It is OK to Wish Merry Christmas

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Ashley Tarter, a 32-year-old James City County resident, was buying Christmas gifts last year when she found something amiss.

“I was shopping in every store, and no one wished me a Merry Christmas,” Tarter recalled. Instead, store clerks and cashiers were greeting her with “Happy Holidays” and other generic seasonal hellos.

Today, Tarter stands determined to save “Merry Christmas” — and, she said, Christmas itself in a sense — through a campaign of subtle but colorful buttons.

It all began when Tarter mentioned to her husband over dinner that December she wished she could wear a sign that broadcast her desire for others to wish her “Merry Christmas.” After a bit of online research, Tarter found a wholesale button maker — and the “Wish Me a Merry Christmas” movement was born.

But her campaign won’t rest with just local awareness. Should Tarter sell a million pins, she plans to contact top U.S. retailers to demand that their employees say, “Merry Christmas,” to shoppers.

Tarter planned to sell only to churches for give-aways or fundraisers, but demand was so high, individuals can now buy the ornament-shaped badges, she said.

It’s not just the greeting that Tarter wants changed. She wants store displays to be religious-themed, with less of a focus on winter and Santa Claus. Music should be all Christmas carols — no “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” or “Jingle Bell Rock.” And the carols’ instrumental versions don’t count.

Since starting her Web site in July, Tarter has sold tens of thousands of $1.50 buttons, she said, with more orders coming in every day from Hampton Roads to Alaska. The money collected will be used for campaign purposes, such as marketing, travel costs to secure corporate commitments and possible legal expenses, Tarter said.

The initial success doesn’t surprise Tarter, who said people constantly underestimated what the Christian community could do.

“When Christians work to change the culture, that impact can be powerful,” Tarter said.

Regarding the likelihood of real change, she said, “If attention and slogans didn’t have the power to change retailers’ decisions, the stores wouldn’t look the way they do,” referring to what Tarter sees as the business community’s secularization.

The decline of “Merry Christmas” and what some people have called the war on Christmas have been annual talking points in recent years, led by conservative television and radio personalities who see America’s secular left as removing the true origins of the holiday — the birth of Jesus Christ — from Christmas in an over-reaching grab at political correctness. But national chains, government centers and other public gathering places have openly struggled to include citizens and shoppers who don’t celebrate the holiday.

Tarter doesn’t buy it. She cites a study commissioned a few years ago by the Fox News Channel that said 96 percent of Americans celebrated Christmas.

“Christmas is what it is, and people shouldn’t be offended that Christians are celebrating our holiday,” Tarter said. “For me, personally, you know what — if I’m spending all this money on Christmas, it’s actually offensive not to wish me a Merry Christmas.”

So can a mass movement of button wearers make a difference? Unlikely, according to local retailers and store managers. Susan Milhoan, president and CEO of the Norfolk-based Retail Alliance, a regionwide trade group, acknowledged that some retailers encouraged their employees to be as inclusive as possible to all shoppers. She said Tarter’s campaign “flies in the face of freedom of speech.”

Milhoan compared the effort to actions by public-smoking advocates. “When do individual rights and desires become more important than those of the society?” she asked.

One Hampton businessman has long balanced the religious with the secular. Mike Monteith, owner of Mike’s Surf Shop and a member of the Retail Alliance, keeps by his register a Surfer’s Bible. In it, the New Testament is combined with testimonies from pro surfers and skaters. Monteith also opens his indoor skate for free only once a week — for a devotional skate on Sundays. Posters advertising the event are on the front door and walls.

During the Christmas season, Monteith lets his workers greet customers however they please.

“I personally almost always, I think, say, ‘Merry Christmas,’ but I don’t have a stated policy,” Monteith said.

A handful of area churches have bought boxes of buttons. John Gray Sr., pastor at Williamsburg’s Bethel Restoration Center, has about 300 buttons sitting in his office that he plans to give to parishioners after Thanksgiving.

More people need to start feeling good about saying, “Merry Christmas,” to each other, Gray said. But he also said the meaning behind those words surpassed the Dec. 25 holiday.

“Christmas has a religious overtone, but I think it’s bigger than religion,” Gray said. “It speaks to family, coming together, giving to people less fortunate. Whether it’s applicable to Christ or not, it’s a time to give of yourself. I think it’s OK to express the sentiments of your heart and to not be afraid to say, ‘Merry Christmas,’ to somebody.”

