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War on Christmas is a battle over nothing

Be careful to whom you wish a Happy Holiday this year – they might wheel around and punch you in the nose.

Every year, petty political correction officers and self-righteous defenders of their faith engage in a most pathetic holiday tradition: the ‘War on Christmas.’

Unlike most confrontations, in which both or a number of sides get a few things right and a few wrong, any serious participant in the War on Christmas is simply mad.

The war has been raging for some years now, but it has really been ramped up over the last decade. It might be because this coincides with a significant reemergence of conservative Christian fundamentalism and the tenure of George W. Bush. We can’t know for sure, because thankfully, no serious scholarly research has been done on the subject.

What we do know, however, is that Christians see department stores that use the phrase ‘Happy Holidays’ as attacking their religion. On the other side, certain non-Christian sects apparently regard the prominent placement of Christmas in America as a violation of church/state separation.

In the first place, Christmas as it looks now in America has virtually nothing to do with religion. Certainly there are some – probably many – families which do still celebrate the holiday with a certain amount of Christian reverence, but the symbols we typically use in our homes and decorations – candy canes, decorated trees, stockings, mistletoe and so on – have nothing to do with Christianity.

Even whatever loose connection Santa Claus might have had to Christianity has been eroded entirely. Our current depiction of him was popularized by the Coca-Cola Company – prior to this it was more open to interpretation what form Saint Nicholas might take.

John Gibson, formerly the host of FOX News’ ‘The Big Story,’ published a book in 2005 called ‘The War on Christmas: How the Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday Is Worse than You Thought.’ The issue of the War on Christmas only has a loose connection to any sort of left/right dichotomy, but many like to insinuate a strong one.

In the very first few pages of the book, Gibson talks about a case in Covington, Georgia. There, says Gibson, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) threatened to slap a lawsuit on the local school if its calendars kept the word ‘Christmas’ on them. Surely the ACLU could find better things to do with its time than this.

The book goes on to cite many examples like the one mentioned above, but the Amazon.com reviews are far more interesting than the book itself. About a third of the reviews give the book five stars, and two thirds give it only one.

Patricia Fisher – who indicates she is a ‘Professor of Literature’ and says she comes from Cambridge, Mass. – gives the book five stars, writing, ‘The ‘bah humbug’ crowd find if you’re happy and want to share that happiness there must be something wrong. Tough.’ Another reviewer, ‘Ti$$ the $eason,’ simply draws an ASCII middle finger.

My sympathies are more aligned with Ti$$ the $eason.

There is, perhaps, some issue at stake here. Many view state-sponsored Christmas activity as an endorsement of a particular religion. But the virtual absence of any remnant of Christian influence in the Christmas holiday confronts that view. Sure, state houses probably shouldn’t depict nativity scenes out in front of them – but that is an issue which can wait until we figure out, as the late comedian Bill Hicks called it, this ‘food-air deal.’

Christmas is an almost completely commercial holiday now. It doesn’t make any sense for one side to be outraged that it isn’t religious enough while another claims it is too religious – there is no longer any religion involved.

But some people are very seriously upset. At the end of every ‘O’Reilly Factor,’ host Bill reads a handful of viewer e-mails. One woman a few days ago wrote in, saying if she is in the checkout line and the cashier doesn’t wish her a Merry Christmas, she puts her things down and walks out of the store.

Most people, thankfully, are reasonable and not so quickly prone to taking personal offense. Whether the phrase is ‘Happy Holidays’ or ‘Merry Christmas,’ the real meaning is ‘Best to you and yours.’

Unless you’re hearing in a department store, in which case the real meaning might be ‘Come back to buy lots more stuff real soon.’

Respond to Kyle by commenting below or by emailing to [email protected]

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