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‘Tis the Season for Holiday Disputes

An actor dressed as Santa Claus during a press preview of the Christmas Showcase at Hamleys toy store on Regent Street in London, U.K., on Thursday, Oct. 14, 2021. For the U.K., the supply crunch is more acute because its more dependent on trade than many other advanced economies and because Brexit exacerbated a trucker shortage.
An actor dressed as Santa Claus during a press preview of the Christmas Showcase at Hamleys toy store on Regent Street in London, U.K., on Thursday, Oct. 14, 2021. For the U.K., the supply crunch is more acute because its more dependent on trade than many other advanced economies and because Brexit exacerbated a trucker shortage. (Photographer: Bloomberg/Bloomberg)
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It’s mid-December, time for my annual dispatches from the Christmas wars:

Let’s start with the latest on a holiday battle that’s been going on for six years. I haven’t yet seen “Twas the Fight Before Christmas,” the documentary by the director Becky Read, but I’m looking forward to watching it.(1) The film, now streaming on Apple TV+, chronicles the 2015 battle over the size of and scope of an Idaho family’s holiday decorations.

The litigation between Jeremy and Kirsty Morris and their neighbors in Hayden, Idaho, has been in the courts for years. Even without a final judgment in the case, the critics like Read’s version, calling it “the perfect story for our increasingly polarised times” and “offbeat, dark and comedic.” And one reviewer, noting the protagonist’s political ambitions, asks: “One can’t help but wonder if Morris has already calculated the number of Christmas lights needed to cover the White House.”

***

While we’re on the subject of the White House, this year those who are interested in the executive mansion’s Christmas decorations can enjoy a virtual tour without leaving home through a 360-degree interior view available via Google Maps.

And while we’re on the subject of Google, I noticed the other day that once I’d typed the first five letters of “Christmas,” the auto-complete function invited me to request the latest about Chris Cuomo.

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In another winter ritual, the Hallmark Channel is under fire for offering insufficiently diverse casts of characters in the latest editions of its popular holiday movies, which all seem to be about people who meet cute in small towns and fall in love. The channel’s new leadership promises to do better next year.

Fans seem undeterred by the contretemps. This year’s slate is already providing the usual ratings bonanza. Small wonder that click-hungry websites are outdoing themselves in the rush to produce lists of the best Hallmark Christmas movies ever.

For those who love to watch brand-new holiday films on television, Hallmark and Lifetime are the behemoths. But we shouldn’t ignore GAC Family, a much smaller competitor offering its own holiday fare. Some critics worry that the channel is “positioning itself as a destination for viewers who think Hallmark holiday movies are too edgy.” That fear might help explain why GAC Family has worked so hard to publicize its recent film about a black couple — a film with the Hallmarkian title “Christmas Time is Here.”

In the end, diversity is a matter of what the market demands.

***

Speaking of markets, a shortage of Christmas trees is being blamed on climate change or snarled supply chains or maybe a cycle of over-planting and under-planting. The Fraser fir, long the tree in greatest demand, is particularly hard to find. Happily, alternatives exist. The Detroit News reports on research suggesting that the Turkish fir or the Trojan fir might be better trees for hard winters. And if you’re wondering whether this is the year to switch to an artificial tree, be aware that they, too, are caught in the supply chain mess. (I’m constrained to add that I’m no fan of the fakes; as I’ve warned before, they’re not necessarily more friendly to the environment than the real ones.)

By the way, Christmas trees aren’t the only holiday item that’s significantly more expensive this year. According to PNC Bank’s Christmas Price Index, which tracks how much it would cost to buy all the gifts mentioned in “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” the total is up 5.7% this year, led by a whopping 57% increase in the price of those six geese a-laying and a 50% surge in the price of two turtle doves.

Don’t fret too much, however: The cost for seven swans a-swimming is unchanged.

***

It’s not just good Christmas trees that are hard to find this year. There’s also a Santa shortage. Turns out that there is an insufficient supply of those jolly old Kris Kringles who wave from parade floats and dispense “Ho-ho-ho’s” to kids in shopping malls.

A Fort Worth company that books Christmas says that it “has 10% fewer Santa Clauses available this year while requests for Santas have more than doubled when compared with pre-pandemic levels.” Moreover, enrollment at Santa schools — yes, that’s a thing — is way down.

Meanwhile, there is the sad fact that costumed Santas are often overweight or have other Covid-19 comorbidities. Dr. Fauci has assured us that Santa’s had his booster shot. Still, in an era when we’re all trying to take health more seriously, we might consider adopting an image of Santa Claus closer to the original St. Nicholas, who seems to have been rather slim.

***

Finally, from South Dakota comes news of a holiday battle averted. A group called Blue State Refugees, which wants to outlaw Covid-19 vaccination mandates, applied to demonstrate outside the state capitol, only to be refused permission because the grounds were being decorated for Christmas, a process that involved erecting scaffolds and carrying some 100 trees into the building. The amusing legal ground for the denial was that decorating is an “event” and demonstrating is an “event” and only one event per day is permitted on the grounds.

The would-be protesters filed suit in federal court, but before the judge had the opportunity to balance demonstration versus decoration, the parties reached a settlement. In declaring the protesters’ motion for an injunction moot, the court took the time to remind us of the fundamental principle at stake: “Although the Plaintiffs’ advocacy may be wrong-headed in supporting legislation of dubious constitutionality, neither this Court nor the State can discriminate based on the content of the Plaintiffs’ proposed speech.”

A useful lesson for the rest of us to carry into the new year. Have a marvelous and safe holiday season.

(1) No, the title isn’t original. It’s been used among other places as the name for episodes of several television programs, including “The Simpsons,” “Frasier” and “McCloud.” As far as I’ve been able to determine, the title was popularized through a 1948 play by Anne Coulter Martens.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Stephen L. Carter is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist. He is a professor of law at Yale University and was a clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. His novels include “The Emperor of Ocean Park,” and his latest nonfiction book is “Invisible: The Forgotten Story of the Black Woman Lawyer Who Took Down America’s Most Powerful Mobster.”

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