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Mappy Christmukuhstice, everybody!

By Lady Liberty
web posted December 19, 2005

I've been doing a little more shopping than usual lately. So, I suspect, have most of us. It is, after all, that time of year!

What exactly do I mean by "that time of year?" Well, I suppose that depends on who you ask. But one sure indicator is the pervasive advertising urging us in newspapers and magazines, on the radio and TV, and all across the Internet to buy! buy! buy! The other? That's the pervasive complaining from one faction or another that something being said or done (or not said or not done) by somebody else is "offensive."

While Christmas may be the "big one" in this country, there are other holidays at this time of year. Those of the Jewish faith celebrate Hanukah which commemorates the belief in a miracle that let a lamp burn for more than a week with only one day's worth of oil. Pagans look to the Winter Solstice as a celebration of the rebirth of the sun. Many African Americans have embraced Kwanzaa, created in 1966 as a week for celebrating the African American people, their culture and their history. Complicating matters still further is the fact that those of many faiths (or none) celebrate the season with decorations and gift-giving in a nod to the fact that at least some parts and pieces of Christmas are now as secular to many as they are religious to some.

With its constitutional protections for freedom of religion, America has proved to be a melting pot not only of race and nationality but of differing faiths as well. Whether the aim is to make more money or to offer respect (I don't doubt it's the former in the name of the latter), many retailers say "Happy Holidays!" in their promotions so as to include everyone and — hopefully — offend no one. Unfortunately, that's not quite how it's working any more.

Christian activists are angrier every year when Christmas isn't acknowledged as the "Reason for the Season." This year, some groups are actively engaged in urging retailers to remember that many believe Christmas celebrates the birth of Christ, and are threatening boycotts if stores don't comply. Meanwhile, stores are stuck between a rock and a hard place since they know that offended shoppers aren't inclined to spend a whole lot of money wherever it is they're finding offense. Stores try to be sensitive, of course, but in so doing, some are offended anyway.

Meanwhile, the government is trying to toe the same very narrow line as are the stores. Since government represents all of us, it's not supposed to show favor to any of us. It's also not supposed to endorse any one religion any more than it is to prohibit any of them. In an effort to appear neutral, Christmas trees on display in Washington have been called "holiday trees" in the recent past. This year, though, federal officials are once again calling at least some Christmas trees Christmas trees, a decision that's sure to rile at least some.

President Bush has come under fire for sending out an official White House Christmas card that never mentions the word "Christmas." That the card does offer a biblical quotation apparently doesn't appease those who seem to think that only Christians are on the White House Christmas (excuse me, holiday) card list. And none have made any mention whatsoever as to whether or not the personal Bush family card is more "suitably" Christian in nature (the President has made no secret of his own religious beliefs, but some are angry that he's not expressing them more forcefully as President).

Christians are infuriated when towns don't allow Nativity displays on city property during the holiday season. They're especially angry when those same towns permit menorahs and secular decorations. Lawsuits are often filed; cities often back down just like two in Florida did recently. Schools seem to be especially sensitive to the seasonal debates, particularly since some parents seem to be overly sensitive. One school in Georgia even forbade teachers from wearing any kind of religious pins! Meanwhile, a school in Wisconsin is allowing Hanukah songs to be performed by singing groups, but has forbidden any Christmas carols from being sung.

The patently obvious problem here isn't government tolerance or intolerance, nor is it a pro- or an anti-Christian (or other religion) bent from retailers. Rather it's the mess that's resulted when the government and storeowners bend over backward to see to it that nobody has his or her sensibilities offended. Since that's patently not possible, how can it possibly come as any real surprise that activists from virtually every position on the spectrum are finding reason to complain about something somewhere?

What's worse than the problem, though, is that the solution, too, is patently obvious. Yet there are some who will simply refuse to see it; there are others who, seeing it, will rant and gnash their teeth if it's implemented. But here it is: Why can't everybody just have a little respect for everybody else, and stop viewing that respect as a personal threat or attack on their own beliefs?

