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Take seriously whats behind war on Christmas charges
December 16th, 2005
Whenever the calendar turns to December, the air usually becomes thick with the sound of Jews whining about the holiday season.
For some of us, this is the time of year when we are forced to confront the reality that, despite living in a country where Jews are free to practice (or not practice) their faith, we are still a small minority.
That means wherever we move about this free land, we are subjected to ubiquitous Christmas trees and Santas, while our ears are assaulted by the non-stop playing of carols.
Though such displays express the desire of merchants to move consumers to buy, rather than any lurking conversionary agenda, that hasnt prevented the December dilemma industry from making a meal out of any real or perceived slight to Jewish sensibilities.
Jews who are secure in their faith and identity arent threatened by Christmas. However, since insecurity always trumps common sense, the dilemma continues to generate angst.
But recently Jewish complaining has been drowned out by another contingent of malcontents: Christians who claim that church-state separation mania has transformed celebration of Christmas into a forbidden activity.
Conservative pundits have united to seize upon the trend of calling Christmas shindigs holiday parties as proof that the American Civil Liberties Union has outlawed the biggest Christian holiday of the year.
While some might consider this trend merely a polite way of including the non-Christian minority in what has become a largely secular celebration, the conservatives do have some real points.
The right names
Calling symbols clearly associated with Christmas anything but that is stupid. You can call these trees and all the rest that goes with them anything you like, but they are about Christmas, not anything else. Removing the name doesnt make them less Christian and only offends believers.
Moreover, Christianity is not Americas problem. The freedoms that all Americans enjoy here do not exist in spite of a Bible-based Christianity, but to no small extent because of the faith and values of Christian Americans.
Part of the problem is that the courts have struck some odd compromises about Christian symbols. While banning the establishment of a particular faith, judges have rightly perceived that the First Amendment was not a mandate to cleanse the public square of religious symbols. Nor could any court in its right mind expunge Dec. 25 from the list of federal holidays.
But rather than admit that the day off postal workers get for Christmas is to honor what more than 90 percent of Americans believe is the birthday of their Messiah, our robed judicial masters like to pretend it isnt a religious holiday. Thats why Christmas symbols such as trees and Santas are considered secular and entitled to places on public property.
Yet when a city like Boston officially refrains from calling the massive tree on Boston Common a Christmas tree, it justifiably provokes derision.
So, too, would any attempt to ban the word Christmas from displays in a misguided effort to make non-Christians feel better. Its especially dumb when you consider that no one tries to rename the Chanukah menorahs often placed besides the trees in public spaces.
But to listen to all of the screaming about de-Christmasing Christmas, you have to wonder whats really going on.
Amid the avalanche of Santas, trees, créche and other yuletide icons, youd have to be deaf, dumb and blind not to know that you are living in a Christian country, not by law, but by custom.
Losing the Culture Wars
So whats really causing people like Fox News personality John Gibson to claim there is a Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday (as he states in the subtitle of his book The War on Christmas)?
Do Gibson and fellow Fox provocateur Bill OReilly really think Target, Sears and Costco are trying to undermine faith when their ads wish customers Happy Holidays rather than Merry Christmas?
Or have they just spent so much time listening to Jewish whining about December that theyve started to copy it? It seems that Rev. Jerry Falwell and OReilly are just aping the dilemma paranoia routine that liberal Jews have perfected.
But easy as it is to make fun of their carping, something real lies behind it.
Ironically, just at the moment when Anti-Defamation League director Abe Foxman accused Christian conservatives of plotting to extinguish religious liberty, the same people that he (and most other liberals) wrongly believe are on the verge of overthrowing the Constitution think they are the ones whose liberties are on the chopping block.
To listen to Christian conservatives these days is to hear the cries of a segment of the population that believes it is being marginalized. Despite its numbers and political strength, the Christian rights self-image is of a group stymied on social issues and that is being driven out of the mainstream.
Anyone who reads daily newspapers or watches television or the majority of film releases could confirm that Christian right views on issues such as gay rights and abortion have been treated that way.
While the notion of a war against Christmas is farcical, the insecurity that drives such foolishness is not. It is based on the same sort of reasoning that drives their opponents on the other end of the ideological spectrum. That ought to give liberal activists pause.
Perhaps what this country really needs at the end of the calendar year is not so much a holiday season as a cease-fire. Instead of using each other as bogeymen to rally the troops for the culture wars, maybe both extreme separationists and hard-core conservative Christians should realize that the fears and insecurity felt by the other side are real.
Rather than being quick to go to the barricades against their fellow citizens, true believers of all creeds (religious and secular) must understand that the public square of our republic is big enough to hold us all.
Jonathan S. Tobin is executive editor of the Jewish Exponent in Philadelphia.