Thursday, November 24, 2005


Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Happy Winter Solstice, or whatever it is we're calling it these days.

It's no great secret that Christmas has been commercialized in recent years. I started seeing Christmas ads on TV about three weeks ago, and thousands of Americans who work in the retail sector will have their Thanksgiving pre-empted today, because their employers want them stationed at their cash registers to get a jump on the holiday buying season. I think this sorry tradition started last year, and I'm sure it's not going away.

Well, never mind the commercialization. We apparently now have the politicization of Christmas. The ACLU'ers stand on one side, trying to stamp out any observation of the holiday that's not done in secret. Area schools, including the one where I teach, received a letter a few months ago from a local Jewish activist group practically warning us not to even use the word Christmas under a veiled threat of legal action. And buried in this morning's Post-Dipatch was a story that the Ladue School District has been warned by Americans for the Separation of Church and State to cease and desist from its 25-year tradition of gathering food and clothes for the Salvation Army, which is a Christian organization.

Then there's this bunch of activists on the right, outraged that Christmas has nothing to do with the birth of Christ for most Americans. UPS was accused of not allowing drivers to wish customers "Merry Christmas," which UPS denies ever having done. Likewise, Target, the main target (excuse the bad pun) of retail boycotts, denies ever having banned the expression from its stores.

"I don't know where they're coming from. We have no such policy on Christmas. You can see it in our stores," a Target spokeswoman told the San Francisco Chronicle.

This year, the Alliance Defense Fund, sort of an ACLU for evangelical Christians, is bragging on its website that it has sent out 6,000 letters to schools warning teachers and administrators that they'd better not trample anyone's civil rights over the holidays. As if we teachers are sitting around trying to figure out how to brainwash and instill secular humanist values into our captive audiences. Usually we just want our students to sit down and shut up long enough so that we can teach them to read and cipher a little math.

Not to be outdone, Jerry Falwell is on the warpath with his Liberty Counsel. Their big success is that they forced the city of Boston to call its big city hall tree display a Christmas tree, not a holiday tree. To call it a holiday tree is silly, indeed. But it's really no more silly than the school where I teach calling its Halloween party a "fall party" because some fundamentalist parents, outraged that we would recognize the Devil's holiday.

For better or worse, few of us celebrate Christmas as a meaningful religious observance. For most of us it's a time to show goodwill toward others and to share special times with family and friends, not to mention participate in a big bacchanal with too much food and drink and a frenzy of gift giving that often surpasses the obscene. I'm a Christian, a Sunday school teacher, and a faithful Sunday regular at a Methodist church, but I admit that Christmas has little religious significance to me. In fact, the whole season has taken on such a separate and secular life of its own that I've chosen to divorce Christmas from Christ; to do otherwise, I think, would be a disservice to Jesus. I choose to observe my faith in more meaningful ways at other times. I know a growing number of Christians are likewise giving up this charade that what they do on Dec. 25 has much of anything to do with their faith.

The point of this is to say that Christmas is a secular, although meaningful, holiday for most Americans. Certainly, it's no threat to the religious freedom of those who choose not to participate. I'm sure that the vast majority of most of us who do celebrate Christmas would like to do so in peace and be left out of this ridiculous tangent of the culture wars.

Seen on a bumper sticker

"We can bomb the world into pieces, but we can't bomb the world into peace."

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