Washington State to Allow Nativity Scene at Capitol

Nearly a year after state officials barred a Christmas Nativity scene from the Washington State Capitol Rotunda — drawing criticism from conservatives, including Fox News television talk-show host Bill O’Reilly, who equated such efforts in Washington and around the country with a liberal plot — the state has agreed to allow Ron Wesselius to display such a scene on behalf of citizens who celebrate Christmas.

With help from the Christian advocacy group Alliance Defense Fund, Wesselius filed suit last year after state officials denied his request to set up the Christian scene but allowed a Jewish menorah and a “holiday tree” to be displayed.

The state settled the suit and allowed the display.

“It’s incredible to think that Americans have to think twice about whether it is OK to celebrate Christmas in public,” said Alliance Defense Fund lawyer Byron Babione.

“Just as it is constitutional for officials to display a menorah and a holiday tree, it is also constitutional to include a Nativity scene. We are pleased that the settlement will allow for a Nativity scene in the rotunda this year.”

Babione said the Nativity scene is legal and appropriate.

“The state Capitol Rotunda is open for displays and exhibits during the holiday season. The state cannot bar a Christmas Nativity because of its religious viewpoint and allow other displays like a menorah and ‘holiday tree,’ ” Babione said.

Steve Valandra, spokesman for the General Administration Department, said the display would be up from Dec. 3 to 28.

He said the display was not allowed last year because the request came in too late. “There’s a little process that everybody goes through when they want to put up a display,” Valandra said.

Wesselius asked to display the scene after he noticed the menorah display, Valandra said. Valandra vetted the idea with the state Attorney General’s Office because of the religious content of the display and was told there was not enough time to research the issue.

Clay Aiken Caught Up in Christmas Concert Controversy

American Idol star Clay Aiken is caught up in a gay controversy after parishioners at a church where he is set to perform a Christmas concert demanded assurances the singer isn’t a homosexual.

Aiken’s sexuality hit the headlines last year when a former Green Beret soldier revealed he had spent a night of passion with the crooner, but Aiken refused to discuss the issue when it came up in interviews.

Then, fans threatened to file a class action suit against the singer if it was proven he was gay.

And now, elders at a Wichita, Kansas church want to make sure the singer is heterosexual before green-lighting plans for him to perform for their congregation on November 26th.

The Central Christian Church controversy reached a fever pitch shortly after the performance was announced, and the executive pastor Mark Posson felt compelled to send a letter to concerned elders.

A source tells the National Enquirer, “Pastor Posson thought it was in the church’s best interest to circulate a letter.”

In the note, the pastor avoided the gay issue, declaring Aiken was a Christian who didn’t “drink, smoke, swear or womanise”.

The clergyman also recalled interviews Aiken gave to Rolling Stone magazine and an internet site, in which he stated he was not gay.

Posson also incorrectly declared the Green Beret, who claimed to have spent the night with Aiken in a hotel, later recanted his story, explaining he was encouraged to “scandalise the singer” by so-called Aiken haters. In fact, the soldier, John Paulus, has never gone back on his story – and passed a lie detector test when he took his story to the Enquirer.

As Wenn went to press, the Aiken concert at Central Christian Church is still scheduled.

What does any of this have to do with Christmas? Ask the parishioners at Central Christian Church.

California Man Has to Tone Down Christmas Lights

Last year things got violent over Richard Viselli’s Christmas light display. The Claremont, California man has a passion for exhuberant displays each Christmas on his home and last year took it to a new level by broadcasting music via a low frequency FM transmitter to synchronize his “show” to festive tunes. Things will be a little less merry for Viselli this year after agreeing with the city to ditch the music and tone down the lights.

If the compromise hadn’t been reached Viselli might have had to conform to a proposed “entertainment” ordinance that would have required a city permit and perhaps paid policing of the site during each night of the Christmas season when the lights would have been on.

“It cut my heart out,” Mr. Viselli later said. “It’s my passion, but I have to live with it. I am happy that I get to at least keep my lights with no restrictions.”

The council did agree to allow Mr. Viselli to display a limitless amount of Christmas lights and urged him to continue compromising with his neighbors.

Despite the agreement to tone down the show, Mr. Viselli promises his Christmas display will still be impressive. His goal is to have up to 45,000 lights at his house and also plans to decorate 5 neighboring homes “to their fullest.”

