Pssst: Don't tell the American Civil Liberties Union, but the word Christmas this year is busting out all over:
- In New York, Macy's holiday theme for 2005 is "Christmas in the City." And ads for Dillard's department stores say "Discover Christmas. Discover Dillard's."
- In Jackson County, Ga., public-school officials have lifted their moratorium on "Christmas" parties and are allowing teachers to wear Christmas-themed jewelry again.
- In Encinitas, Calif., Mayor Dan Dalager, citing both American cultural and spiritual tradition, changed the name of the city's annual December processional from "Holiday Parade" back to "Christmas Parade."
Whether Christ- or Santa-centered, more than nine in 10 Americans celebrate Christmas on Dec. 25. But the ACLU and other litigious foot soldiers of political correctness have over the past decade largely succeeded in chiseling the word Christmas out of the public square, creating in the process an American Scroogocracy made up of cities, major retailers, and public schools. This year, though, conservative opposition, consumer pique, and the ludicrous renaming of the "Christmas tree" have combined to convince some folks to declare the anti-Christmas emperors naked-and call the holiday by its right name.
One early sign of success involved a 14-foot tree from Nova Scotia. For 34 years, the Canadian province had donated a Christmas tree to the city of Boston in thanks for the city's help following a 1917 ship collision in Halifax. This November, though, just before Beantown's annual tree-lighting, officials re-dubbed the pine a "Holiday Tree." Orlando-based public-interest law firm Liberty Counsel immediately threatened to sue the city for religious discrimination, then pressed the point on national news shows like The O'Reilly Factor.
The city backed down. "This is a Christmas tree," Boston Parks Commissioner Toni Pollak told the Boston Herald. "It's definitely a Christmas tree."
The Liberty Counsel's arboreal advocacy was part of its three-year-old Friend or Foe Christmas campaign, a public-education and media push designed to get the word out that Christmas in the public square is constitutionally kosher. Bolstered by partnerships with the Association of Christian Schools International and Liberty University's Rev. Jerry Falwell, the campaign has this year gained steam. But Liberty Counsel president Matt Staver said it is the Christmas tree issue in particular that has folks like Fox News' Bill O'Reilly crying foul over the de-Christmasing of America.
"Everybody knows that a green, pointed tree that we decorate in December is a Christmas tree," said Mr. Staver. "Calling it a 'holiday tree' is like calling a menorah a 'candelabra.' It is this issue-the absurdity of renaming the Christmas tree-that has popped the balloon of most people, where they are saying enough is enough."
In the wake of Boston's attempt to defoliate Christmas, Lowe's home improvement stores, under challenge by the American Family Association (AFA), quickly reversed its own similar tack. The chain had begun advertising the sale of "holiday trees," but last week quickly re-renamed them "Christmas trees" and apologized for the error. House Speaker Dennis Hastert last month reversed a decade of PC quackery, restoring to the decorated fir on the U.S. Capitol's west lawn its historical name, "Capitol Christmas Tree."
Activists have also chalked up non-tree victories on the retail front. The Catholic League claims credit for pushing Wal-Mart to include on its website a "Christmas" gift category alongside existing click-throughs to Kwanzaa and Hanukkah presents. Macy's acknowledgment of Christmas was at least in part a response to AFA pressure, as was a promise Walgreen's made last week to reexamine its use of the word Christmas in time for the 2006 holiday season.
Still, the return of Christmas is thus far only a mini-renaissance. In November, the AFA surveyed the sales circulars of 11 major retailers and found Christmas mentioned only twice, while the word holiday appeared 59 times. Target, meanwhile, remains defiant in the face of an AFA-sponsored boycott. So far, 600,000 people have pledged not to shop at the mid-priced retail giant because, while its profits depend heavily on Christmas buying, Target refuses to use the word Christmas in its in-store promotions and advertising. Even Scroogier, the chain has for the second year booted Salvation Army bell-ringers from its storefronts, even though many Americans are now needier than ever after Hurricane Katrina.
