Staff Columnist

Yelling down the devil in 2020

Svaty Mikulas, portrayed by Clarence Walton of Cedar Rapids, heads toward the Christmas tree in the Czech Village during
Svaty Mikulas, portrayed by Clarence Walton of Cedar Rapids, heads toward the Christmas tree in the Czech Village during the celebration for Svaty Mikulas, which is the name for St. Nicholas in Czech, in the Czech Village in Cedar Rapids on Friday, December 05, 2014. (Sy Bean/The Gazette)

On Dec. 6, I took my kids to hear the story of Svaty Mikulas in Czech Village. We are not Czech, but Cedar Rapids is their home. Plus, there would be cocoa, cookies and the devil.

Svaty Mikulas is the Bohemian Santa. He comes to visit children accompanied by the angel and the devil. If the children have been bad, the devil gives them a rotten potato. If they are good, the angel gives them a treat.

The devil doesn’t usually make a showing in children’s stories, especially stories of Christmas, which tend to be all light and candy, with only the occasional appearance of an angry miser.

“When the devil is in the room, you have to say something!”

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But living in the Midwest, the angry miser is a character we are all familiar with. An angry miser doesn’t impress my small, blond Iowan progeny.

But the devil? They were not prepared for the devil.

“Who invited that guy?” my third-grade daughter said as we sat down with our cookies and cocoa. I tried to explain, but she wouldn’t accept his presence. She glared at him so heatedly, that eventually he looked over. She gave him a silent thumbs down.

She was serious. She wanted that devil out of there.

She, of course, knew it was a story, but her indignation couldn’t be contained. If the devil was going to show up at a Christmas event, she was going to have some words with him.

During a break, my daughter told me she was going to get some candy from the angel. “I’m gonna yell at that devil,” she told me. “Well he’s just an actor.” But she insisted. “When the devil is in the room, you have to say something!”

I wished her well and took a sip of cocoa and wished I had spiked it.

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She grabbed her brother’s hand and sauntered over to face the cosmic forces of good and evil.

I saw her take a cookie from the angel. Then, she looked at the devil, turned around and ran back defeated. “I didn’t say anything to him,” she said. “I was too scared.”

I told her it was OK. But she shook her head. “I can always yell at the devil next year.”

It’s been a year of fighting and impeachment. Of screaming and canceling and sound and fury. But it’s also been a year of fear. Fear of immigrants have made us bigoted. Fear of the truth has made us lash out at journalists. Trump’s presidency has weaponized the politics of fear and made people bold in their hate.

But even on the left, fear has woven its ways into our actions. Fear has made us make political calculations and hedging about whether Medicare for All is politically expedient or morally necessary. About whether letting children suffer in camps on the border without access to medical care is necessary for our safety. About which political candidate is the least scary for billionaires.

There is a protective and cynical fear-based resignation that Trump is going to win again in 2020. That impeachment was a bad political calculation. That all the right things will result in the wrong outcome. The devil is in the room, but we are too afraid to yell him down.

When the devil is in the room, you still have to give it your best shot.

The New Year will be here soon. The same battles face us. We have another chance to get it right. In 2020, let’s yell at the devil.

lyz.lenz@thegazette.com; 319-368-8513

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