“I’m just looking to add some Christmas spirit to this neighborhood,” Mr. Viselli said.

(Source: Claremont Courier) 

Halloween Noose Display Nixes Christmas Decor in NJ

Recent news reports surrounding the racial overtones represented by the hangman’s noose in Jena, La. and other areas has reach into the festive seasons of Halloween and Christmas. From New Jersey today comes this report:

Chesla Flood couldn’t believe her eyes. A hangman’s noose circled the neck of a black-hooded, jeans-clad dummy suspended from the chimney of a house in Madison.

Flood called her mother, Millie Hazlewood, who reported the Halloween display to police. She wasn’t the only one. Police went to the property at least three times starting Sunday, and even the mayor asked the homeowners to take down the figure.

At 8 last night, the family relented, saying they feared for their safety.

“It’s no more like freedom of speech anymore,” Cheryl Maines said. “My son had to take this down because these people have blown this thing out of proportion.”

Before the figure was removed yesterday, Madison Mayor Ellwood “Woody” Kerkeslager said “the appearance and the suggestion (of racism) is there, and it’s inappropriate.”

At least four recent noose displays — one each in Jena, La., and Philadelphia and two in New York City — are drawing renewed attention to a potent symbol of racism, lynchings and the era of Jim Crow segregation.

Unlike those incidents, the Madison figure was part of a Halloween display, and for two days, homeowners Cheryl and David Maines, the borough’s superintendent of public works, refused to budge. They said they had done nothing wrong.

Meanwhile, the state chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People denounced the display as offensive, racist and insensitive.

“I think there are many people who understand the significance of a noose as it relates to the history of African-Americans,” said James Harris, president of the NAACP’s state chapter. “We thought we lived beyond the era when people felt it was okay to have that type of display.”

Last night, the Maines family said they would be replacing their Halloween display and erecting a sign reading: “Thanks to the assistance of Millie Hazlewood and her friends, Halloween and Christmas decorations will no longer be celebrated here.”

The incident revived the persistent question of what is entertaining and what is offensive.

“The lines have all been blurred, and people push the limits just to see how far we can go” to shock each other, said James Farrelly, a Halloween expert and professor of Irish studies at the University of Dayton. But Farrelly, a Newark native, said, “I don’t know if we have a blank check to celebrate this by putting out our own sense of what we think is evil or might scare people.”

D.J. Maines, the 27-year-old son of Cheryl and David Maines, has bedecked the house for seven Halloweens using $5,000 worth of decorations he has collected. He has used the hanging dummy each year, but usually it is partially hidden by other decorations.

George Martin, a deacon at the First Baptist Church, which Hazlewood attends, said the noose evoked personal memories of terror and loss growing up in the South in the 1950s and 1960s. He said he lost his great-uncle to a lynching in South Carolina. His father watched his uncle and a friend die in a lynching, he said.

“It’s the same imagery we saw as young people — black faces, dungarees and ropes around the body and neck,” said Martin, who is also a member of the district board of education.

Cheryl Maines said she was not swayed by Martin’s personal history.

“Don’t bring your ancestors into this — it’s something that happened; you’ve got to get beyond it or you’re going to make yourself sick,” she said.

Madison police checked with the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office to determine whether the noose display was illegal or could be ordered down, according to police records. Two assistant prosecutors and a detective reviewed the matter and answered no to both questions.

In New York, politicians, community leaders and activists are calling for a law that would make it a felony to use a noose to harass or play a prank. State Sen. Eric Adams and New York City leaders gathered Sunday on the steps of Columbia Teachers College to call for the stiffer penalty on noose incidents.

(Source: New Jersey Star Ledger – 10/16/07)

Christmas Light Regulation Turning UK Humbug

In the name of health and safety many British towns may have to forego festive lighting this holiday season. According to a report in the Telegraph stringent new regulations and huge insurance premium increases could make Christmas lights scarce.

This year councils must use a pressure gauge to individually test every bolt holding a cable or light fitting to a wall.

Only fully insured professionals can hang the lights and workers must use expensive hydraulic platforms to do the job because ladders are not deemed safe.

Stephen Alambritis, from the Federation of Small Businesses, is warning that the country is heading for a “Christmas blackout”.

