Feature

Christmas

Don’t dare call it a ‘holiday’.

It's the new 'œseasonal staple—The Culture Wars Before Christmas,' said John Riley in Newsday. Every December, battles rage over how to celebrate the yuletide without offending Jews, Muslims, atheists, and other non-Christians. Schools debate which carols students can sing; town councils argue whether it's appropriate to erect Nativity scenes. This year, though, things are especially heated. John Gibson's best-selling book, The War on Christmas, has inspired a conservative Christian revolt against the transformation of Dec. 25 into a generic 'œholiday.' The American Family Association, the Catholic League, and Fox News commentator Bill O'Reilly are urging boycotts of stores that wish customers 'œHappy Holidays' instead of 'œMerry Christmas.' Major evangelical Christian organizations have enlisted 1,500 lawyers to defend public Christmas displays against the ACLU. The real, underlying debate, said Charles Haynes of the First Amendment Center, is whether America should properly be considered a Christian country. 'œIt's about whose schools are these,' Haynes says, 'œwhose country is this, what nation are we going to be.'

You better believe it, said Jeff Jacoby in The Boston Globe. 'œSuppressing the language, symbols, or customs of Christians in a predominantly Christian society is not inclusive. It's insulting.' It's also discriminatory. No one calls Hanukkah menorahs 'œholiday lamps' or wishes Muslims anything other than a joyous Ramadan. Yet in some public places, you now have to mount a 'œholiday tree,' lest anyone take offense. You can thank the Supreme Court for such nonsense, said Beth Joyner Waldron in The Christian Science Monitor. Beginning in 1984, the high court began micromanaging government-sponsored Christmas displays. Religious symbols such as crèches were okay, the justices ruled, if 'œsecular' icons such as Santa Claus were placed alongside them. In the name of tolerance, these absurd court rulings have forced Christians to 'œsanitize' one of their holiest days beyond recognition. This year, we're finally witnessing a long-overdue backlash.

But what an 'œodd' backlash it is, said Adam Cohen in The New York Times. The save-Christmas movement is not troubled in the least by the commercialization of Christmas; as long as stores and malls hawk video games, ugly ties, and billions of dollars of other merchandise at 'œChristmas' (not 'œHoliday') sales, they're content. These efforts are particularly 'œperverse' because at our country's founding, the Protestant establishment frowned on Christmas. Puritan, Episcopal, Baptist, and other Protestant church leaders discouraged any major celebration on Dec. 25, associating the day with pagan observances of the winter solstice, drunkenness, and Saturnalia. Christmas gradually became popular only after Clement Clarke Moore's 1822 poem, 'œA Visit From St. Nicholas,' turned Santa Claus into the symbol of Christmas and the day into a celebration of children and gift giving. The Christmas that Jerry Falwell and the Christian Right is promoting—with its 'œsmack-down attitude toward nonbelievers'—is something entirely new. It 'œfits with their campaign to make America more like a theocracy.'

Suzan Satterfield

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Jonah Goldberg

National Review Online

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