The politically correct Christmas scene:


Germany: "Santa-Free Zones" created: "A group of Germans are wanting to get rid of Santa saying he has become a symbol of the commercialisation of Christmas. Thousands of stickers have been printed declaring whole areas in Germany and Austria 'Santa Free Zones' and pamphlets have been handed out on street corners reminding people that the traditional bringer of presents is St Nicholas and not the red-suited, white-bearded immigrant from the English-speaking world."


Julie West is tired of being wished "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas." She's annoyed with department stores that use "Season's Greetings" banners, and with public schools that teach about Hanukkah and Kwanzaa but won't touch the Nativity story. So last week, she sent a baked protest to a holiday party at her first-grade son's school: a chocolate cake with vanilla frosting and red icing that spelled out "Happy Birthday Jesus." "Christmas keeps getting downgraded, to the point that you're almost made to feel weird if you even mention it," says West, a resident of Edmonds, Wash., who describes herself as a non-denominational Christian. "What's the matter with recognizing the reason behind the whole holiday?"

This Christmas season, West has plenty of company. Christians and traditionalists across the nation, fed up with what they view as the de-emphasizing of Christmas as a religious holiday, are filing lawsuits, promoting boycotts and launching campaigns aimed at restoring references to Christ in seasonal celebrations. From New Jersey to California, Christians are moving to counter years of lawsuits that have made governments wary about putting Nativity scenes on public property, and that occasionally have led schools to drop Christmas carols from holiday programs:

* In Bay Harbor Islands, Fla., a Christian sued in federal court after town officials refused to let her erect a Nativity scene next to a menorah, or Hanukkah candelabra, on a causeway. Last week, a judge ordered the town to comply.

* In Maplewood, N.J., parents and students recently petitioned the local school board after school officials dropped even instrumental versions of Christmas music from class programs.

* In Denver, a Protestant church responded to the city's decision to drop "Merry Christmas" from public signs by trying to enter a Christmas-themed float in the holiday parade. Supporters picketed the parade and sang Christmas carols after the float was rejected.

* In California, a group called the Committee to Save Merry Christmas is boycotting Federated Department Stores. The group claims that Federated's affiliates, including Macy's, prohibit clerks from saying "Merry Christmas" and ban the word "Christmas" from ads and store displays. The retail giant says it has no such policy.

Even Kwanzaa, the African-American harvest celebration, has taken a hit. In Los Angeles, the Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson, a conservative black activist, has urged black Christians to spurn Kwanzaa, which he calls a "pagan holiday."

The new battles over religion's role in holiday celebrations come more than two decades after the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups began going to court to try to require municipalities to remove Nativity scenes and other religious displays from public property. The ACLU argued that such religious symbols violated the First Amendment's ban on government-endorsed religion. In two rulings in the 1980s, the U.S. Supreme Court said that Nativity scenes are acceptable when they are combined with other symbols - such as a Santa Claus house - that indicate Christmas is a secular holiday in American culture as well as a religious one.

Nevertheless, the threat of lawsuits and a desire to be more sensitive to the nation's growing number of non-Christians - who made up about 18% of the U.S. population in a 2002 survey by Pew Charitable Trusts - has led many governments, schools and businesses to de-emphasize Christ in Christmastime celebrations. Phrases such as "Happy Holidays" and "Season's Greetings" have replaced "Merry Christmas" at many public venues.....

John Whitehead, director of the Rutherford Institute, a group in Charlottesville, Va., that defends against challenges to speech and religion rights, says the recent trend has been for schools and municipalities to excise "all mention of Christmas, out of some misshapen idea that this respects diversity." He is particularly critical of decisions such as that made by the school board in Maplewood, N.J., which decided to drop traditional carols and other Christmas music from public school programs during the mid-1990s after receiving several complaints. This year, the ban was extended even to instrumental versions of Christmas songs....

Whitehead says that overly cautious approaches to mentioning Christ in Christmas celebrations has meant that "in the name of offending no one, you now have high school kids who can't play music that's part of the culture, and store clerks who are afraid to say, 'Merry Christmas.' It takes a joyous and merry day and just makes it blah."

Sandra Snowden agrees. According to papers she filed in a federal lawsuit, the resident of Bay Harbor Islands, Fla., was "offended" that the town allowed a menorah, but not a Nativity scene, to be placed along a public causeway. When she protested, court papers say, town leaders countered that the menorah, which commemorates the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem after a Jewish military victory in 165 B.C., was a secular symbol of freedom. Before a federal judge ruled in her favor, Snowden rejected the town's offer to install a Christmas tree rather than a Nativity scene, which the town officials had called "divisive."

Those seeking to put more Christ into Christmas have had other successes. In Mustang, Okla. on Dec. 14, parents incensed that a Nativity sequence had been dropped from a school holiday program organized to help defeat an $11 million school bond referendum. And in Washington state, cake maker Julie West is claiming a small victory. Although her son's teacher expressed some misgivings, West served slices of her "Happy Birthday Jesus" cake to 20 first-graders and about five other parents. No one complained, she says. "I had gotten a legal opinion from the Rutherford Institute saying I was within my rights before I brought the cake to school," West says. "That's Christmas this year, I guess: candy cane frosting and a legal opinion."