He said: “It is a very sad state of affairs. The festive period is looking darker and bleaker year on year.

For the past several years we have documented stories of rallies held in townships across the UK to save Christmas lights. But the noose seems to be tightening this year even more than ever before.

Mrs. Fields Attacked for Avoiding Christmas

The American Family Association took aim at Wal Mart last year — and won. After declaring “an open mind” when it came to the use of the word “Christmas” in their advertising, Wal Mart caved and splashed “Christmas” liberally. This year, the American Family Association is targeting a more upscale outfit: Mrs. Field’s Cookies.

Last Thursday, the American Family Association flew into action when alerted to the omission by a resident of Michigan who called Mrs. Fields’ customer service number to complain about the absence of any Christmas products or even mention of the holiday by name.

She was reportedly told by the customer service representative the company did not offer products mentioning Christmas because it did not want to offend anyone.

AFA sent out an “action alert” to hundreds of thousands of its members nationwide accusing Mrs. Fields of becoming the first company to ban Christmas from products and promotions this year.

“Mrs. Fields wants the business of Christians who celebrate Christmas, but they don’t mind if they offend Christians,” the AFA said over the signature of Don Wildmon, founder and chairman of the organization.

But, by the following day, Mrs. Fields website was offering at least three gift products mentioning “Christmas” by name.

Randy Sharp, director of special products for AFA, said the group is still not entirely pleased with the capitulation.

“Mrs. Fields is still being politically correct as a company,” he said.

He said in give-and-take conversations and e-mails with the company, officials suggested substituting “winter” in place of “holiday” in its promotions.

An official statement on the matter from Mrs. Fields says:

“This year, Mrs. Fields is celebrating our 30th anniversary and as always, looks forward to families celebrating the Christmas season with our delicious and fresh baked cookies and treats. Our plan is to kick off the 2007 holiday season beginning November 1, 2007 with seasonal gifts available both in-store, in-catalog and online. We have a complete line of holiday specific themed gifts including Christmas items that we have been perfecting for the past eight months, and are eager to share them with Mrs. Fields’ customers. From the Mrs. Fields’ kitchen to yours, we hope to help make your 2007 Christmas and holiday warmer, brighter and tastier.”

Last year, giant retailer Wal-Mart was the target of a boycott threat by AFA for dumping the word “Christmas” from all of its store promotions. Wal-Mart later avoided the clash by relenting to use the name of the holiday.

Researcher Claims Scientific Proof of Christmas Star

For centuries, historians, scientists and scholars have debated the existence of the Star of Bethlehem in the Biblical telling of Christ’s birth. Now the existence of this celebrated, yet debated, Star has been proven by Texas lawyer and professor, Rick Larson, in the documentary, “The Star of Bethlehem,” available on DVD Oct. 23 at national online retailers and local Christian bookstores, distributed by Mpower Pictures and Genius Products.

“Historically, people have taken two positions on the Star,” said Larson. “Either they believe the Star is true or they think it was made up by the early Church. I took a different approach in my research and treated the Star as a mystery or puzzle, looking at the Bible and comparing the facts of Scripture with facts from science and history.”

Larson’s quest for answers began from a simple effort to produce an accurate, visual portrayal of the Star in his yard for Christmas. This sent him into a whirl of questions that many people ask each time the Christmas story is told. What did this Star look like? Where did it come from? How did it lead the wise men directly to “this” Child?

His investigation took him on a journey through historical documents, scientific findings and numerous theories to discover a celestial event pointing to the vastness of God’s creativity.

“God began leading me on a journey and unveiling answers to me beyond my own understanding,” Larson said. “That God would ask someone not trained in astronomy to do this still amazes me.”

Using astronomer Johannes Kepler’s map of the solar system, Josephus’s calendaring system and Imaginova’s state-of-the-art Starry Night® software, Larson pinpointed the year of the Star’s appearance. While most astronomers researching the Star only look to the sky, Larson took his findings a step further by utilizing a critical piece in the puzzle – the Scriptures from the Book of Matthew.

Larson’s in-depth study of Matthew led him to nine distinguishing characteristics of the Star that helped explain its existence. These features of the Star included that it signified birth; signified kingship; had a connection with the Jewish nation; rose in the East; appeared at a precise time; was unbeknownst to Herod; endured over time; was ahead of the Magi as they went south from Jerusalem to Bethlehem; and stopped directly over the city of Bethlehem.

