselves,” says Carlos, who briefly played pro football before becoming a counselor and track coach at Palm Springs (Calif.) High School. “We wanted to unify ourselves to make a statement to society — enough is enough. I think that 46 years later, that cry is still out there. Enough is enough.”

TIME Culture

Christmas Cards Were America’s First Social Media

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Getty Images

Before we posted our family Christmas photo on Facebook, we mailed images of our idealized selves and lives to the people we loved

My great-grandmother, who was born in the 1880s, passed away when I was about 11 years old. Looking back, it is fairly obvious now that she was a hoarder on a colossal scale, but since this predated reality television, we tended just to say she was a packrat. As we cleaned out her house in rural Missouri, there was something special waiting: two boxes brimming with postcards. These were not of the “wish you were here” variety depicting washed-out hotel swimming pools and palm-tree-lined boulevards. These were older, more elaborate—variously embossed, gilded, tinseled, and extravagantly colored. They were greetings for birthdays and anniversaries, tokens of affection and romantic overture, and happy returns for every holiday on the calendar. Christmas, especially.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but my great-grandmother’s collection would give me a window into the desires—and anxieties—of a world I would only later come to understand and appreciate as I pursued my doctorate in American history. Until I embarked on that journey, the cards often sat in the back of closets or under piles of other accumulated stuff. Still, every so often, I’d take them out, dust them off, and wonder at them anew. Once my long nights of historical study began, I returned to them more and more often, until they finally set me on a path of becoming a scholar of American holidays and culture, including the phenomenon of holiday postcards.

It turns out there was a good reason my ancestor had piles and piles of these rectangular cardboard artifacts. For a few years in the early 20th century, postcards were a massive phenomenon. Billions of postcards flowed through the mail, and billions more were bought and put into albums and boxes. And amid that prodigious output, holiday postcards were one of the most popular types, with Christmas reigning supreme, just as it had in my inherited collection.

The practice of sending Christmas cards pre-dated the broader postcard craze by several decades, largely thanks to the efforts of Louis Prang. Prang was a savvy printing entrepreneur who kept adding products and lithographic techniques to his ever-expanding business, including the introduction of Christmas greeting cards (perhaps at his wife’s suggestion) in 1875. By the 1880s he was publishing more than 5 million holiday cards each year. And once postcards fell out of favor, greeting card companies like American Greetings and Hallmark rushed in to fill the void. But for a few short years between 1907 and 1910, Christmas postcards created a visual conversation between Americans that was unique because it was also very public. They were in many ways a forerunner of today’s impulse to post selfies and holiday pictures on social media. Unlike a greeting card or letter that hides its contents within an envelope, a postcard was always on display—from the rack in the drugstore where it might be purchased to its final destination. And those billions of snowy landscapes and bag-toting Santas churning through the mail system—the Rural Free Delivery system in particular—revealed much of what was on people’s minds at the height of the Progressive Era.

Take mistletoe, for example. Mistletoe had long been part of the Christmas tradition, with young men using sprigs of the plant to claim the right to demand or steal a kiss. Yet this was an era when women were asking serious questions about their rights and questioning the assumed passivity of their lives in everything from courtship and marriage to education and work. This is why so many postcards feature a woman who has taken control of mistletoe, deciding when and where it will be hung, and when she will choose to be under it and for whom. Sure, the rowdy, sprig-wielding young man still shows up in Christmas postcards, but now he must contend with the “New Woman” who uses mistletoe as part of her new right to take the initiative.

Rural landscapes are another good example. On the surface, nothing seems particularly unusual about a Christmas greeting that features a little snow-covered house in the countryside. That sort of mythologized ideal has been around since before the Civil War, when Currier and Ives capitalized on rural nostalgia with their inexpensive prints. Still, rural and small-town America was far from a contented place in the first decade of the 20th century. Farm children seemed to be fleeing to cities in droves, with 1910 marking the last census of a majority-rural American population.

One reason billions of Christmas postcards circulated with nary a cityscape to be seen is that rural Americans were circulating an idealized vision of themselves. When times seemed tough, all those picture-perfect fields, barns, fences, and country homes became a way to create an alternative narrative—one that was beautiful, healthy, and prosperous. One could argue this instinct shares significant DNA with the practice of staging family photographs for Christmas cards, or for today’s Facebook postings. There is something comforting and empowering about controlling the visual elements of a holiday greeting to your friends and family. Those visuals are not just representing you but a perfected version of you, and your world.

