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The Great Christmas Debate - By Mike McManus

Ethics & Religion

The Great Christmas Debate

by Michael J. McManus

George Bush's most ardent supporters are angry with him because he has secularized Christmas. As the President put it at the end of his press conference on Monday, "Happy Holidays to you." His Christmas card said nothing about Christmas.

Nor does the WhiteHouse.gov website. It features pictures of a beautifully decorated White House on the theme of "All Things Bright and Beautiful," which was "chosen to highlight the beauty to be found in nature. Our emphasis for this holiday season is on some of the many ways that plants, trees, fruit and flowers can be the stars of holiday decorating."

Huh? It seems that the President has missed the reason for the season. Bush has taken Christ out of Christmas, like Bill Clinton but unlike his father, George Bush I. It's as if we had elected Barry Lynn, of Americans United for Separation of Church and State - as our President.

Last year Christmas at the White House proclaimed the "Season of Merriment and Melody," and featured decorations with "delightful vignettes illustrating many of the best-loved songs of the season." Not one was a traditional spiritual carol or hymn, but elevator music, "Here Comes Santa Claus," "All I Want for Christmas is my Two Front Teeth."

Similarly, at the opposite end of Pennsylvania last year Congress erected a giant "Holiday Tree."

This blandification infuriates many Protestants and Catholics who take their faith seriously. Why do store clerks wish you a Happy Holiday rather than a Merry Christmas? They are trained to use a phrase that is supposedly inoffensive to non-Christians.

However, in secularizing Christmas, politicians and merchants are offending 82 percent of Americans who celebrate Christmas.

What percentage of Americans are offended when someone wishes them a "Merry Christmas?" The majority (56 percent) of people who don't attend church on an average Sunday?

No. Absolutely not. According to a Gallup Poll released this week, "only 3 percent of adults say it bothers them when stores specifically refer to the Christmas holiday in their displays, rather than "Happy Holidays" or "Season's Greetings."

And 62 percent of Americans say that the nearly ubiquitous use of such phrases rather than "Merry Christmas" is a change for the worse.

Generic "Happy Holidays" are most likely to irk Republicans (48 percent), and weekly churchgoers (42 percent). Even 25 percent of those who seldom or never go to church are offended. However, 97 percent are NOT offended by "Merry Christmas." Remember that number when you see Christmas secularized. And get mad enough to do something about it.

Those who fight to put Christ back in Christmas won some victories this year.

First, that tree on Capitol Hill is called a Christmas Tree this year, thanks to House Speaker Dennis Hastert.

Consider Federated Department Stores (Macy's, Belk's). Last year the American Family Association persuaded 700,000 supporters to e-mail Federated threatening a boycott unless they stopped omitting Christmas from their stores, advertising and promotions. This year Christmas appears in all Federated stores and ads.

Macy's apparently concluded it had more Christians than secularists as customers.

An AFA survey this year found that "almost all of the national retail chains were leaving Christmas out," said Tim Wildmon, AFA President. "We don't want to see the importance of Christmas diminished in our culture. If it is removed, we are just celebrating a winter holiday."

The AFA army threatened to boycott Target stores that not only omitted Christmas but banned Salvation Army bell ringers from its stores. The backlash was severe enough for Target to start referring to Christmas and Hanukkah directly. So has Sears. Lowe's now sells Christmas trees rather than "holiday trees."

I suggest patronizing those stores, and thank them. Who should we avoid? Kmart, Staples, Home Depot, Best Buy, L.L. Bean, Old Navy, Wal-Mart, Office Depot, Nordstrom.

The issue is larger than Christians vs. secularists. Seamus Hasson, author of a new book, "The Right to Be Wrong," notes that after the Pilgrims celebrated the first Thanksgiving, they stoutly banned Christmas celebrations a month later, which they saw as Catholic (Christ-Mass). The Puritans made Christmas festivities illegal from 1659-1681.

Each religious faith has a right to celebrate its holy days, while ignoring those of others. What should be resisted are attempts to ban faith from the public square. No one objects to February being "Black History Month," or March 17, St. Patrick's Day. Similarly, no one should object to nativity scenes or Jewish Menorahs in a city park.

Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski wished a Merry Christmas to all of the city's Christian residents. That's the spirit!

Copyright 2005 Michael J. McManus

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