The Biblical characteristics pointed to the Star being a natural occurrence. Larson’s study of wandering stars, or planets, and slow retrograde motion, created a breaking point in his research. Larson discovered that in 3 and 2 B.C., Jupiter, known for ages as the “King Planet,” held the nine characteristics of the Star.

Having made this momentous discovery about Jupiter, Larson continued his study of the stars, only to find another significant link to the starry sky and April 3, 33 A.D., the day Larson believes Christ was crucified on the cross.

“After discovering all of this, I looked up at the sky and said, ‘My God, what did you do?’ Larson said. “This was poetry of terrible beauty. What the Creator revealed to me was something about His vast plan. He wrote poetry in the sky to record both the coming and passing of Christ.”

Larson has personally presented these findings to tens of thousands in the U.S. and Europe. “The Star of Bethlehem” DVD will be available Oct. 23 at Family Christian, Lifeway, Berean, and Mardel Stores nationwide or your favorite national online retailer.

Did the City Really Steal Christmas?

It all began in the heat of summer — and by asking for permission.

Ankeny, Iowa sounds like a reasonable place. Located in the heart of the Midwest, this little town of of roughly 35,000 is reportedly as American as apple pie. But these days it defends itself from anti-Christmas charges.  

Dave Sanderson, a local resident who for years has decorated his home with Christmas lights, decided he wanted to take it to a new level for Christmas 2006 by adding Christmas music streamed through a low-powered FM transmitter so that he could synchronize his light display to popular Christmas music.  

The Sanderson Family Christmas light display has become a tradition in Ankeny. With more than 40,000 lights in a display that has grown steadily over the years, Sanderson is one of those passionate Christmas light hobbyists who frequent a popular Christmas website dedicated to building more and more spectacular displays in the spirit of the season.

As he has added more elements to the display of his home he has faithfully recorded his methods, upgrades and experiences on his website. Coupled with the technical jargon of switches and transmitters are splashes of past attempts to remain a good neighbor through the dedication of his display to a local hero, signs asking folks to be mindful of neighbor driveways and even reminders of the spiritual message of Christmas.

So when he went to the police department in the summer of 2006 to inquire about increased traffic in the neighborhood that could be the result from expanding his display offering yet again Sanderson was stunned with the cold response he received. The police chief threatened to shut off his display if traffic got out of hand, a responsibility he claimed as stipulated in a local ordinance prohibiting any kind of “nuisance” that would block traffic and access to public sidewalks.

According to a certified letter Sanderson received before his display was even built the City of Ankeny threatened to declare the display a public nuisance if the crowds got too big or the traffic too intense. The City claims they were only being as proactive as Sanderson himself. “He came to us,” the City admitted,”and we told him what the rules have always been. It’s as simple as that.”

What happened next is quite predictable: Sanderson responded to the letter indignantly, which resulted in a half-hearted apology from an assistant City manager who promised to work with Sanderson in keeping the situation under control during the upcoming season. This resulted in a sign saying “local traffic only” being installed nearby. The city claims this was an act of faith on their part and was something they were not obligated to do.

Anticipating the worst, the City of Ankeny prepared to wage battle. Police officers were instructed to keep an eye on the Sanderson display, to document the visiting crowds and to shut off the lights at the first complaint they received.

Sanderson is quick to point out that the police orders were customized to his display specifically, although there are other large Christmas displays in Ankeny which were allowed to continue. The City says the rules are the rules as they see them.

Sure enough, the City claims they received one anonymous complaint about a blocked driveway. That was enough to end Sanderson’s 2006 Christmas display.

Sanderson and the City of Ankeny continue to do battle. Sanderson has followed through on his threats to take his plight to the media through his website and many interviews. As an advertising executive the city claims that Sanderson knows how to gain publicity and that his promotion of the dispute has painted the city in a poor light and shown only one side of the issue.

Trading charges in the media, the City of Ankeny defends itself through claims that they have offered a public space with better access for Sanderson to set up his display, a claim that Sanderson denies. Yet the city is on record in that assertion.  

Is this a case of a homeowner being denied his right to celebrate Christmas as he wants on his own property? Or is it a case of a city being bullied by a local resident unhappy with a standing ordinance?