These were also the years when the United States saw the peak of European immigration, particularly immigrants from Southern and Eastern European nations like Russia, Lithuania, Italy, and Greece. Partly as a reaction to this inflow, and its surrounding anxieties, people were eager to emphasize their longstanding roots in the country, as if to say “we came here generations ago, not yesterday.” Manifestations of this urge to claim native roots pop up in the period’s genealogical societies, colonial revival movements, and yes, holidays. An “Old Fashioned Christmas” is a phrase that appears with increasing regularity through the first two decades of the 20th century. It is also a repeated theme in Christmas postcards with plenty of “ye olden time” imagery of colonial homesteads, spinning wheels, lanterns, rocking chairs, muskets, and horse-drawn coaches.

The postcard fad ended when the best postcards—which were printed in Germany using superior lithographic techniques—were priced out of the market by a newly passed tariff in 1909. By 1910, interest was waning as American firms failed to produce postcards of equal quality. World War I put the final nail in the coffin. Yet whereas Halloween or Thanksgiving greeting cards never took off the way their postcard predecessors had, Christmas cards have remained an American tradition, if now dressed up in an envelope. Always a mirror of the times, popular Christmas card styles included Art Deco in the 1920s and patriotic cards during World War II.

Looking back, however, there was something distinctive about the old postcards. They put it all out there—hopes, dreams, worries, excitement, wonder, fear, pride, and more—for store clerks and mailmen, nosy neighbors and family members to see and read.

Certainly I wonder how my great-grandmother’s network of cousins, friends, and her future husband (who sent her plenty of courting postcards, including a few mistletoes of his own) picked the cards they sent. What appealed to them and why? As a kid my answer would have been “because they look cool,” but as a cultural historian I now look deeper for what might like beneath the surface. Like so many others who gravitated to postcards with an almost forceful passion, she was a young rural girl from a long line of rural Americans who saw the world changing quickly. Postcards were a way of dealing with those changes, some welcome I’m sure, and many not. Still, I do agree with my younger self … they were and remain pretty darn cool.

Daniel Gifford is the manager of Museum Advisory Committees at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. His first book, American Holiday Postcards 1905-1915: Imagery and Context, was published by McFarland Press in 2013. He wrote this for What It Means to Be American, a partnership of the Smithsonian and Zocalo Public Square. Zocalo Public Square is a not-for-profit Ideas Exchange that blends live events and humanities journalism.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME society

Watch an Insanely Cool Star Wars-Themed Holiday Lights Display

We recommend waving glowsticks—er, lightsabers—as you watch this video

An intricate lights display at a Newark, Calif., home features a 17-foot guitar, a 19-foot piano, all choreographed to songs from the Star Wars films.

According to the YouTube description, this design was orchestrated by Tom BetGeorge, a music teacher at Oakland’s Conservatory of Vocal and Instrumental Arts.

He writes, “If you look closely (especially during the Cantina song) the instruments are playing the real notes!”

If you cannot see it in person, it is supposed to be featured on ABC’s The Great Christmas Light Fight, in which families compete to put on the best Christmas lights display.

TIME society

Dear Police Unions: Please Stop Asking Jocks To Apologize

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Andrew Hawkins #16 of the Cleveland Browns walks onto the field while wearing a protest shirt during introductions prior to the game against the Cincinnati Bengals at FirstEnergy Stadium on Dec. 14, 2014 in Cleveland. Joe Robbins—Getty Images

Sean Gregory is a TIME senior writer who has covered sports extensively over the last decade.

NFL players have taken stands against the deaths of Michael Brown and Tamir Rice, and been criticized by police unions. But why shouldn't athletes take a stand?

On Sunday, Cleveland Browns wide receiver Andrew Hawkins wore a t-shirt that said “Justice For Tamir Rice And John Crawford III.” Rice, a 12-year-old, was shot by a Cleveland police officer in a park last month; the boy had been carrying a toy gun. Crawford was shot by police in in Beavercreek, Ohio, a suburb of Dayton, while holding an air rifle in a Walmart this summer; a grand jury did not indict any officers.

