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The war on Christmas
Scripps Howard News Service


December 12, 2005

Bill O'Reilly and John Gibson of Fox News say there's a war on Christmas, and they're right. Despite protests that it is just mean-spirited, commercial-minded, ahistorical, mono-cultural gibberish to suppose anyone is trying to squash the essential spirit of the season, the attacks continue. Evidence? The tree at Honors College at Florida Atlantic University.

Each year for many years, according to, faculty at the college have put up a pine tree during finals week and have placed candy and cookies under it for the students. This year, a political-science teacher decided it was a religious symbol violating the principle of church-state separation. While the tree was still there after a meeting and official worrying about disrespect for diversity, its survival was apparently a close call.

This poor, abused tree hardly stands alone among anti-Christmas assaults in which the phrase "Merry Christmas" is now treated as a near obscenity and in which - just one more example - the Christmas vacation at schools is now called "winter break" under threat of lawsuit.

There is something very nearly fanatical about this. It is wholly inconceivable to me that I would find it insulting if people of a faith other than mine should wish me happiness in the name of that faith. Why should I? It is likewise puzzling for schools to say "Christmas break" is actually "winter break." The vacation comes because of a religious holy day. Nothing is wrong with that in a society in which the vast majority of people celebrate the day.

What is more, it is little short of hallucinatory for someone to say, as Adam Cohen of The New York Times has written, that O'Reilly and others opposed to this sort of denigration of Christmas are engaged in a "campaign to make America more like a theocracy."

Does he have any idea at all of what a theocracy is? Does he honestly believe that clergymen will ever autocratically direct our government, or that anyone is working for that?

What's really, truly at risk in the war on Christmas is that we will ultimately lose what the great Charles Dickens said was a "a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time - the only time I know of in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of other people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys."

I found this quote on a Web site that reminded us that our present way of celebrating Christmas owes much to Dickens and his writings in the 1840s. It is true, as Cohen and others like to emphasize, that Christmas was once a time of wild, drunken cavorting, which is why Puritans wanted nothing to do with it. But things did change, and pointing out a disgraceful, distant past is hardly a logical argument that the celebration of Christmas in the present does not have a magnificent, soul-inspiring wonder in it.

Cohen pretends that O'Reilly and others joining him instigated this fight. In truth, it was instigated decades ago by the legal battles against public displays of nativity scenes. Cohen and other writers I have encountered also pretend that objecting to the politically correct use of "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas" in stores is tantamount to endorsing an unspiritual commercializing of Christmas. This point is disingenuous at best. Removing mentions of Christmas anyplace is an obvious means of lessening our recognition of it.

I nevertheless propose a truce. Let's agree we will all abide by our best understanding of Supreme Court rulings on public Christmas displays, however much those rulings may misread the Constitution, and that we will allow for nothing that reasonably could pass as proselytizing in public schools. On the other hand, let's agree there is nothing contemptuous of non-Christians in the greetings, decorations, gift-giving, charitable efforts and other outpourings of Christmas joy, and that Christmas can continue to be a marvelous blessing for America if believers keep its meaning in mind and no one beats up on them when they do.

Remember Scrooge's words on the last page of "A Christmas Carol."

"I am as light as a feather, I am as happy as an angel, I am as merry as a school-boy," he said. "I am as giddy as a drunken man. A merry Christmas to everybody!"

The response of some today would be, "Shut up or we will make you shut up!"


Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and the editor of dailies in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, is a columnist living in Colorado.
He can be reached at SpeaktoJay(at)

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