How far this case goes depends upon the willingness of both parties to communicate and compromise. Score one for Sanderson in proactively seeking to deal with the issue. Score another to the city for outlining in advance what it would do and why.

Clearly, the Sanderson display had been tolerated for some time without incident. In looking forward the city claims Sanderson knew the consequences of expanding his display or else he would not have contacted the city about it in the first place. 

Neighbors are understanding and see both sides of the issue. According to a Des Moines Register story archived on the Sanderson site neighbors confirm that the family has made great efforts to control their display during reasonable hours and to post reminders of maintaining good behavior. But they do point out to the inconveniences of increased traffic and the fact that some people in the large crowds who come just “aren’t nice”.

Michigan Court Battle, Vote Heating Up

Last winter, cowed by threats from the ACLU, the Berkley City Council in Michigan voted to remove a decades-old nativity display from city property. The council’s controversial action ignored the plea from many of this small town’s citizens to keep the display.

As a result, a grassroots effort “Berkley Citizens Vote YES to Christmas Holiday Display,” led by resident Georgia Halloran mounted a successful petition drive to overrule the City Council’s vote. Enough signatures were gathered to place a proposed Charter Amendment on the November 6, 2007 general election ballot.

A ‘yes’ vote on the ballot question will require the city to display a nativity scene from the Monday following Thanksgiving through January 6.

Halloran, as spokesperson for the group commented, “Christmas is a national holiday. And we’re not going to let ACLU threats dictate how we publicly celebrate it.”

The Thomas More Law Center, a national public interest law firm based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, offered to represent the city without charge should it be sued by the ACLU, and provided legal assistance to Halloran’s group.

Richard Thompson, President and Chief Counsel of the Law Center, commented: “Despite all of their public rationalizations of why the Nativity should be removed from city property, it is clear the city council acted out of fear of an ACLU lawsuit. The council made the wrong decision, and Berkley citizens are working within the political system to correct that wrong.”

The Charter Amendment requires that the Christmas holiday display comply with governing law and allows the display to be modeled after the display appearing in nearby Clawson, Michigan, a holiday display that includes a nativity scene and that was ruled constitutional by the United States Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, the federal court that governs Michigan.

Bloggers Awaken to Wage Christmas Battle

Let the games begin.

Around the world and documented in the blogosphere the war on Christmas 2007 has begun.

From the UK, comes this musing about whether or not the war starts a little earlier each year.

Here is a recent convert to atheism wondering if she’s selling out to Christians by celebrating Christmas.

Here is a sad post made last December 26th stating that Christmas lost the war. For two years the blog has kept a naughty and nice list on the war on Christmas. (In a war, isn’t everyone just, um, naughty?). We wonder if they are coming back for Christmas 2007 since they declared the war lost last year.

For some, it’s not enough to fight Christmas before Christmas. Here is the battle cry for carrying on anti-Christmas rants after Christmas. After all, they reason for as early as stores throw up Christmas decor and product the anti-Christmas forces should spew their bah humbuggery for as many days after Christmas. (We’ll see how militant they get while nursing those hangovers celebrating “the holidays”).

We laughed when we found this post about Unleashing the Yuletide Blogs of War, a liberal rant about the right-leaning blogs warming up for the annual Christmas debates (and some very not-nice-commentary about, surprise, Fox News).

Here’s a declaration of war dating back to the hot and sultry days of July by a militant sounding blog called Atheist Revolution (hide the kids). It’s telling the dated story of the fight over a public nativity display in Berkley. What’s hilarious to me is that the writer obviously implies this is happening in weirdo capitol of the world, Berkeley — California. Guess Michigan isn’t extreme enough to reveal for a blog claiming to be “breaking free from irrational belief and opposing Christian extremism in America”.

Finally, there’s this merry little defense of Christmas — a tiny blog that just seems to say “hey!” at every anti-Christmas headline.

For as much fun as we’re poking at the War on Christmas blogs we have to remind ourselves that this site is essentially a blog too. What sets us apart though is that we don’t do Christmas just from October to December. We’re doing Christmas year round on 30+ websites all year long.

The War on Christmas is a silly debate. We laugh at all sides. And that is because Christmas has been controversial from the beginning. It is a very, very old debate and, yes, religion has everything to do with. Choice has everything to do with it. Dissent has everything to do with it. And love has everything to do with it.

You’d think somewhere in all that would be something we can all agree on. Sadly the common thread only seems to be disagreement itself — the war rages on.