“It’s pretty pathetic when athletes think they know the law,” Jeff Follmer, president of the Cleveland police union, wrote in a statement to a local TV station. “They should stick to what they know best on the field. The Cleveland police protect and serve the Browns stadium and the Browns organization owes us an apology.”

Neither the Browns nor Hawkins said “I’m sorry.”

On November 30, five St. Louis Rams players made the “hands up, don’t shoot” pose during game introductions, in support of Michael Brown and Ferguson protestors. The St. Louis police union was similarly peeved. It released a statement saying the officers were “profoundly disappointed with the members of the St. Louis Rams football team who chose to ignore the mountains of evidence released from the St. Louis County Grand Jury this week and engage in a display that police officers around the nation found tasteless, offensive and inflammatory.” The union called for player discipline and “a very public apology” from the NFL and the Rams. Although the police organization and the Rams debated whether private correspondence between a team official and the union qualified as an apology, the team publicly stood by its players.

Public opinion has moved against police officers. Some misguided people are painting them with a broad brush, saying all cops are bad. As the son of a retired New York City police sergeant, I strongly disagree with this sentiment. That’s why I’m asking police unions to please stop belittling professional athletes.

These apology demands come off as defensive. They don’t help public perception; they don’t help the tense relationship between law enforcement and many communities. These athletes aren’t painting all cops as racists. They are exercising a right to free speech. The right to believe that a 12-year-old boy should not have been shot. To believe that an unarmed Michael Brown did not deserve to die. Sure, officer Darren Wilson said Brown never raised his hands to surrender. A few witnesses said he did. The St. Louis Rams have a right to believe the witnesses.

And why single out athletes for reprimand? Unions don’t seem to be firing out angry letters to peaceful protestors. To be fair, not every union is singling out athletes. Before a December 8 game in Brooklyn, NBA stars LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Deron Williams, Kevin Garnett, and other players wore “I Can’t Breathe” shirts in warmups, to protest the death of Eric Garner, the Staten Island man who died after an officer put him in a chokehold. He uttered “I can’t breathe” before he died; a grand jury acquitted the officer. The New York police union did not publicly blast the players.

And official police department representatives generally have been much more measured. Cleveland Division of Police Chief Calvin D. Williams said on Tuesday: “The Division of Police respects the rights of individuals to peacefully demonstrate their personal views and opinions. Mr. Hawkins was certainly well within his rights to express his views and no apology is necessary.”

Yes, athletes have a larger platform than the average dissenter to spread a message. But if you don’t agree with the message, that doesn’t mean you go after them. Jocks have a first amendment right not to stick to sports. Why should law enforcement chastise law-abiding athletes?

 

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME society

Watch a Quiz Show Contestant Get a Ridiculously Easy Question Wrong

Schadenfreude

A contestant on the Australian quiz show Millionaire Hot Seat is going viral because she had trouble answering one of the easiest game show questions one could possibly get.

The question: “Which of these is not a piece of jewelry commonly worn to symbolize a relationship between two people?”

Possible answers included engagement ring, anniversary ring, wedding ring, and burger ring (a snack food) and she chose “anniversary ring.”

She seemed to have overlooked the “not a piece of jewelry” part of the question because when the show’s host Eddie McGuire slowly repeated that key clause, she immediately realized that she should have said burger ring.

TIME society

More Proof That Mondays Are Terrible: It’s the Most Common Day for Workplace Injuries

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Ban Mondays.

The one thing all of humankind has in common — besides the sandwich — is a shared hatred for Mondays, because obviously, they’re just the worst in general. But it also turns out Monday is the day when the most workplace injuries occur.

According to the annual report on “nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses” by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, around 167,000 workplace injuries took place on Mondays in 2013 — more than any other day of the week. And this is not a new trend, as FiveThiryEight points out. Monday has consistently been the most injury-prone day for the past several years. And while there’s no explicit correlation between the day and the numbers, we still have one main takeaway: Ban Mondays.

(h/t FiveThirtyEight)

TIME Race

Why the Road to Ferguson Was a Freeway

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Racial inequality has shaped not only the system that governs our society, but also the very landscape that surrounds us

After grand juries in New York and Missouri failed to indict police officers who killed unarmed black men, protestors across the nation vented their outrage by shutting down roads. In our own freeway metropolis, marchers temporarily shut down the 110 and 101 freeways, blocking two of Los Angeles’ central arteries.