A Christmas tree is — I'm sorry, but it's true — a Christmas tree. That's the name it's called. If you want to look at it as something celebrating the birth of Christ, that's fine; if you want to see it as a really pretty, sparkly thing, that's fine, too. But it's called a Christmas tree. Being offended when it's called by name is sort of like an African American being upset that somebody calls black licorice, well, black. Demanding it be called something else is no different than the quintessential politically correct police demanding specialized terms such as chairperson or personnel access hatch (a real suggestion by some as a replacement for the traditional term "manhole cover").

If towns put Christmas trees (yes, I'm still calling them that and you need to get over it) on city property, then Santa Claus is perfectly fine, too. And if Santa is there, why not a menorah, Kwanzaa candles, and yes, a Nativity scene? Some of them mean something to some and nothing to others; to find something that's meaningless to you is offensive is just plain mean and frankly downright anti-freedom.

Store clerks should be able greet customers with their own personal preferred greeting. During my recent shopping excursions, I heard everything from, "You have a Merry Christmas, now!" to "Happy holidays to you!" to "Have a nice day." Do you know what I said? I said, "Thank you, and the same to you!" to each of them.

All of this reminds me of what happened when I worked for The Salvation Army some years ago. Let me make it immediately clear that I worked in a "civilian" capacity, and was never a soldier or an officer in the Army. In fact, I didn't agree with many of the tenets of their particular faith, something of which one co-worker was well aware (and which also, by the way, speaks quite well of the Army's tolerance for those with different beliefs). One older officer who had immigrated to America from the Philippines seemed to take a special interest in me. She would often pat me on the cheek and tell me that she'd pray for me. When my friend asked me if that didn't bother me, I was actually surprised. "Why would it bother me?" I asked. "The Colonel only wishes me good things."

Now I grant you that the "good things" the Colonel may have prayed for on my behalf might not have matched the "good things" on my own list of desires or needs. But she genuinely cared about me, and her prayers certainly neither harmed me nor interfered with my life. I don't doubt that she felt better for having prayed, and I confess that it made me feel good, too, that I apparently mattered enough to her that she'd devote some of her private time and thoughts to me. What kind of a small minded person would find a little human decency offensive?

The point here is that Nativity scenes matter to some people. How does it harm anyone if one is included with the other holiday displays in the city's central park (as long as, of course, other displays aren't prohibited)? If you celebrate Hanukah instead of Christmas, how are you wounded by the wishes of a store clerk for a "Merry Christmas" when that means to her that she's wishing you a good thing and takes nothing away from you? Would it kill you to smile and say, "Why, thank you, and a Happy Hanukah to you!" If the clerk doesn't mention Christmas in her generic best wishes and you're a devout Christian yourself, wouldn't the most loving and Jesus-like thing to do be to say, "Thanks, and you have a Merry Christmas!" and then both of you go on with your day? If a newspaper ad talks about "holiday sales," shouldn't you Christmas shoppers be appreciative that the deals apply to you, too, and will enable you to make more people even happier come Christmas morning?

The bottom line is that, much as the Army Colonel I so fondly remember did for me, we should all feel better when we can make others feel good. That includes responding to the expression of others' best wishes politely, without judgment or demands in return. That's not a "Christmas" or a "holiday" thing; it's not necessarily a religious thing at all, or at least it shouldn't be. That's a human thing, a decent and polite thing, a kind thing.

If everybody just got on with their own beliefs and left everybody else's beliefs to them, we'd all have a merrier Christmas, or a happier Hanukah,or a more Festive Yule, or whichever. Frankly, it really doesn't matter to me how — or if — you choose to celebrate in the coming weeks. None of that has any bearing on what I will — or will not — be doing myself. And as long as it doesn't, what real difference does it make? And why would you steal the freedom of others for no other reason than that you happen not to agree with the beliefs they probably take just as seriously as you do your own?

Happy Holidays! If you're offended by that well, I could say I feel sorry for you. That would be true. I could also say something actually worthy of offense. That, however, I won't do. 'Tis the season after all.

Lady Liberty is a graphic designer and pro-freedom activist currently residing in the Midwest. More of her writings and other political and educational information is available on her web site, Lady Liberty's Constitution Clearing House, at http://www.ladylibrty.com. E-mail Lady Liberty at ladylibrty@ladylibrty.com.

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