  

Fergus Falls Debates the Christmas Tree

News that Fergus Falls will hold a community Christmas tree lighting ceremony on the evening after Thanksgiving Day has switched on an interesting little debate on The Journal’s web site.

The topic at hand isn’t really whether the community tree lighting is a good idea. Most seem to think it is a fine plan, a good opportunity for people to come together to kick off the holiday season. Rather, the debate raises the question of whether the tree should be called a Christmas tree, a question that city council member Rick Wilson raised when the lighting ceremony was discussed at a meeting earlier this week, noting that, “We need to be respectful of what it’s called.”

That gets to one of the sillier and more extreme questions about the separation of church and state, one that has gained steam over the last 10 years or so in the name of tolerance.

The question, basically, is whether we can still have Christmas anyplace except in the privacy of our homes.

For fear of offending those who either don’t believe in the Christian holiday, who are extremists about church and state separation or who just like to make trouble, many organizations — from schools to retail stores to manufacturers to city hall — have taken Christmas out of the holiday season. Instead of preparing for Christmas during that period between Thanksgiving and, er, Christmas, we are now just celebrating The Holidays.

It is an example of political correctness taken to extremes, an exercise in national amnesia that would be hilariously funny if it wasn’t so dangerous.

Dangerous? Yep. The reality is that the holiday season, the run-up to Christmas, is based on a religious event, the most important event of the year — or second-most, depending on how you rank Christmas and Easter — for those who practice the nation’s dominant religion, Christianity. The holidays are about Christmas. Always have been.

Taking Christmas out of the holidays is like celebrating a birthday without admitting that anyone has gotten a year older.

Taking Christmas out of the holidays removes almost entirely the reason for the season. There is seldom enough recognition that the pre-Christmas weeks are the season of Advent, a time of mental preparation for the celebration of Jesus’ birth. Those who choose not to believe, or who follow a different course, should be absolutely free to chart their own path without discrimination. But for the majority of professing Christians, taking Christ out of Christmas, and Christmas out of The Holidays, is just plain wrong.

Part of the problem, of course, is in the American desire to sell, sell, sell. Calling the season The Holidays makes it OK for people of any and all religions to celebrate the season by buying lots and lots of gifts for each other. And, of course, the other big key to selling is to never offend a customer.

There is also a church-and-state issue, although it is one that tends to fall apart on closer inspection. In allowing people to express their religion, government is in no way forcing anybody to accept or adopt a religious practice they don’t like. Don’t care for a Christmas tree lighting ceremony? Stay home. Or if there are enough who want the city to hold a ceremony for another religion’s holiday, go ahead and ask for it.

The reality, though, is that Fergus Falls is a predominantly Christian community, and lighting a Christmas tree is nothing more than a recognition of that fact. To fail to call the tree a Christmas tree is giving in to the tyranny of the minority, a situation in which we take democracy to such an extreme that one dissenting voice can stop anything.

There is nothing wrong with calling a Christmas tree a Christmas tree. And there is a great deal about doing so that is right. I hope we can recognize reality here in Fergus Falls on Nov. 23.

By Dave Churchill, Fergus Falls Journal Online — 10/5/07

Canadian Muslims Debate Christmas

Muslims in Canada are speaking out about Christmas. And it is a subject they can hardly agree on.

A Canadian mosque has warned followers that wishing someone a Merry Christmas is like congratulating a murderer, reports the Toronto Star.

The e-mailed alert went out on the Khalid Bin Al-Walid mosque’s Internet message service on Christmas day, stating that congratulating non-Muslims on their festivals “is like congratulating someone for drinking wine, or murdering someone or having illicit sexual relations and so on.”

It instructs its readers to stop greeting colleagues on Christmas with “Merry Christmas” and to avoid Christmas parties.

“If they greet us on the occasion of their festivals, we should not respond, because these are not our festivals and because they are not festivals which are acceptable to Allah,” the message states, according to the Star. “Whoever wishes someone a ‘Merry Christmas’ exposes himself to the wrath and anger of Allah,” the notice continues.

But not all Muslims agree with such sentiments.

Members of the Muslim Canadian Congress, a group formed six months ago to promote a liberal and pluralistic Islam in Canada, denounced the message as shameful hate-mongering.