Why freeways? Why not buses, streetcars, parks, lunch counters, or other ordinary spaces that have staged historic protests against racial injustice?

Blocking freeway traffic with bodies certainly heightens the urgency of the protestors’ cause. And while their preferred target creates a hassle for a good many commuters, and might seem less relevant than city halls or police headquarters, freeways are historically appropriate venues for today’s protests. They have fractured American race relations since 1956, when Congress passed the Interstate Highway Act.

The act unleashed armies of bulldozers on American cities, gutting entire neighborhoods to superimpose raw concrete upon city landscapes. For better or for worse, freeways emerged as the centerpiece of 20th century urbanism in the United States, clearing the pedestrian bustle of streets and sidewalks in favor of garages, drive-ins, shopping malls, and parking lots.

This development contributed to the creation of “two societies, separate and unequal, one black, one white,” in the words of a 1967 presidential commission on the causes of racial unrest in cities across the nation. Mass suburbanization, enabled by the automobile’s promise of unfettered mobility, divided the nation into demographic clusters around religion, class, occupation, party affiliation, and race.

While highway construction nurtured the growth of white suburban enclaves, it devastated urban communities of color. In Southern cities like Nashville, Charlotte, Atlanta and Kansas City, highway planners were often in league with white supremacist organizations as they designated black neighborhoods for destruction. In his dual capacities as Alabama’s state highway director and executive secretary of the White Citizens’ Council, for example, Samuel Engelhardt routed interstates through the black neighborhoods of Montgomery and Birmingham.

In more “enlightened” cities, highway planners cleared neighborhoods marked by race and poverty in the name of eradicating “blight.” Yes, many white, middle class, and affluent neighborhoods were targeted for freeway construction too, but these often staged successful “freeway revolts” to block the bulldozers, thus leaving poor minority communities isolated in the path of destruction. Thus while we celebrate the celebrate the victories that blocked the freeway from wiping out Manhattan’s Soho or New Orleans’s French Quarter, we’ve forgotten the historic black neighborhoods of Miami and St. Paul that were erased from the city’s map.

Here in Los Angeles, highway construction has shaped a stark geography of racial difference. Just drive through Boyle Heights on the city’s Eastside. It’s almost impossible to venture half a mile without passing under, over, or alongside a major interstate highway. Freeways cast deep shadows over the landscape of daily life, wrapping around homes, parks, schools and churches. Although they organized in opposition to the construction of five intersecting freeways, local residents were unable to muster the wherewithal of Beverly Hills, which stopped one freeway dead in its tracks.

Where today’s protestors have decided to take a stand reminds us that urban highway construction is part of America’s “race problem.” When demonstrators overtook Interstate 580 in Oakland on the night of Nov. 24, they stood over the ruins of what had been a prosperous black community some 50 years ago. In this way, today’s protestors are only the most recent brave Americans willing to seize control of the very spaces that enforced their second-class citizenship.

Whether or not we agree with their strategy to arrest the flow of freeway traffic, today’s protestors remind us that racial inequality has shaped not only the system that governs our society, but also the very landscape that surrounds us.

Eric Avila is Professor of History, Chicano Studies and Urban Planning at University of California, Los Angeles. His latest book is The Folklore of the Freeway: Race and Revolt in the Modernist City (Minnesota, 2014). He wrote this for Thinking L.A., a project of UCLA and Zocalo Public Square. Zocalo Public Square is a not-for-profit Ideas Exchange that blends live events and humanities journalism.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Culture

I Love This Multicultural Holiday Sweater

Pia Glenn
Courtesy of Pia Glenn

The “Keep Christ in Christmas” crowd is shaking angry fists at the Internet sky and asking their web browsers, "Is nothing sacred anymore?"

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So-called ugly Christmas sweaters have been a holiday mainstay, both unintentionally (I see you, Great Aunt Hyacinth), and ironically (I see you too, festive hipsters throwing your theme party in your communal artists’ space).

Since beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and that extends to our casual knitwear as well, let’s call them novelty Christmas sweaters. And let’s look specifically at this “multicultural” Christmas Jumper from the Leicester, U.K.-based company that is straightforwardly called British Christmas Jumpers.

