(From REAL NEWS 12/11/06)
By Jane Lampman, The Christian Science Monitor staff writer December 7, 2006--Who doesn't hanker for a return to a "real sense of Christmas" during the holiday season? Everyone, of course, has their own take on what that involves. Is it a happy, if rowdy, opening of presents on Christmas morning? A family tree-trimming tradition or favorite holiday concert? Perhaps it's a quiet pondering of the biblical Christmas story. Or a sharing of a meal with
the less fortunate. To some long distressed by the secularization of the holiday --and
particularly by the disappearance of the word "Christmas" and itsreligious symbols from the public domain -- there is reason for cheer in 2006.
Signs have appeared of a "return of Christmas" in the culture. Big-time retailers including Wal-Mart, Macy's, Target, and Kohl's have responded to demands to resurrect a "Merry Christmas" theme in their stores. More cities are approving the inclusion of nativity scenes inholiday displays on public property. And film studios are releasingmovies with a genuine biblical theme. "The Nativity Story," which opened in theaters across the US over the
past weekend, represents more than a follow-on to Mel Gibson's "ThePassion of the Christ," says Ted Baehr, chair of the Christian Film and Television Commission. With studios now marketing to a variety of groups,he adds, the biggest group is probably churchgoers. Dr. Baehr sees morefaith-related films in the works.
Yet the Christmas comeback goes beyond Hollywood. "We're seeing a sensitivity that was not there before to the factthat removing the Christian aspects of Christmas is offensive to themajority of Americans," says Erik Stanley, chief attorney for the LibertyCounsel, a conservative group that has taken the cause to the courts whenit deemed such action necessary. Just recently, the legal group helped Robert Wortock, a citizen of Racine, Wis., get a nativity display on the city's Monument Square afterofficials previously rejected it. Traditional Christmas decorations had disappeared from the streets, and Mr. Wortock wanted to change that. "This is a good example of how, in the last three years, we've seen agood return on this effort," says Mr. Stanley.
In recent years, several conservative Christian groups have claimed that a "war on Christmas" was being waged by secularists, and they marshaled their troops in response. The Liberty Counsel is in its fourth year of a "Friend or Foe Christmas Campaign", pledging to be a friend to"entities which do not censor Christmas and a foe to those who do" --language that makes some Christians wince.
Groups they charge with fomenting the problem, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, counter that it is a "fictional war", that they are implying an anti-Christian hostility that doesn't exist. The clash centers on a disagreement over the propriety of religious symbols of any kind on public property. Both sides agree that part of the problem is misinformation, with cities and schools often unsure about what is constitutional. (Court shave ruled that nativity displays are allowable alongside other secularand religious symbols.)
What also raised the hackles of some religious folk was a growing retail practice of opting for "Happy Holidays" instead of "MerryChristmas" on signage around stores. Some managers instructed employees not to say "Merry Christmas" to customers. Some retailers say it just makes sense to be more inclusive during a season when Hanukkah and Kwanzaa are also celebrated. Best Buy, for example, is sticking with its "Happy Holidays" theme.
But Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has responded to the clamor in a vigorous way. "We learned our lesson, and this year more than ever 'Christmas' will dominate," says spokeswoman Jami Arms. Ticking off a list of pro-Christmas changes the chain has announced, she adds, "This is what Wal-Mart does -- listen to its employees and associates. We heard themsay they wanted Christmas to be more a part of our store."
Some suggest the pressure has been drummed up by Christian advocacygroups, which maintain "Grinch" or "Scrooge" lists on their websites and sell buttons and bumper stickers with such messages as "I helped save Christmas." These groups are also responding to individual concerns. Elizabeth Sither, a septuagenarian in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., noticed that her community's Fall Activities Calendar had secular holiday activities planned as well as a Hanukkah celebration, but no mention of Christmas. "Christmas is a national holiday and a very precious time for Christians," she says. "It doesn't make sense to take the Christ out of Christmas." So she wrote to city officials. When it appeared her request wouldn't be seriously considered for a display this year, she contacted the Thomas More Law Center of AnnArbor, Mich. who had helped others in similar cases. "Their attorney stepped in," Sither says. Palm Beach Gardens officials approved a nativity scene for display at the city recreation center along with a tree, snowman, and menorah. Now she is busy planninga public Christmas celebration with caroling at the center.
In the latest instance of decrying the "war on Christmas", Fox Newshost Bill O'Reilly claimed that "it's all part of the secular progressive agenda -- to get Christianity and spirituality and Judaism out of the public square." He then added: "Because if you look at what happened in WesternEurope and Canada, if you can get religion out, then you can pass secular progressive programs, like legalization of narcotics, euthanasia, abortion at will, gay marriage, because the objection to those things is religious-based, usually."
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