“These are the kind of bigots we don’t need in our religion and we don’t need in Canada,” Syed Sohail Raza told the Star.

Raza is a founding member of the group who fled Pakistan for Canada in 1989 to escape religious persecution.

“Although Canada is a democratic society, there is no room for hate-mongering and inciting people against other faiths. If I can’t wish you a ‘Merry Christmas’ on your most holy day, what kind of relationship am I going to form with co-workers and neighbors and with school children? This is the kind of thing that has to stop,” he said.

Town Killing Off Christmas Charity

It is one of those “can’t see the forest thru the trees” scenarios — literally.

Springettsbury Township in York County, Pennsylvania, wants to end a 20-year tradition by denying the operation of Glenn Olsen’s Christmas Tree Lot due to a new ordinance dealing with temporary use permits.

Big deal, right? After all, old Glenn can just move his tree lot somewhere else, correct?

Wrong.

For more than 20 years Olsen has operated the Christmas tree lot from Ollie’s parking lot at 1081 Haines Road, with after-expense funds going to the York County Food Bank. Olsen told the supervisors that sales from the lot provided “eight tons of food and 115 turkeys for York County families last year.”

But to Springettsbury Township manager John Holman and the board of supervisors that there is no way around the law when it comes to Glenn Olsen’s Christmas tree lot. Citing the code, Holman says the township “can’t distinguish beetween nonprofits and for-profit corporations,” stressing that you “cannot treat them different.”

Ramadan Added to School Holidays

Instead of banning Christmas and Halloween, an Illinois school board decided to add Ramadan to the school calendar.

Dozens of parents said at an Oak Lawn school board meeting Tuesday night that while they’re happy to have a student body of varying religions, they want to keep celebrating what they say are traditional American holidays and customs.

That doesn’t mean they aren’t open to observing other religions’ holidays, the parents told the Ridgeland School District 122 board, which was looking at its policies concerning religious teachings and observances. At issue is whether Christian holidays, such as Christmas, should be celebrated now that Muslim children make up about 30 percent of district pupils.

After meeting for 2 1/2 hours in a closed session, board members decided to keep the district’s Christmas and Halloween parties and add a Ramadan celebration.

The debate, which has raged in the community for weeks, was sparked by a parent, Elizabeth Zahdan, who asked that stars and moons be displayed in schools in honor of Ramadan. She was denied and told that schools couldn’t partake in religious celebrations.

“I want everyone to be equally acknowledged. I never demanded that no one can celebrate. I never said take Christmas away,” Zahdan said at the meeting before the board went into a closed session..

Supt. Tom Smyth said Zahdan raised the issue of fairness.

“This thing has gotten so big that the board needs to know the legalities of the separation of church and state and its policies about teaching religion in school,” he said before the meeting.

“If you look at our policy, you either teach about all religions in school or remain neutral,” Smyth said. “According to our policy, we are to maintain a climate of neutrality within the classroom. We cannot give preference to one religion over another.”

Resident Bryan Schapiro argued that long-standing traditions are under attack.

“For a number of years now I’ve seen something change every year because it goes against Muslim beliefs,” Schapiro said. “Traditions that have been beloved by children in America for centuries are now being taken away little by little because the Muslims want the school day, menu and social traditions tailored to their needs.”

But resident Khetam Khairallah told the board there’s no valid reason to abandon traditional celebrations. “It’s a coward’s way out when the people in charge say we’re going to abandon something because of political correctness,” she said.

Bernard Beck, sociology professor emeritus at Northwestern University, said such problems are common in areas of demographic shifts.

“When you get changes in society or in the population, it creates new situations,” he said. “What people are used to and take for granted suddenly comes into question.”

He said religious tolerance in America is constantly being renegotiated.

“America has been trying to get along on the basis of a bargain, saying, ‘We’re all basically the same.’ But more recently, the message is, ‘We’re not all the same. Not all religions have the same message.'”

Kenneth Saltman, associate professor of educational policy at DePaul University, said that religious celebration should be left to the private sphere.

“I am a really strong advocate for the separation of church and state and, as far as I’m concerned, I don’t see the place of religion in public institutions,” he said.

Some parents expressed frustration that the furor over holidays is generating more interest than a pending referendum issue that could restore lost art, music and band programs.

“I hope everyone fights for education as hard as we’re fighting for Halloween and Santa,” said Dan Risley.