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The culture war knows no season

By Michael M. Bates
web posted December 5, 2005

It's that time of the year again. No, I'm not referring to trampling other store customers to get to the doorbusters. I mean that time of the year when anything relating to the birth of Jesus Christ seems to provoke controversy.

There's a term that, within the past few years, has increasingly offended some folks. It's the c-word: Christmas. Spurred on by the American Civil Liberties Union, atheists, pagans, secularists and sundry others devoted to erasing any public vestige of Christianity, the anti-Christmas movement has garnered victories. This is particularly true in the public schools.

Nativity scenes, discussions about the birth of Jesus, carols, images of Santa Claus and anything else even remotely associated with Christmas are often whisked away quicker than you can say we're suing the school board for violating the separation of church and state. Ironically, these removals are not necessitated by the Supreme Court, which has ruled the Constitution permits considerable latitude in such areas.

One of the arguments is that children who aren't Christian will feel excluded and, consequently, may suffer psychological damage. Kids in general are a lot more emotionally sturdy than the people who make that case. Predictably, the anti-Christmas spirit has spread to other areas. It still is an official Federal holiday, but government at all levels is exercising caution. Last month the city of Boston renamed its Christmas tree a "holiday tree."

Retail stores have also become a battleground. Some will advertise "Christmas Sales," while others will publicize "Holiday Sales."

Wal-Mart was threatened with a boycott initiated by the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights when a Wal-Mart staffer responded to a customer unhappy with the company's use of "Happy Holidays" rather than "Merry Christmas." According to the League, Wal-mart's email answer was:

"Walmart (sic) is a world wide organization and must remain conscious of this.  The majority of the world still has different practices other than ‘christmas' which is an ancient tradition that has its roots in Siberian shamanism.  The colors associated with ‘christmas' red and white are actually a representation of the aminita mascera mushroom.  Santa is also borrowed from the Caucuses, mistletoe from the Celts, yule log from the Goths, the time from the Visigoth and the tree from the worship of Baal.  It is a wide wide world."

With a boycott looming, Wal-Mart took the prudent approach and acceded to the Catholic League's demands. Its written policy now says "we encourage associates to assess which greeting(s) best suit the customers and associates in their area. If ‘Merry Christmas' is preferred, then that is fine."

Last month FoxNews host Bill O'Reilly, considered a conservative by some, took up the cudgel. When a guest on his program contended that a store employee saying "Season's Greetings' or "Happy Holidays" doesn't perturb Christians, O'Reilly fired back that it absolutely did and he knew that for a fact.

What I know for a fact is that there have been repeated attempts to extensively diminish Christmas and I'm opposed to them. I'm irritated that anti-Christian attacks on Christmas have become so widespread.

What I also know for a fact is that we all have become awfully touchy about certain things that are relatively innocuous. There are Christians who are hypersensitive on the subject of Christmas and in at least one respect resemble the other side: They think they have a right not to be affronted in any possible way.

Removing Christ from Christmas by discarding significant traditions and symbols is one thing. Having a clerk greet you with "Happy Holidays" is another.

Maybe the person is referring to Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day. He or she may be thinking of Goths or Baal, but I doubt it.

Perhaps the employee was directed by the store to use that greeting. Then again, possibly it's just a personal preference. And, in the scope of things, does it really make that much difference?

My concern is that focusing on department store greetings trivializes the genuine menace of the anti-Christmas mentality. There certainly are grinches who want to steal Christmas, but their efforts are directed at more substantive matters than how clerks greet customers.

In the meantime, I respond in such instances with a cheery "Merry Christmas." That way, they know for sure that I don't have Siberian shamanism or the aminita mascera mushroom in mind.

Mike Bates is the author of Right Angles and Other Obstinate Truths. This essay appeared in the December 1, 2005 Oak Lawn (IL) Reporter.

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