Battles rage in US over celebrating holidays
By Ellen Wulfhorst
Sun Dec 18, 8:53 AM ET
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Ebenezer Scrooge would enjoy Christmas in America this year.
Drowning out the sounds of sleigh bells ringing and children singing are the sounds of arguing. At issue is how to greet people, how to decorate main street and how to sell gifts -- all without offending someone.
Religious conservatives are threatening lawsuits and boycotts to insist that store clerks and advertisements say "Merry Christmas." Countering are those who argue they are being inclusive and inoffensive with the secular "Happy Holidays."
In the middle seem to be most Americans, who not only aren't offended but find the whole spat rather ridiculous.
"You'd think there might be some Christmas spirit around Christmas time around the issue of Christmas," said Paul Cantor, a popular culture expert and professor at the University of Virginia. "It's one time you really wish people really could live and let live."
Alas, that's not what this Christmas is all about.
Sparks flew when U.S. President George W. Bush sent out cards referring to the "holiday season," a leading Republican declared the decorated tree on the Capitol lawn a "Christmas Tree" and not a "Holiday Tree" and the logger who cut down the tree for the Boston Common was so upset when officials called it a "Holiday Tree" that he said he'd rather see it fed into a wood chipper.
"HANGING OF THE GREENS"
Conservative groups have marshaled the forces of lawyers volunteering to help anyone fighting for Christmas displays and launched boycotts of retailers whose advertisements fail to say "Merry Christmas."
A school system in Texas found itself in court after teachers asked children to bring white -- rather than red and green -- napkins to a party, while Annapolis, Maryland raised hackles by calling its evergreen boughs and ribbons on public buildings the "Hanging of the Greens" rather than "Christmas decorations."
Fanning the flames are conservative talk show personalities bemoaning the secularization of Christmas. Fox News anchor John Gibson chimed in with a book "The War on Christmas: How the Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday is Worse than You Thought."
"'Happy Holidays' and 'Season's Greetings' are not a substitute for 'Merry Christmas,"' said Manuel Zamorano, head of the Sacramento, California-based Committee to Save Merry Christmas, which organizes store boycotts over holiday advertising.
"Christmas is the holiday and 'Merry Christmas' is what we want to hear," he said. "It's political correctness gone amok."
Bah humbug, said radio talk show host Bill Press, author of "How the Republicans Stole Christmas."
"People have been saying 'Happy Holidays' for a hundred years at least," he said. "This is nothing new. It just celebrates the diversity of America."
He blames politics.
"It is all by design," he said. "The more people are talking about who's saying 'Happy Holidays' and who's saying 'Merry Christmas,' the less people are talking about Karl Rove, torture, Tom DeLay, the war in Iraq and other hot issues.
"And the more they stir up their evangelical Christian base over this issue, the more likely they are to get out and vote Republican in 2006," he said.
The debate has become comic grist.
"Every time you say 'Happy Holidays,' an angel gets AIDS," warned television comedian Jon Stewart.
The satirical newspaper The Onion wrote a spoof about a judge who declared Christmas unconstitutional, with a photograph purporting to be workers dismantling the famed tree at Rockefeller Center to comply with the judge's ruling.
Making the rounds on the Internet is a series of mock memos from a fake company inviting employees to a Christmas Party, complete with open bar, gift exchange and tree lighting.
By the last of the memos, the increasingly beleaguered company is forced to apologize to its Jewish employees, the office alcoholics, Muslims, dieters, pregnant women, gays and lesbians, union members, management, cross-dressers, diabetics and vegetarians. In the end, the party is canceled.
RETAILERS IN THE MIDDLE
Stuck in the middle of the debate are retailers, whose seasonal selling campaigns seem to raise particular wrath.
"When someone says 'Happy Holidays,' they're saying something very nice to you. There's no ill intent behind any of this," said Dan Butler of the National Retail Federation. "When you're dealing with the public you'll get positive comments and negative comments about everything in the world."
Perhaps, added Peter Steinfels of the Center on Religion and Culture at Fordham University, there isn't a war on Christmas after all but a more sensitive religious right.
Conservatives are using the super-fast Internet and e-mail to publicize what they see as extreme examples of "super politically correct conduct," he said. "It gives the impression that there's a great deal of political correctness ... when in fact it may not really be so different from the way it's always been."
This is an article about all the uproar over whether we should be saying "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Holidays" and all that crap.
As far as retail clerks are concerned, I am on the "Happy Holidays" side of things. I've worked several holiday seasons at a bookstore in a part of the Cities with a heavy Jewish population. As I rang customers up there was a good chance that they weren't going to celebrate Christmas. Yes, sometimes I did say Merry Christmas, because it is hard to break thirty years of habit, but I tried to make an effort not to. After all, to those who celebrate Christmas, that is what you are talking about when you say Happy Holidays. That is what they will interpret it as. If you are Jewish and I say Happy Holidays your first thought isn't "but I don't celebrate Christmas."
I am just getting so sick of all the politicians trying to bring religion into politics, and of all the religious leaders trying to convince America that all Americans are Christians. It's just not true! I don't think the government should try to protect Christian beliefs and ideals. They should be protecting all religious freedom, not just Christian.
I am not Christian. Yes, I celebrate Christmas. But to me it is not a religious holiday, it is a family holiday.
It is a time to give gifts to those you care about and spend time with family & friends and eat lots of really good food.
When I do get around to decorating my house I do have a Christmas tree. There is no angel on top. One year we had a stuffed Opus on top. The last few years we have had a Moravian star on top, because 1/4 of my heritage is Moravian.
When we go to my mom & dad's house on Christmas morning I will take all the figures out of the manger and rearrange them. Not because they aren't set up right, but because it is something I have always done ever since I was a kid. Would I like to have that manger set someday? Yes. But not because of the religious meaning. I'd want it because it is something I have a memory of for as far back as I can remember. For as long as I can remember that one wise man has had a broken toe. I have no idea when or how it broke. The set is just plastic, nothing special about it, and the manger itself is a crude homemade manger. But my dad made it and that has more meaning to me than some baby who was born 1000 years ago & may be the son of god, or his mom may have just gotten knocked up and spun a good tale about it.
Yes, people will say Merry Christmas to me. I will say it back. Some will say Happy Holidays, and I will reply with the same. Very few of them will likely say Blessed Yule/Solstice. I won't be resentful of this. I know that whatever people say, it is the thought and not the words that are important. And I know that the majority of people I know celebrate Christmas, whether in a religious way, or just in a family way like me. I can't force them to not say Merry Christmas, just as they can't force me to say it. And I really don't mind. After all, arguing over the proper thing to say kinda defeats the reasons we celebrate, doesn't it? Besides, for over 30 years I have celebrated Christmas with my family and friends. I am just as likely to say Merry Christmas as Happy Holidays. It doesn't mean the Christian politicians have won.