Ho, Ho…Hold Up!

I believed in Santa Claus until I was 12. When my mom told me the truth I began crying and considered self-medicating with a mix of pills and candy canes before remembering that the Easter Bunny, thank God, was alive and well.

Santa Claus was a devastating blow, but now that the charade was over, my parents could stop hiding my gifts—including Will Smith’s “Big Willie Style” album—at a neighbor’s house.

Or so they thought.

The year after I learned St. Nick was nothing more than a fictitious character on the fast track to triple-bypass, my mom left a giant bag of presents in the dining room. When she left the house one afternoon to run a few errands, I decided to open each item and get a lay of the land. I was too excited to wait.

Unfortunately she returned a little earlier than expected. Hearing the minivan pull into the driveway, I froze, clutching an unwrapped sweater vest.

My mother had more junk in her purse than Mary Poppins, so I knew it would take five minutes just to locate her house key. I feverishly re-wrapped the vest and hid the other presents under the table until I could return to them later. Mom didn’t find out until years later, but the guilt was enough to tarnish Christmas that year.

When it comes to the holidays, sometimes we get a little too excited for our own good.

For those apartment owners and managers who celebrate Christmas, for example, it may be tempting to display a Nativity scene in the community clubhouse. However, fair housing laws prohibit owners from indicating a preference or limitation based on protected classes such as religion.

Nadeen Green, Senior Counsel, For Rent Media Solutions, says that while one might think that the First Amendment right to freedom of religion applies here, it does not. That protection relates to public property, not to be confused with the leasing office and common areas—which are considered private. And while Christmas may be extremely important to many from a religious standpoint, this still does not necessarily allow a community to promote a given religious holiday in the housing environment.

Green says apartment communities may create a “religiously neutral environment,” which means symbols religiously tied to Christmas may be displayed only if symbols of all faiths are displayed, too. But how can you be sure you’ve included everyone?

Instead, Green suggests that apartment communities celebrate the season with symbols that have already passed the fair housing courtroom test: Christmas trees, colored lights, Santa Clauses, Kwanzaa logs, dreidels and angels.

Just don’t leave any presents out, wrapped or otherwise. People are animals.

For information on fair housing laws and the holidays, check out “Is It Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas…” in the December issue of units, which mails Dec. 8.