I’m sure you know that what the U.K. calls “jumpers” we call “sweaters,” but did you know that this particular sweater has many across the Atlantic hopping and spitting mad? Neither did I, until it was brought to my attention. And even after it was, I was still a bit taken aback. I generally try not to quantify the outrage of those whose views I may not share, but in this case, I’m crying foul.

This sweater, now available here in the U.S., has been referred to as “a blasphemous monstrosity,” a sign that “Political Correctness Really HAS Gone Mad” and “a real turkey,” which is a scathing insult if ever I’ve heard one! [clutches pearls]

Slightly more forgiving online and Twitter comments have included such declarations as “By trying to represent everything you end up representing nothing at all,” while a whole host of people saw fit to simply post hideously elaborate riffs on basic Islamophobia.

The official statement from the company, printed right next to the sweater on the ordering page, is that “Britain has never been more multicultural, so we thought we’d create a Christmas jumper with a twist — something that brings people from all walks of life together in the spirit of love, joy, and festive cheer. We think everyone should be able to wear a British Christmas Jumper and celebrate the festive season — however they wish, no matter what their colour, creed or culture.”

Those MONSTERS!

In sorting through the U.K.’s sweater rage, I didn’t want to stop at the one statement on the British Jumper Company’s online catalog, so I reached out to them and got more details via e-mail. They told me that in setting out to create a design that would “reflect modern culturally diverse populations, they chose the top six religions in the world: Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and Judaism. Then we chose Taoism for its philosophy and message of harmony, the Peace Symbol as a modern symbol of unity, and the Science Atom to include those who have their belief in Science.”

I learned that British Christmas Jumpers is a family business, founded by an Indian couple who arrived in Britain in 1981 during the race riots. The founders’ two sons are now involved in the business, both of whom were born in the United Kingdom and raised in a Hindu family but went to a Christian school. This is a family that has experienced cross-cultural faith-based interpersonal relations, and lives in one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the U.K., infusing one of their products with the diversity that they live.

My first thought in reading about the furor was that we found ourselves at the intersection of secularism and semantics here. Take the word Christmas out of the proceedings, and you’ve got yourself a Multicultural Sweater …oooohh, but wait, there’s a row of Christmas trees occupying prime visual real estate, so it’s clearly a Christmas-based situation. And the name of the company that makes them has “Christmas” right there in the middle, so they’re clearly making sweaters for the Christmas season. Period. I wanted to give the people who are furious the linguistic benefit of the doubt, like it was just the word that was the problem, because the pious superiority, ethnic prejudice, and hateful bias I was reading surely had to have some stronger root cause than the close proximity of the symbols of multiple faiths on a sweater.

Sadly, no. The “Keep Christ in Christmas” crowd is pissed, shaking angry fists at the Internet sky and asking their web browsers, “Is nothing sacred anymore?” The Islamophobes are worked up because…I guess because they think like the screenwriters of mid-’80s straight-to-video action movies, and such limited thinking tends to keep the hateful worked up.

And the non-religious are up in arms because political correctness is ruining the world!

Guess what? I’m religious and also against being PC just for PC’s sake, and I still need these folks to have a seat, preferably in something that reclines. I check my religious privilege every time I write about it, because I feel lucky to have been born into a faith that is extremely progressive while honoring certain traditions that have enriched my life. (Episcopalian, or Anglican as it’s sometimes called.) When I was a teenager, my mother’s significant mental illness manifested itself partly as extreme zealotry that was abusive, but I still found solace in the faith in which I was raised and the people at various churches I’ve attended throughout my life.

I’ve had chunks of time when my faith dimmed and I didn’t attend services, I’ve been the disruptive dissenter challenging the clergy, and I’ve also spent time exploring Buddhism. It is not my intention to preach to you, but to emphasize my personal horror at seeing such vile hatred couched as religion as I’ve seen against this sweater — for me, the call is coming from inside the house!

I’m so grateful that I was taught that “[Anglicans] listen carefully to everyone, search for wisdom everywhere, take seriously the secular world and its work, and recognize that contemporary knowledge is not necessarily in conflict with faith and indeed may offer wisdom.” So while it may follow naturally that I would see a Star of David so near a cross and not be concerned that we’re all gonna burn from crossing the streams, I still wish that so many other Christians didn’t perpetuate this narrow-minded foolishness. Such ugliness begs the question of who’s really “ruining” Christmas.

