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Christmas Making a Comeback

Annual Battle Starts With Victories

WASHINTON, D.C., DEC. 3, 2005 (Zenit.org).- Christmas, it seems, is no longer a taboo word. This Tuesday, the Washington Times reported that U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert told federal officials that the tree on the West Lawn of the Capitol will be renamed the “Capitol Christmas Tree.” In recent years it has gone under the name of the “Holiday Tree.”

Calling a Christmas tree a Christmas tree has become a hot issue in many communities, the article noted. In Boston last week the city’s Web site referred to a tree erected on Boston Common as a “holiday tree.” After protests and threatened lawsuits, Mayor Thomas Menino announced it would be referred to as a Christmas tree, a change also implemented on the city’s Web site.

The regular battle over Christmas decorations, carols and terminology started in early November, in a number of countries. The controversy got off to a start in the United States when Wal-Mart defended its practice of greeting people with “Happy Holidays” instead of “Happy Christmas.” The company came in for strong criticism from Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights.

In a press release dated Nov. 9 Donohue also criticized a Wal-Mart statement which claimed that Christmas was a composite of ancient traditions, made up of elements such as Siberian shamanism, Celt and Goth customs, and the worship of Baal. Donohue called for a boycott of the retail giant.

The dispute quickly finished. Donohue announced two days later that Wal-Mart was withdrawing its statement about the origins of Christmas, as well as making some changes to its Web site. The company will, however, maintain the “Happy Holidays” greetings.

In Australia, defenders of Christmas successfully reversed last year’s defeats. Victoria state Premier Steve Bracks gave his official backing for public schools to have Nativity scenes, carols and other celebrations, the Herald Sun reported Nov. 21. The newspaper noted that last year several schools banned Nativity scenes and carol singing for fear of offending non-Christian children.

PC gone crazy

“Those who don’t wish to participate don’t have to, and those who wish to celebrate in their own way can do so,” said Bracks. He added: “Even those from other faiths, of course, accept Christian celebrations and the government is keen to ensure there are no bans on any of these sorts of activities.”

The Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne’s vicar general, Monsignor Les Tomlinson, said bans on Nativity scenes and Christian themes were political correctness gone crazy, reported the Herald Sun.

And in Sydney, the Lord Mayor, Clover Moore, announced a stronger Christian message in this year’s celebrations, the Sydney Morning Herald reported Nov. 24. Last year’s efforts were heavily criticized for being both low-key and not Christian enough, the paper said.

For its part the Archdiocese of Adelaide organized a ceremony to bless figures destined for Nativity scenes, noted a press release Nov. 27. Archbishop Philip Wilson is importing the custom started by Pope John Paul II in Rome. The Holy Father used to invite Italian children to bring the figures from their Nativity scenes for a special blessing. Since 2003, the special blessing has been held in Adelaide on the first Sunday of Advent.

“This is a wonderful tradition,” said Archbishop Wilson, “reminding children and parents during the hectic Christmas period of the significant message of hope, peace, tolerance and forgiveness in the story of God incarnate in a baby born to a poor couple sheltering in a stable.”

Guilty feelings?

Conflicts over Christmas celebrations are a theme of a recently published book. In “The War on Christmas,” published by Sentinel, journalist John Gibson describes how restrictions on Christmas have increased in the United States, in spite of the fact that the population is overwhelmingly Christian.

In schools Christmas trees are now commonly referred to as friendship trees, giving trees, or holiday trees. Children cannot hold Christmas parties, but instead have winter parties. Some schools, Gibson relates, have even banned the traditional colors of red and green in their zeal to change Christmas into a winter celebration.

According to Gibson the majority of those in the forefront of banning Christmas are “liberal guilt-wracked Christians,” aided by assorted secularists, humanists and cultural relativists. And organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) provide the legal back-up.

Often local officials will receive threatening letters objecting to any public display of Christmas. Faced with high legal costs if a court action results, school and municipal authorities are quick to comply, banishing any mention of Christmas.

Gibson argues that the liberal mentality that seeks to eliminate Christmas regards religion as a completely personal activity that should be rigidly confined to private practice. But, curiously, it is only Christianity that is the target. Celebrations of Jewish, Hindu or Muslim feasts are not regarded as a threat, but as a welcome sign of cultural diversity. By contrast, any public display of Christian symbols or feasts is held to be culpable of excluding other groups, or imposing beliefs.

The book gives ample space to a number of examples where Christmas symbols have been eliminated. In Covington, Georgia, in 2000 the school board was prevented from putting the word “Christmas” in the calendar, to identify the vacation period.

ACLU lawyer Craig Goodmark argued that the use of “Christmas” in the calendar to describe the December vacation would be unconstitutional and conveyed a hostile message to non-Christian families.

Seeing red

The following year, in the Texas town of Plano, the elementary schools set about banning any possible Christmas symbols. The December holidays had already been deprived of their title of Christmas holidays, and the Christmas party renamed as a winter party. In 2001 school authorities prohibited students from writing “Merry Christmas” on the cards they gave to fellow students. And for the winter party the cups, plates and napkins could not use the red and green colors, as they were deemed to be Christmas symbols.

Last December the Oklahoma town of Mustang saw a dispute over the content of the Christmas pageant at the local elementary school. For the last two decades the school had celebrated a pageant that included a Nativity scene, and also references to Kwanzaa (an African-American cultural festival) and Hanukkah (the Jewish Feast of Lights).

But fears over possible legal action were raised. As a result, the superintendent of schools, Karl Springer, gave the order to remove the Nativity scene from the pageant, but the other, non-Christian, religious elements were allowed to remain.

Gibson states that underneath the annual tussles over Christmas lurks a war against Christians. “It’s open season on the constitutional rights of Christians,” he writes.

Defenders of the war on Christmas contend they are upholding the U.S. Constitution. This is incorrect, Gibson maintains, as what they are seeking to impose goes far beyond what the Supreme Court has determined.

The Supreme Court, in fact, has never declared that a Christmas tree is unconstitutional or that the singing of carols should be prohibited. Likewise, it has never said that using the word “Christmas” on a public document is unconstitutional. Still, campaigners regularly declare these symbols should be banned because they violate the separation of church and state.

The book concludes by noting how a reaction to the anti-Christian campaigns is now under way. An early gift for fans of Christmas.

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