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What if they gave a contest, and nobody came?

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The Massena Chamber of Commerce, infused with the holiday spirit, recently put out a call for entrants to the annual holiday decorating contest, open to both residences and businesses. The plan was to name a winner in the business category, and first, second and third winners in the residence class. They put this information out everywhere, including several newspapers, on the Internet and in their newsletter. And now, it’s time to judge.

And the winners are — well, everyone who entered. One business and three homeowners registered for the contest, which was to be judged last week. Then, judging was moved to this week. And for all the good it will do, the judging could be moved to next December.

The chamber is at a loss to explain how this happened. There are certainly more than three houses with Christmas decorations up in Massena. And many businesses are likewise all dolled up, waiting for their close-up. Why almost nobody who decorated wants to play the chamber’s little reindeer games is a mystery.

In Massena, after all, electricity is cheap. You could fire up a Griswald-like display on Thanksgiving and keep it on until Valentine’s Day and it wouldn’t cost much more than a Tetley Tea bag. For weeks, stores have been pushing holiday display items — everything from inflatable Santa’s to roof-mounted Snoopy Fights the Red Baron kits — and the new LED lights are bright and durable and don’t all go out when one goes out. Never have opportunities for tasteful or gauche displays been more plentiful.

Yet, the Greater Massena Chamber of Commerce has the difficult task of awarding first, second and third spots to but three entrants. Wouldn’t you hate to finish third this year?

Rumor has it that a business on East Orvis Street that has an Exit sign visible from the street is going to be awarded Honorable Mention.

Maybe holiday contests are seen as impinging on the real meaning of the holiday. Somehow, though, I don’t see that as the reason the chamber gave a contest and nobody came.

It’s more likely just another sign of the continuing civic disengagement of the American society. To enter such a contest is to participate, to engage, to make a statement in favor of the greater community — to say “I’m part of this place and I’m proud of it and I want to participate.” More and more, that commitment is waning.

And it’s a tough world out there, with tough economic conditions, and people burdened by the challenges of staying employed and keeping food on the table and smoke in the chimney and the bill collectors at bay might not be infused with the holiday spirit.

Whatever the reason, the chamber’s well-intended efforts have, at least for this year, nearly gone for naught. I hope they don’t give up; I hope they adopt the mantra of Chicago Cubs fans and give a heartfelt “Wait ‘til next year!” for their holiday decorating contest. It is better to have lit, and lost, than never to have lit at all.

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