Today, I’m religious enough and also pedantic enough to sincerely think of Christmas as “Christ’s Mass,” and I can also recognize that this sweater is not a threat to that. Not to my beliefs, not to the little baby Jesus, and not to Christmas.

Lots of things do diminish Christmas, of course. I could be one of those people railing away forever about the commercialization of Christmas, the emphasis on material things and partying and all manner of behavior that has nothing to do with a manger. To me, this is not exactly the same issue as the secularization of Christmas. There’s a difference between choosing to sing “Here Comes Santa Claus” and defacing a crèche. There’s a difference between hanging a wreath with no cross and actual blasphemy.

Loads of people celebrate Christmas as a secular holiday, and no, that is not in keeping with the traditional Christian origin tale. But Rudolph and Santa and Frosty aren’t going anywhere and I’m not interested in morphing my religious beliefs into something that seeks to persecute or take joy from others. History is too full of that transgression, and sadly, it endures today. If a non-religious person wants to espouse peace and joy and goodwill more fervently around December 25, and this seasonal sweater company wants to invite them to the holiday party via knitwear, more power to ‘em.

Keeping Christ in Christmas can be lovely when exercised by actually putting Christ first, not anger. When I see people attacking others over secular or mixed-faith celebrations, I want to ask “What would Jesus do?,” but for too many people those have just become words on a bracelet and not a genuine inquiry.

And what of the multitudes of people who don’t celebrate Christmas at all, in any way? Year after year they have to endure this festive societal takeover, and perhaps they feel alienated. Or perhaps someone is part of a family of multiple faiths, or is a proud atheist but wants to put up a tree, or has moved to a place where they’re suddenly in a religious or ethnic minority and feeling especially disenfranchised during the holiday season…which brings us back to the sweater.

Sure, it does bring to mind those “Coexist” bumper stickers that were also made with good intentions and rendered a bit goofy by the passage of time and cynicism. But if there’s ever a time to keep our cynicism just a teensy bit at bay, isn’t this it? Why all the holly jolly hatred?

If someone has a legitimate beef with the religious symbols of faiths that does not celebrate Christmas in its original Christian form, sharing space with crosses and Christmas trees, fine. Don’t wear it, don’t buy it, and re-gift it if you should happen to find one under your tree.

But if you can imagine opening up your sweater to people different from you in one way with whom you still share the common bond of humanity, well…what’s more Christmassy than that?

Pia Glenn is a writer and actress. This article originally appeared on xoJane.com.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME society

Eva Kor: What It Was Like to Be Experimented on During the Holocaust

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Auschwitz provided no limit for Nazi doctors and researchers to experiment on human bodies

Answer by Eva Kor, Holocaust survivor and forgiveness advocate, on Quora.

My twin sister Miriam and I were used in Josef Mengele’s experiments at Auschwitz as ten-year-old girls. We were taken six days a week for the experiments. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, we would be taken to the observation lab where we would sit for hours—naked—up to eight hours. They kept measuring most of my body parts, comparing them to my twin sister, then comparing them to charts. They were trying to design a new Aryan race, so they were interested in all these measurements. These experiments were not dangerous, but they were unbelievably demeaning and even in Auschwitz I had difficulty coping with the fact that I was a nobody and a nothing – just a mass of cells to be studied. On alternate days we would be taken to another lab that I call the “blood lab.” This is where they would take a lot of blood from my left arm and give me several injections in my right arm. Those were the deadly ones. We didn’t know the contents then and we don’t know today. After one of those injections, I became very ill with a very high fever. I also had tremendous swelling in my arms and legs as well as red spots throughout my body. Maybe it was spotted fever, I don’t know. Nobody ever diagnosed it.

As a guinea pig in Auschwitz, we had to realize that they could do to our bodies whatever they wanted and we had no control over what they put into us, what they removed, or how they treated us, and there was no place for us to go.

People often ask me, “Why didn’t you run away?” I am convinced those people know very little about Auschwitz. The barbed wire would electrocute you if you touched it. The whole camp was surrounded by that. Before you got to the high voltage fence, there was a ditch filled with water. So as you approached that fence, your hands were damp and you would be immediately electrocuted. At age ten, even if I succeeded to get out, where would I go?

