Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Is There an Anti-Christmas Conspiracy?

Two emails, from separate sources, arrived in my box today. They echo various other messages that have arrived in recent days. What do they say? They accuse contemporary society -- schools and government in particular -- of trying to suppress Christmas, replacing it with some vague winter holiday.

Here's what the Family Foundation of Virginia said in part (in "Information Alert: Skipping 'Merry Christmas'"):

When was the last time you heard anyone outside of church say "Merry Christmas"? In a nation that has become so secularized, and where the ACLU and mainstream media have browbeaten Americans into thinking that any public recognition of God is a violation of the Constitution, Christmas is becoming something of an underground holiday.

Examples of anti-Christmas bigotry, particularly in American public schools, are so abundant we could write books listing them. Just this year we have seen:
A school board in New Jersey banned all Christmas music, including instrumental versions.

aluminum christmas tree XmasA school district in Texas has banned candy canes with with a religious message, pencils with the name Jesus on them, and, incredibly, any red or green decorations, saying everything must be white.

A school in Oklahoma removed a nativity scene from a school play, but kept symbols associated with Kwanzaa.

One Fortune 500 company refers to the Christmas holiday as the "25th of December." Their calendar for this year says that, "because its on a Saturday, the '25th of December' holiday will be on the 24th."

Macy's and Bloomingdale's have encouraged their employees to say "happy holidays" instead of Merry Christmas because "these were in common use in a multicultural, diverse society."

A group of students in Wisconsin were told they could not distribute Christmas cards to fellow classmates because they had a religious message.
And here's what Alan Keyes, a spectacular failure as a Senate candidate despite his keen mind and exceptional intellect, had to say on the same topic (note the similarities with the FFV, above. This is from "Christmas is Under Attack - Fight Back," dated December 20:

We've already told you about a number of the most blatant examples of attacks on Christmas this year -- but here's even more that have occurred:

* In Palm Beach County schools in Florida, teachers were warned not to allow any Christmas decorations to be displayed.

* In a New Jersey elementary school, a class trip to see the Broadway play "A Christmas Carol" was cancelled under threat of a law suit.

* Across the country children have been barred from giving out Christmas cards and some banned from using the greeting, "Merry Christmas".

* An Oklahoma Superintendent recently ordered the students and faculty at Lakehoma Elementary School to remove the nativity scene and not sing "Silent Night" at this year's "holiday" play.

* At a Jefferson County school in Colorado, an elementary student had her Bible confiscated from the playground when she was caught sharing some Bible verses with a friend.

* In a Plano, Texas school, parents were prohibited from using red and green plates and napkins -- they could only bring white decorations for "winter" parties!
And there's more. In a commentary dated December 20 (but distributed on December 17), Paul Weyrich of the Free Congress Foundation writes:

Here in the Washington, D.C. area, Safeway has announced that it will be open on Christmas day. Safeway employees who formerly enjoyed a day off at Christmas won't get to do so. That will, of course, put pressure on the competition. By next year all major food stores will, no doubt, also be open. Radio stations which used to play genuine Christmas carols at this time of the year (there are two in the Washington, D.C. area which claim they play Christmas music 24 hours a day) no longer play "Silent night" or "Angels we have heard on high." Rather, it is winter music: Johnny Mathis, Perry Como, Bing Crosby, The Boston Pops. You get the picture. What little Christmas is left has nothing to do with Christ.

But the real shift has simply been the disappearance of the mention of Christmas. If I hear "Have a nice holiday" one more time I may just scream. If we majority Christians tolerate this, then we get what we deserve. When are we going to stand up and say to this militant minority, "You don't have the right to take Christmas from us." What is happening is because we have become tepid. We have been conditioned to think that if we insist on celebrating Christmas, other than perhaps in the inner sanctum of our own homes, we will be offending someone. Utter nonsense. If they are offended, it is their problem, not ours. In the current parlance we should just tell them "We're here. We are not going away. Neither is Christmas. Deal with it."
Is there truly a trend toward erasure of the "Christmas spirit" with "Happy Holidays" and "Seasons Greetings" supplanting it? And, if so, is this a new trend? Or have the conservatives just found a new fund-raising bull to ride? (The Alan Keyes email quoted above includes a web address for sending donations twice, at the beginning and the end of the screed. Question: Having lost his Senate race so ignominiously, just what is Alan Keyes raising money for?)

Frankly, I think the conservatives are plain wrong on this. People say "Merry Christmas" frequently -- and certainly do not limit such greetings to the inside of their churches. When Weyrich says radio stations only play "winter songs", he obviously has not been listening to any of the all-Christmas, all-the-time stations found in almost any reasonably large market. These stations do indeed play traditional -- i.e., religous -- songs. Unfortunately, they tend to be contemporary covers that butcher the music. (Still, it's not rare to hear Bing Crosby, Perry Como, or Johnny Mathis crooning "Silent Night" as well as "Home for the Holidays.")

As for schools banning Christmas celebrations, the worst they can be accused of is being overcautious out of fear of lawsuits from zealous church/state separationists. They are mindful of the bottom line, since litigation can be a costly proposition. They're wrong, too, since most of the complaints above refer to schools or governments imposing their will on individuals acting individually (e.g., pupils passing out Christmas cards to their classmates), rather than imposing reasonable restrictions on the actions of the institutions themselves. (Government schools should not be seen to endorse particular religious beliefs; neither should they silence their students when the students act on their own behalf and volition.)

The fact is, Christmas began its secularization process hundreds of years ago. The Puritans banned the celebration of Christmas because it seemed too heathen to them. Charles Dickens' classic story, A Christmas Carol, says barely a word about the religious aspects of the holiday. (Bob Cratchit once mentions going to church with Tiny Tim, and there's Tim's famous line, "God bless us, every one!" That's it.)*

Christmas tree ornaments Charlottesville
Popular culture has always walked both sides of the fence here. Bing Crosby could star as a nightclub singer in Holiday Inn in 1942 and two years later star as Father O'Malley in Going My Way. During the same period, he made classic recordings of "Silent Night" and "O Come All Ye Faithful" in the same sessions he did "Jingle Bells" (with the Andrews Sisters as back-up) and "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town." Then of course there's "White Christmas," written by a Jewish immigrant for transplants in Southern California who long for their wintry northeastern homes.

An anti-Christmas, anti-Christian trend? Perhaps -- but of such long pedigree that the conservatives' latest complaints strike me as being of the same class as Captain Renault's shock at the gambling going on in Rick's Cafe Americain.

Next year's conservative fundraising gambit: Madalyn Murray O'Hair is trying to shut down religious broadcasters, from beyond the grave.

* A tip of the hat to Tim Hulsey for pointing out this fact about A Christmas Carol.

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