Some Americans are fighting for Christmas in their hometowns. Mary Moylan, 50, a stay-at-home mom in St. Charles, Mich., in 2002 began promoting religious free-exercise rights in public schools near her home. Using materials from the Rutherford Institute and Liberty Counsel, Mrs. Moylan two years ago explained to a St. Charles public-school official that the dumbing down of Christmas to a generic winter holiday went against the wishes of the very rural and conservative surrounding community.
"He was nice and smiley and shook my hand," she said. "Then he blew me off." Two weeks ago, though, she spoke to the St. Charles district superintendent. Now, a town billboard advertises the high school's "Christmas Musical" and "Merry Christmas" signs are posted at one elementary school.
Mrs. Moylan said she's found that most people don't know the legal ins and outs of the public observance of Christmas. Meanwhile, the expatriation of the holiday "is something that's being foisted on the public, and the public doesn't want it at all."
At first glance, there had to be a punch line to this picture: three Jews, one a rabbi, seated before a poster of a bright green Christmas tree with the words, "It's OK to say Merry Christmas."
So Don Feder, president of Jews Against Anti-Christian Defamation (JAACD), went straight to the point. Strange as it seemed, his group had called the Dec. 1 press conference to speak against the banishing of Christmas from schools, shops, and the public square.
"It's a matter of simple courtesy to acknowledge a holiday celebrated by 96 percent of the American people," he said at the National Press Club in Washington. "Would a Christian living in Israel be offended if someone wished him a 'Happy Hanukkah?'"
Retailers such as Lowe's and Macy's are slowly beginning to re-insert the word Christmas in their advertising. But already this year, some have run afoul of Christian consumers.
Lowe's stores nationwide were selling "holiday trees" before complaints prompted them to switch to "Christmas trees" (see main article). And like many retailers, Wal-Mart's policy is to wish customers "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas." When one complained, a now former Wal-Mart employee wrote back that Christmas has its roots in "Siberian shamanism": "The colors associated with 'christmas' red and white are actually a representation of the aminita mascera [sic.] mushroom. Santa is also borrowed from the Caucasus, mistletoe from the Celts, yule log from the Goths, the time from the Visigoths and the tree from the worship of Baal. It is a wide wide world."
For Mr. Feder and his fellow panelists, such examples are more than laughable sops to political correctness. At root, they see an accelerating attempt to undermine Christian values and scrub religion from American public life. These values, they say, have secured freedom for Jews and other non-Christians. "Were it not for the rooted Christian decency of this country I'd be a lampshade or a bar of soap," said Michael Horowitz, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute.
Scholar and Rabbi Daniel Lapin added some historical analysis. In Europe during his great-grandfather's time, he said, the choice was between secularism and Christian theocracy-the first of which naturally appealed more to Jews.
But now, "the choice is actually between a sordid, spreading, secular, sinister society on the one hand, and on the other hand a society of benign Christianity the likes of which the world hasn't seen in any other place for the last 2,000 years."
For all its novelty, JAACD falls into the familiar religious conservative camp fighting against secular liberalism. As such, it butts heads with groups such as the Jewish Anti-Defamation League. Formed in April, its advisory board includes well-known conservatives such as David Horowitz and Mona Charen.
Final speaker and comedian Jackie Mason, who spoke via conference call, even managed a contrast with the Ku Klux Klan: Because "they're not an immediate threat and they didn't directly kill somebody, they're still allowed their freedom of speech and we've preserved their right to do it. But if the Ku Klux Klan was marching with a symbol that said 'Merry Christmas,' they (wouldn't) be allowed."
Even with the sober speeches, the irony of a band of Jews defending Christmas did not escape the septuagenarian Mr. Mason: "Who knew that in my lifetime I'd be fighting for the right of Christians to practice their religion?"