Maybe I could have succeeded in running away when we were marched from Birkenau to Auschwitz I for some of the experiments. But as far as I could see when we were marching, that was all a military zone. Where on earth would I have gone if I escaped? I didn’t know how far I would even need to run. And of course, most of the time when someone escaped and they turned on the sirens, we would have to stand for roll call for two to four hours until the escapee was found dead or alive. If the escapee was found alive, they would be hanged in front of us. The lessons were very clear. If found dead, they would be brought in front of the group so we would know, nobody escapes from Auschwitz.

At age ten, I would not have dared to escape and I did not even think about it. That was so far from my mind. What I was thinking about every day was how to live one more day, how to survive one more experiment. I knew as the air raids were increasing, that this could not last for much longer. On the days when they would keep us for hours at roll call until the escapees could be found, I would often think, “Good luck – I hope you make it.” I never thought anyone did. I was lecturing in San Francisco about 15 years ago. They had about ten survivors who were introduced. One of them said, “I escaped from Auschwitz.” I was so excited! I went up to him and said, “Finally I know why I stood at roll call for so many hours – I am glad to know somebody made it.”

As twins, I knew that my sister and I were unique because we were never permitted to interact with anybody in other parts of the camp. But I didn’t know I was being used in genetic experiments.

I began lecturing about my own experiences in 1978. As I was telling my story, people would come up to me later on and ask about the experiments. Well, I remembered some details of my own experience, but I knew nothing about the bigger scope of the experiments. So I decided to read books about Josef Mengele, hoping to get more of an insight. But in all these books, it only had one or two sentences about him.

I was trying to figure out how I could get more information, and I was looking at the famous photo that was taken by the Soviets at liberation. I could see there maybe 100 children marching between those barbed wire fences who were liberated.

Here is a picture of me and Miriam, holding hands in the front row. I thought if I could somehow locate those other twins, we could have a meeting and share those memories.

It took me six years, but in 1984, with the help of my late twin sister Miriam, we found 122 “Mengele Twins” living in ten countries and four continents.

We had a meeting in Jerusalem in February of 1985.

We talked to many of them. What I found out was that there were many, many other experiments. For instance, the twins who were older than 16 or were of reproductive age would be put in a lab and used in cross-gender blood transfusions. So blood was going from the male to the female and vice versa. Sadly, they did not check—of course—to see if the blood was compatible and most of these twins died. There are twins in Australia who survived—Stephanie and Annette Heller—and there is a twin in Israel who was a fraternal twin—Judit Malick—and her twins’ brother’s name was Sullivan. I heard Judit testify in Jerusalem that she was used in this experiment with a male twin of reproductive age. She remembered being on a table during the experiment when the other twin’s body was turning cold. He died. She survived but had a lot of health problems.

The question is how many of these twins did survive? Most of them obviously died. I also know for a fact that Mengele did strange experiments on kidneys. Mengele himself suffered from renal problems when he was 16 in 1927. He was out of school three or four months according to his SS file. He was deeply interested in the way the kidneys worked. I know of three cases where twins developed severe kidney infections that did not respond to antibiotics.

One of them is Frank Klein, who lived in El Paso, Texas, after the war. He very much wanted to attend the gathering in Jerusalem, but he was on dialysis. He actually came with his nurse and very much hoped he would get a kidney so he could live like a normal person. He did get a transplant in 1986. I talked to him after the surgery and he said he was doing pretty good, but then three days later he died. The other twin whose name I don’t remember off the top of my head died also because of kidney failure problems.

Then, of course, my twin sister developed kidney problems with her first pregnancy in 1960. The problems did not respond with antibiotics. In 1963, when she expected her second baby, the infection got worse. This is when the doctors studied her and found out her kidneys never grew larger than the size of a ten-year-old’s kidneys. When I refused to die in the experiment where Mengele thought I would die (read about it here: What gives you hope during tough times?), Miriam was taken back to the lab and was injected with something that stunted the growth of her kidneys. After her third baby was born, her kidneys failed. In 1987, I donated my left kidney to her. We were a perfect match. At that hospital in Tel Aviv, they had been doing kidney transplants for ten years. None of them developed cancerous polyps except for my twin sister Miriam, in her bladder. All the doctors kept saying was that there had to be something in Miriam’s body that was injected into her that combined with the anti-rejection medication to create the cancerous polyps.

