It's a holiday tradition that has become as predictable as airings of It's a Wonderful Life on television: The annual Christmas culture war. On one side, mostly conservative Christians say the government and businesses are conspiring to take the religion out of Christmas; on the other, a pro-diversity crowd argues that public Christmas displays constitute unacceptable attempts to push Christian beliefs on others. So, how is 2010's "War on Christmas" shaping up? Here's a timeline of this year's battles so far, starting with the most recent:
Dec. 19: While discussing Washington's budget mess on the TV program Inside Washington, NPR's Nina Totenberg drew the ire of conservatives with a seemingly offhand remark: "I was at a – forgive the expression – a Christmas party at the Department of Justice," she said, "and people actually were really worried about this." John Hayward at Human Events called the comment "shocking" proof that Totenberg and her liberal colleagues are "making a conscious and deliberate effort to scrub the religious meaning from the winter holidays." But Matt Schneider at Mediate says that "maybe in the wake of Juan Williams’ firing, NPR employees, just to be safe, apologize for anything in advance?"
Dec. 17: When representatives from the Federal Reserve visited Payne County Bank in Perkins, Oklahoma, they found crosses on the tellers' counters, buttons that read "Merry Christmas, God With Us," and a daily Bible verse on display. Claiming that overt expressions of religion violate part of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, the Fed ordered the bank to remove them — outraging Oklahoma's two senators. "This is an all-out assault on the faith, values and rights of the bank, its employees and the people of Perkins they serve," Senator James Inhofe said in a "pointed letter" co-written with Senator Frank Lucas, to Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke. Under mounting pressure, the Fed quickly reversed its decision, and the Christian decorations were back in a flash.
Dec. 13: At a "wildly popular" holiday luncheon at a New York City YMCA, Santa Claus was replaced this year by Frosty the Snowman — and children had to "suffer the icy embrace of a talking snowman and his sidekick, an anonymous penguin," says the New York Post. An executive director of "The Y" (the organization is in the process of shortening its name from the Young Men's Christian Association) said "Frosty is a great winter character who would appeal to a broader number of kids." But Bill Donohue, the oft-aggrieved president of the Catholic League, disagrees: "If they can't celebrate Christmas, then they should check out. What a bunch of cowards."
Dec. 8: After watching a Christian radio station embarrass a Southlake, Texas, bank into putting up a Christmas tree, Dallas megachurch pastor Robert Jeffress decides to get in on the action. He launches a website, Grinch Alert, that compiles user comments and complaints to help "show[case] businesses that do not show outward signs of supporting Christmas." (Such establishments are grouped in the site's "Naughty" list.) Jeffress is not new to national publicity; in September, he caused an uproar by contending that Islam promotes pedophilia.
Dec. 7: Florida news outlets report that highway toll-booth workers are being told to "keep their decorations to themselves this year." A ban of all religious displays in Florida's toll-booths actually took effect "four or five months ago," after motorist complaints about other holidays. "I feel like somebody's trying to keep me down," said one toll-booth attendant after the removal of a Christmas tree from her window. "I am a Christian and I'm not afraid to say it."
Dec. 2: A local news outlet in North Carolina reports that the word "Christmas" has gone missing from local school calendars. Instead, it is referred to simply as "holiday." "I think that they've offended a lot of people," says a local Christian bookstore owner. "[They have offended] the Christians who love God and the Christians that want to talk about Dec. 1: Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) announces that, for the second year in a row, he will refuse to march in Tulsa's annual Holiday Parade unless it is renamed. "Last year, the forces of political correctness removed the word 'Christmas' and replaced it with 'Holiday' instead," said the lawmaker, who was Tulsa's mayor from 1978 to 1984. "I am hopeful that the good people of Tulsa and the city's leadership will demand a correction to this shameful attempt to take Christ, the true reason for our celebration, out of the parade's title."
Nov. 29: The American Family Association updates its annual list of retailers that are being "naughty" by avoiding or banning the word "Christmas" in their ads. "If a company has items associated with Christmas, but did not use the word 'Christmas,'" the AFA's website explains, "then the company is considered as censoring Christmas." Barnes & Noble, The Gap, and Radio Shack are all offenders this year. "Seriously?" says Julie Mack in The Kalamazoo Gazette. "We Christians are really supposed to be offended when our Lord's birth isn't invoked to sell flat-screen televisions?"
Nov. 27: Philadelphia decides to rename its Christmas Village "Holiday Village," attracting an avalanche of national media attention. Every year brings new Christmas controversies, says Michael Smerconish in the Philadelphia Daily News, but this is "the most ridiculous of them all," since the city is essentially asking patrons to act like it's a "total coincidence" the village "was erected one month before Christmas and happens to close on Christmas Eve." After a few days, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter restores "Christmas" to the village name, downplaying the role media coverage played in the decision.
Nov. 23: American Atheists, a group of nonbelievers, puts up a billboard near the entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel reading, "You KNOW it's a myth: This season celebrate reason!" Organization head David Silverman says the aim is to lure out atheists who are "in the closet." Also, he says, since his group has a bad reputation for starting anti-holiday battles every year, this year "we're actually going to earn a little bit of that."
This article was originally published on December 7, and last updated on December 21.
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