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Why am I not surprised? Could it be because the Left inflicted such vast horrors on the 20th century?

The other night my father arrived at a Chinese restaurant on the Upper West Side and said, indignantly: "I want to start a movement called Jews for Christmas." I laughed, then realized he was serious. We'd been discussing the recent news stories about the ACLU's siege on Christmas symbolism. Christians are protesting all over the country, as well they might. In Oklahoma, mangers are being removed by janitors; in Denver, baby Jesus was banned from their wintertime "Parade of Lights" pageant. The religious whitewashers have done their work in the name of Church/State ideals, but was this not the very thing political correctness was designed to protect against?

I can't follow it anymore. "We came to this country," my father said, "and the Christians defended our right to worship as we please. George Washington wrote a letter to the Touro Synagogue in Rhode Island reassuring them that Jews were welcome here and would be safe. Now that the Christian religion is under attack, I think we non-Christians should rise up and say to our Christian brothers and sisters, 'Don't bother fighting. We owe you, big time, and we'll fight this one for you.' And then lead a campaign to make sure Christians have the same right to express their religious faith as they've always made sure we have."

When he was a boy in Greensboro, NC, my father sang the "Ave Maria," solo, in the Christmas pageant. He was singled out for the role not because of his singing voice, but because he knew Hebrew and they figured that was closer to Latin than English. Another year, he proudly played a shepherd in the school Christmas play. My grandmother fashioned a crepe-paper-covered corn stalk as a crook, but it lacked a hook; he wondered how he could corral sheep without a hook. She said it was good enough-that the other kids would deal with the sheep-and told him to hush. All these things planted in him an abiding love of Christmas, indelibly tied to memories of childhood.....

Christmas is, to me, the high point in the year of a lost range in what Johnny Cash called "our love language." Look at the words: joy, adore, king, child, exalt, behold, virgin, Satan, star, glory, come, know, truth, reign, grace. Angels, trumpets, drums, people falling to their knees, souls ascending. What's so bad about the sentiments of Christianity? These people know how to throw a good party. Isn't "Let every heart prepare him room" a more uplifting line than, for instance, "Oh well, whatever, nevermind"?

My father grew up as a Jew in the Bible Belt, the deep South, and one thing about Southerners is, they know about reverb and generosity in language; they know how to throw a word all the way out. I think it's just the pure relief from irony and grudge that we seek in Christmas kitsch. My son is now 10 and attends public school in New York, as I did. In fact, he attends school in the same building I did, and it still smells exactly the same. When he was about three, in pre-school, I began my search, and it was every bit as blatant as the Grinch sliding down the mountainside with all the symbols of Christmas stuffed into his bulging sack. There was nothing you could say; you couldn't even give voice to what was missing, because it was eradicated in the manner of something that was supposed to never have existed. Seven years ago, they were down to songs about potato latkes plus one, if I recall, about Frosty. At that point, the only winter holiday they actually celebrated was.Chinese New Year.

Recently we went to my son's "Winter Show," at a local school I won't name. Our expectations were low, Christmas-wise. We were prepared, for instance, to not see kids with shepherd's crooks standing around a pile of hay under a star falling from the ceiling attached to a string. But maybe, instead, it would be a benign, politically correct compromise: a Kwanzaa song, maybe a Karelian snow dance or an upbeat Chinese ribbon performance. We love all that stuff too, and we're not obsessed with white Anglo culture. (My father, a WW2 generation, classic Cold War conservative, is happiest when conversing in a foreign language with a grocery bagger from Bamako or a cab driver from.anywhere but America. Anything about the rest of the world is of interest, so don't peg us for elitist xenophobes.)

With my father to my left and my sister to my right, we sat in the front row, beaming expectantly. Soon it became known that the theme of the Winter Show steered clear of anything whatsoever to do with winter, or any holidays rituals from any part of the world. Though the peg was "the 60s," the true themes of the show were class warfare, American proto-guilt, Bush-bashing and most strikingly, death.

I do think the children need to deal with death, and I am not criticizing them at all. They were terrific. But it was a most unusual choice of themes for a mid-December school play. And it made me wonder about the line separating not Church and State, but Radical Left Faculty and Students Whose Minds Are Still Forming.

The death motif was there from the start, and wound through the production, including a mock horror film, and an impressive but dark monologue by a girl who was having pervasive death anxiety and imagined herself in a coffin being eaten by worms. It was very interesting. I can't swear I'm not being a total prig here, sitting around waiting for shepherds and sheep at the school play, at a time of great political upheaval. But-a mini-play featuring five kids, boys and girls, in combat gear in Vietnam, promising each other that they would get out alive? Four were shot and killed seconds later. Eventually the fifth was too. There were also at least four anti-Bush chants, including one in which even breakfast cereals attacked the president.

We sat pressed back in our chairs. My father was pale. As we walked out into the biting wind, I expected him to say, as he often does when flabbergasted, "Put me on the hog train." He was unusually quiet. I asked what he was thinking and he said, "When I got hungry as a boy, my mother used to snap at me and say, 'Pretend it's Yom Kippur.'"

"Yeah, so?"

He laughed. "So, I'm pretending it's not December."

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