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Thursday, December 23, 2004

Merry Christmas!

I am normally quite the traditionalist about this season. It is still Advent, Christmas doesn't begin until Christmas Eve, and the 12 days of Christmas starts on December 25th. However, I am irked at the continued assault on all things Christmas and Christian that is occurring here in the land of tolerance and diversity.

When I first heard about the boycott of Macy's for using Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas, I thought it was a little ridiculous. After all, they are just trying to make money off of everyone, so why specify which holiday they mean. I have since learned that it was not just that, but an actual management down ban on using the phrase Merry Christmas. Hmm, so they want to make all that money off of Christmas buying, but don't want to acknowledge Christmas. Funny how they still have the Christmas decorations for sale, the carols piped in their speakers and all that accompanies that.

Not only do I want to boycott them, I now want to stand at their door (and bring friends to stand at every other entrance) and wish each and every person who enters and leaves a Merry Christmas. I do think that Christians should withold their money from people who would ban their holiday while taking their holiday cash. It is not illegal for a private company to acknowledge any holiday, and I don't believe such a ban was passed down on Chanukkah, Eid, Kwanzaa or any other holidays.

This is not the only episode like this, nor the most serious, but it is quite frustrating, and makes me glad that we are not spending a whole lot of money this year and sending it into the pockets of those who would disdain our holiday while embracing our money.

Michael Medved commented on this recently, and on his radio show said how it is being justified by the greater "diversity" in the US. He said this is hogwash. Most of our immigration comes from Mexico and Central America where they - ta-da! - celebrate Christmas. Here is an article he wrote:

Equal Rights for Christians?

Why should a state capitol building - or any other public facility, for that matter - use Jewish religious symbols to celebrate the holiday season while offering no visible Christian presence? That question struck me with special force last December when I toured the historic Massachusetts State House overlooking Boston Common. Beside an ornate stairway at the very center of the building stood a huge silver menorah, or Hanukkah candelabrum, at least eight feet tall. A brightly lettered sign announced it as the gift of Chabad, the energetic Chassidic Jewish sect, to the speaker of the State House of Representatives - who happens to be Irish Catholic.

As an observant Jew, who enthusiastically supports the inspirational work of Chabad, I felt a surge of pride at this prominent display. I was intrigued, however, by the absence of any symbols to balance the presence of the menorah, and so asked the tour guide if he could show me a nativity scene anywhere on the premises, or even a tree. He shrugged his shoulders in response and mumbled some boilerplate about not displaying religious symbols in the state capitol.

"But what about the menorah?" I asked. "Isn't that a religious symbol?"

"Oh, no, that's secular!" he replied. "That's a symbol of tolerance and religious freedom. That's why they put it here."

This is nonsense, of course. The Hanukkah menorah pointedly recalls the similar light-stand that once served the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, constructed according to detailed specifications in the Bible. Unlike Christmas trees or nativity scenes, the modern menorah serves a specific sacramental purpose: enabling Jews to fulfill the divine commandment to kindle lights on all eight nights of Hanukkah. I happen to believe that the menorah is a noble and beautiful symbol, but it is no more secular than a communion wafer.

The tour guide seemed confused, and he also may have misinformed me about the absence of Christmas decorations. For all I know, site managers may have stashed a tree or a wreath or a miniature manger at some other, less conspicuous corner of the State House. Even so, the situation in Boston represented a growing trend across the country: greater public acceptance of religious expression when it involves minority faiths.

Like most Jews, I'm delighted to see menorahs now turning up in public buildings - including schools, courthouses, government offices and shopping centers. I feel ashamed, however, that many of these same facilities find it necessary to ban "controversial" Christian symbols with any religious significance at all - mandating reindeer and elves (if anything) rather than crosses or creches.

According to the American Jewish Year Book, only 274,000 Jews live in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts - 4.4 percent of the state population. This means that Christians outnumber Jews in the Bay State by a ratio of more than 20 to one. Why, then, should the overwhelming majority see signs of their faith banished from the public square, while Jews and other minority faiths command more attention than ever before?

President Bush recently hosted an iftar dinner at the White House in which he honored the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The administration even arranged for a muezzin, a traditional Muslim prayer caller, to chant the appropriate blessings before and after the meal. A few weeks later, the president held a gala Hannukah celebration in the executive mansion, serving kosher meatballs and announcing that, for the first time, a menorah would be lighted in the White House residence - as opposed to West Wing offices. Abe Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, chortled that "people were calling on cellphones, saying 'I'm calling to wish you a Happy Hanukkah from the White House.' "

Such religious occasions draw few protests, and yet, when clergymen at the Bush Inaugural both mentioned the name Jesus Christ, Harvard's Alan Dershowitz, among others, penned an angry denunciation. No one described Jewish or Muslim celebrations as "controversial," but the beautiful creche that has graced the White House since 1967 has always provoked expressions of discomfort by militant "separationists."

The logic behind this double standard involves the fact that secularists feel unthreatened by demonstrations of Jewish or Muslim religiosity - these communities remain too small to impose a theocracy on the United States, even if they wanted to do so. Christians, on the other hand, frighten atheists with their celebrations and symbols precisely because they represent more than 90 percent of the country, as reported in recent surveys.

According to this argument, no one will feel pushed into observing a Jewish holiday by seeing a menorah at a mall, but many may feel coerced and guilt - tripped by Christian symbols and reminders. Such thinking leads directly to the topsy-turvy situation that prevails in much of the country this year - in which a tiny minority, or even a single individual, can spoil holiday fun for an entire community, but majority sentiments are instantly disregarded.

In St. Paul, Minn., a few families complained that red poinsettias amounted to a Christian symbol, so the County executive banned their traditional display at the courthouse. Meanwhile, when nearly all Americans - including, by the way, most Jewish Americans - feel offended by the use of government funds for an artwork that plunges a crucifix into a jar of urine, then their objections count for nothing.

