Conservatives' cry: Man the holy cannons! Christmas is under siege!

December 13, 2005|By CLARENCE PAGE

WASHINGTON -- A lot of people have been complaining lately about the media's failure to report more good news about the war. I'm inclined to agree with them, not about the war in Iraq, but about the war against Christmas.

Even before Halloween, certain religious activists and media pundits have been railing against an alleged "war against Christmas." Controversy erupted in Boston, for example, when the city called its decorated 48-foot spruce a "holiday tree." The Rev. Jerry Falwell, who lives nowhere near Boston, threatened to sue with the help of "700 Christian lawyers" if the city didn't redub the big shrub a "Christmas tree." Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino arrested the controversy by declaring, "It'll be a Christmas tree as long as I'm around."

Similar sentiments sprang from House Speaker Dennis Hastert, who ordered the "holiday tree" on the Capitol lawn to be called the Capitol Christmas Tree.

Fine. But I hope they are not too disappointed to hear that the Christmas tree is filched like Easter bunnies and Easter eggs from pagan celebrations of the winter solstice. The Pilgrims, among others, banned Christmas trees as being quite un-Christian, but they began to catch on in the 1800s. Changing times have meant good news for Christmas trees, bad news for the Pilgrims.

Nevertheless, the bad news keeps coming. An extraordinary movement has risen up to save Christmas in America, even though the right of Christians to worship as we choose is about as endangered in this country as those of Muslims in Mecca.

They're upset that stores advertise "holiday specials" instead of "Christmas sales" and that schools let students out for "winter break" instead of "Christmas vacation."

Fox News anchor John Gibson's new book, The War on Christmas, is ominously subtitled, How the Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday Is Worse Than You Thought. So, apparently, is the plot to smear liberals.

Mr. Gibson cites some pretty goofy examples of Christmas apparently under siege. He offers workers who were forbidden from saying the words "Merry Christmas" while at work. He offers a New Jersey school that banned even instrumental versions of traditional Christmas carols. He offers Arizona school officials who forbade a student from making any reference to the religious history of Christmas in a class project.

Such tales do show widespread confusion over how much religious expression the courts and the Constitution truly allow. But, amid the fog, there's not much of a war.

For example, if church and state really have been separated that much, one might expect Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, to be celebrating. But, no, when I reached him by phone, he pronounced his journeys through "10 states in the past three weeks" to show Christmas to be hard to avoid, even if he were trying. "If there's a war against Christmas," he said, "it's not very successful."

Even the Bush White House, hardly a bastion of secularism, found itself accused of giving aid to the enemy after the first family sent out this year's Christmas cards with a happy "holiday season" greeting to 1.4 million friends and supporters.

The good news is that, as a spokeswoman for the first lady explained, the Bush family cards have a happy "holiday season" wish on them because the cards are sent to people of all faiths. The "war on Christmas" alarmists may be annoyed, but the Bushes have the right idea. I find "Happy holidays" to be a delightfully inclusive and accurate expression of my true sentiments.

Clarence Page is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. His column appears Tuesdays and Fridays in The Sun. His e-mail is cptime@aol.com.

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