Other experiments I have heard of from survivors: Many twins who did not have blue eyes were injected with something into their eyes. Luckily Miriam and I had blue eyes. Mengele did some other strange experiments. Most of them were very much in the line of trying to understand how to make blue-eyed blondes in multiple numbers, the germ warfare experiments, etc. If one twin died, Mengele would have the other killed and then do the comparative autopsies. According to the Auschwitz Museum, Mengele had 1500 sets of twins in Auschwitz. There were only 200 estimated individual survivors. Everybody who has been researching that, including the Auschwitz Museum, said most died in the experiments and I agree. Dying in Mengele’s lab was very easy. I am one of the few I have heard about to be in the “barrack of the living dead” and get out of there alive.

I learned a great deal after the war in attending conferences, including one at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute. This is where Mengele studied, and today it is called the Max Planck Society. They were trying to collect information about Mengele’s experiments. They invited several twins and a few other people used in experiments by Mengele. Here is a photo of me studying some of the vials used in experiments at Auschwitz.

Auschwitz was the laboratory for any experiments any Nazi scientists wanted to do. There was no limit on what doctors and researchers could do at these camps. So it was open season on twins and other human guinea pigs like us.

This question originally appeared on Quora: What was it like to be part of the genetic experiments on twins during the Holocaust?

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The ‘Little Drummer Boy’ Challenge Will Ruin You This Holiday Season

Drum roll, please

Ever walk through the mall and see people rushing towards the doors, or break down sobbing, when “Little Drummer Boy” comes on the stereo system? Or maybe you’ve seen people talk about it on Facebook?

Turns out they are participating in “The Little Drummer Boy Challenge” (LDBC), a game going viral on social media. Between midnight on Black Friday and midnight on Christmas Eve, participants are challenged to avoid the popular Christmas carol. If it plays on the radio somewhere—or you heard Ricky Gervais and Jimmy Fallon sing it on The Tonight Show—then you’ve lost. You’re out. Puh-rum-puh-pum done. The only ground rule is that someone can’t trick you into listening to it, that is, play it deliberately to get another person out.

The most visible Facebook group for the challenge was drummed up in 2010 by Michael Alan Peck, a content strategist in Chicago, who says friends started doing it among themselves as an inside joke. He decided to set up a Facebook page for the game after his wife complained about how early the holiday season must be starting if she had already heard the “Little Drummer Boy” on the radio before Thanksgiving.

Recently, participants have started sharing selfies of the “horrified” expressions on their faces the moment they lost the game. Or they shame the people who accidentally played the song by sharing photos of them. They also note where they were when they heard the song, and which version it was.

Based on the approximately 700 people who reported whether they “won” or “lost” through his website last year, Peck says 25% “won” and 75% “lost.” Bing Crosby’s and David Bowie’s duet trips seemed to trip people up the most, while Peck argues Vince Guaraldi’s version in A Charlie Brown Christmas tends to sneak up on people because they forget it’s in the movie.

While there seem to be several private and public Facebook groups supporting the effort in the U.S. and Canada, it’s hard to know exactly how far and how quickly it has spread. Anyone could just start playing it right now, and they may not necessarily be reporting the moment they “lost” through Peck’s website or the game’s official Facebook page. But Peck says 2014 is the year it has taken off on Facebook, as more and more people have recruited friends to play by tagging them, so the number of Facebook page fans has grown from a little more than 1,800 at the start of the season to more than 2,500 at the time of publication.

Some have taken their participation to extreme levels. “I’ve had people tell me they won’t leave the house, or they shop only online,” says Peck. “One woman said she abandoned a full shopping cart in Target because they were playing Christmas music, and then all of a sudden, she was so sure it was going to play that she flipped out and left.”

That’s why some players wear headphones and listen to their own playlists everywhere and crank up the volume to drown out the holiday music. Or, they take matters into their own hands as Peck did one year. “I was going to go out to dinner, but I knew the place was playing holiday music, so I called ahead of time and asked them to make sure that song wouldn’t be played,” he says. “You get a little nutty that way.”

Peck insists he doesn’t hate “Little Drummer Boy” in any way and is not trying to start a boycott. He just claims it works well for the challenge because “you hear it a lot, but not so much that the game is impossible.” That said, he does think “it’s a goofy song. I don’t know why anyone thinks a newborn baby would want to hear a drum being banged by [his] head.”

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