Yes, religious minorities deserve recognition and protection in this pluralistic society, but our sensitivities and needs shouldn't take precedence over the cherished traditions of our Christian neighbors. It makes no sense for bureaucrats to take seriously the complaints of one disgruntled atheist protesting the display of a manger scene at a public park, while ignoring the complaints of 50 million Christians objecting to a Madonna smeared with elephant dung displayed at a government-funded museum.

Perhaps it requires a religious Jew to make the plea, but isn't it appropriate that Christians should receive equal rights to official expressions of faith - and win equal respect for their religious symbols - in this overwhelmingly Christian country?" Michael Medved

There are numerous articles online dealing with this, and even our liberal mainstream media is starting to comment, I suppose because it is just too obvious to ignore, even for them. One that I particularly loved was a parade in Denver which was banning all religious symbols from its holiday light parade (specifically banning a Christian church group from having a float with Merry Christmas on it and singing Christmas carols). Details here and here. I love that they used the excuse that they were banning all religious displays, because it shows them as the frauds they are: they are including a Native American Spirituality group which honors homosexual Native Americans as holy - Denver Two Spirit - and a Chinese group performing a Lion Dance to ward off evil spirits and bring blessing in the Chinese New Year. They did eventually promise to reevaluate this policy for next year's parade, given the tremendous protest from Evangelical, Catholic and other grassroots organizations who peacefully and politely protested their hypocrisy and policy. The organizers of the parade still insist that phrases like Merry Christmas and Christmas carols were not against their rules, to which I have to respond, then why ban a group for using them in their float?

Then there's the school in Maplewood, NJ which is banning all religious music to keep that separation between church and state. The Grinch Who Stole Messiah an opinion column by Dawn Eden details that quite nicely. These folks who are so big on separation of church and state might do well to check the constitution and note that not only is the phrase not there, but the two phrases specifically about religion forbid the federal government from establishing a federal religion (note that in its infancy there were state religions in some states of the union, it was only the federal government which was seen as forbidden from establishment) and prohibiting the free exercise of religion. If they are all that concerned about the religious problems at holiday times like this, then have a parade of lights for Presidents day or Memorial Day, and sing holiday songs about our nation's history or something like that.

There is a school in my area that has banned Dickens' A Christmas Carol because of its overt Christian themes. This is a high school. Where they frequently expose kids to anti-religious themes and tell the parents that they need to suck it up and cope. I wonder if they have also banned Little Women, all the Anne of Green Gables books, Jane Eyre, Diary of Anne Frank, anything by Corrie ten Boom, not to mention books like Harry Potter and other books which specialize in witchcraft (a recognized religion in our country). My friend's son attends a school here in town where they invited some Jewish representatives to come in to explain all about Chanukkah and teach them songs. Not that it should surprise anyone, but they didn't invite anyone to explain Christmas, and they aren't singing any Christmas songs.

Our post office has two stamps for Kwanzaa, one for Eid, two for Chanukkah, two secular "holiday" stamps, one for the Chinese New Year and one religious "holiday" stamp with a Madonna and Child. They don't even call it a Christmas stamp, yet have no issue with naming the other holidays outright. I'd be willing to bet that there are a whole lot more people sending out Christmas cards than Chanukkah cards, Kwanzaa cards, Eid cards and cards for the Chinese New Year. Sure, there are those two cutesy stamps, but for many Protestants the Madonna and Child wouldn't be their first choice of religious image, yet that is their only choice and the USPS won't even call it a Christmas stamp, lest someone be offended.

James Lileks wrote a nice piece on the disappearance of Merry Christmas in the Star Tribune entitled Backfence: The traditional yule fear factor which is a humorous, but accurate description of "Christmas" in America.

It isn't only in Christmas that we see this excising of Christianity. In A Jew Defends the Cross Dennis Prager comments on the idiocy that is occurring in Los Angeles County. Please note the largest symbol in the county seal: the Roman pagan goddess Pomona. Note also that there haven't been efforts by Christians to remove that symbol from the seal.

Our local paper published a 4 or 5 page article lambasting traditional and orthodox Christian churches last month, specifically naming names of some of the churches in town who provide them with their advertising money. Not anymore. There are some significant absences in the religious pages now, and some churches in our town are putting their money toward better things. And this is in a pretty traditional, religious community. Our paper's editor, however, is very much not traditional and anti-religious.

Anyway, I'll get a family update and some knit content up soon. I'm just so irritated at all of the exclusion and attacks being perpretrated by our so-called tolerant, diverse friends in the public square.

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I was reading along and said to myself, "I really ought to talk about all the ridiculousness around here over the Parade of Lights". But then you beat me to it. :-). Personally, I think the most ridculous quote I heard was, "I'm sick of all these Christians trying to co-opt Christmas." Ummmmm, hello?

In the end, the church float did not participate in the parade, but will be there next year and I believe the sign will continue to say "Merry Christmas".

I think it's a struggle for event organizers this time of year to balance the various holidays that fall at this time for different cultures and religions. Some people tend to forget there is anything other than Christmas, and others try to eliminate Christmas. But double standards are not cool. Either have a winter parade and only allow snowmen and sleighbells or have a holiday parade and allow angels, nativities, and Santa along with those snowmen and sleighbells.

As for the stores--like you said, most of the prominent chains are just out there to make the most money which means pissing the fewest people off. Macy's appears to have forgotten that the majority of the people in this country ARE Christian and are going to be upset at their holiday being excluded.

I was going to write more, but it's getting late here and I suspect the rest belongs more in my blog than yours anyway. :)

Merry Christmas!
Jennifer from Colorado
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