GoogleIt Mail IT Print IT PermaLinkIt Seems That Even People I Otherwise Respect Are Falling For This "War On Christmas" Garbage
08:05:38 AM
Written By : Richard SchwartzCategory : 3. Everything
Location : Nashua, NH

If you read, listen or watch any news at all, I'm sure you're aware that in the past few weeks some fringe elements have latched onto the idea of a "secular conspiracy" agaist Christmas. They're so far in the fringe that I won't lend them any respectabilty with a link. They're so far in the fringe that in many cases their own organizations and their best friends (in the White House) aren't buying it.

But some people, unfortunately, are buying it, I read Adam Kalsey semi-regularly, and I find a lot of value there. My impression of him, admittedly based only on what I know of him from reading his blog, didn't put him out on the fringe of reality, and for now I still don't. I was somewhat surprised, though, to find a post there that, while it didn't use any of the rhetoric that the fringe is spouting, does echoe the sentiment of being offended by omission of the word "Christmas". My comment in response to his post about his son's winter celebration hasn't posted yet, and I didn't copy it to the clipboard so I'll have to paraphrase...

Nobody worth listening to is offended by what you call your school's, or office's or government's tree, party, or other event or artifact of celebration. It isn't what you call it that matters at all. It's what it is. If it is not inclusive of all who are required to be there, then that's offensive. If it's called a "holiday party" but the only holiday given any standing in it is Christmas, then that's offensive -- and in some cases it is (or it borders on) illegal.

If, on the other hand, it is intended to be and really is an inclusive event in which schol children of all faiths are welcome to enjoy celebrating their own and their friends' and neighbors' festivals together, then why give it a name that just refers to Christmas? Is it really necessary or even useful to give the Christian majority a little ego boost by applying the name of their religious festival to a school party that includes non-Christians?

Adam Kalsey -- and anyone, for that matter -- can be offended by whatever they choose to be offended by. Being offended -- or claiming to be so -- by overt inclusiveness as a matter of law, as a matter of just doing what is right, and as a matter of actually living up to the true spirit and principles of Christmas and Christianity, however, doesn't reflect particularly well anyone.

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Comments :v

1. Kevin12/08/2005 10:29:50 AM

I agree with you an this one. My son's pre-school is having the same type of celebration. When I went over the song list they are singing stuff from many different faiths... except Christianity. This did come as a bit of a shock to me... but then simply chalked it up to the fact that the school probably considers all those songs about snowmen and a jolly old man in red suits to be Christian songs. They may not sing songs with the "J" word in their school but my kids will sure be singing them all around our house

2. Chris Whisonant12/08/2005 10:57:26 AM

I'm sort of with Kevin on this - we'll celebrate Christmas with our child whether or not the schools do or not. At the same time, the public schools DO center their "Winter" and "Spring" breaks around the Christian holidays of Christmas and Easter. Keep an eye on my blog over the next few days - I plan to write a few thoughts on this seasonal stuff.

I'm one of those you may consider on the outskirts of the fringe groups. I'm a conservative Christian Republican bordering on Libertarianisme, but I don't want to create any type of theocracy that the other side of the fence accuses "us" of trying to do (which "we" are NOT trying to do). And I'm not sure that I would boycott a private store because they choose not to use the word "Christmas" - even though we ALL know it's what they are selling. A quick search at for Christmas returns over 39,000 results...

Anyway, one of the topics I want to hit on my site is the political INcorrectness of using "Holiday" for everything. Think about it - how many holidays (holy-days) of other religions use a big green tree as a symbol of their celebration? I cannot think of any - just Christmas! Personally, I would be offended if I were of another religion and had a specifically-Christian "Christmas Tree" being generically labeled a "Holiday Tree". We have to get real here! Christians buy Christmas trees for Christmas and Jews buy Menorahs for Chanukkah. Face it, you don't see Target selling "Holiday Candlesticks" trying to pass them off as a Menorah. It's a specific item for a specific occasion, so let's call a spade a spade.

3. Stan Rogers12/08/2005 12:06:03 PM

And what, Chris, do you have against the Chanukah Bush?

4. Chris Whisonant12/08/2005 01:08:55 PM

Stan - no offense intended. I had never heard of a Chanukah Bush until doing some Googling just now. That's why I asked if other religions used it. Isn't it basically just a term used for a Christmas Tree that is put up in Jewish homes for seasonal spirit, though?

5. Stan Rogers12/08/2005 01:30:35 PM

No offense was ever in play, Chris. Exactly -- it's a way of generating inclusiveness in an exclusive culture. But then, that's how we ended up with a Christmas tree -- there's nothing in the scriptures (or in the Fathers) that would support its use, but when you're living in a neighborhood where the majority celebrate the winter solstice and the coming rebirth of spring with evergreens, you tell your kids its a "Christmas tree". Do that for enough generations, and it becomes a tradition. Sooner or later, somebody's going to make up a significance for it. Same thing with the "Chanukah bush" -- it's just a way for parents to make their children feel a little less "other" in a season where differences and exclusion would otherwise be more deeply felt.

Most cultures have a celebration centred on or near the winter solstice (it's kind of an unmissable celestial event, what with the day being so short and all), so there's nothing proprietary about a Christian celebration on or about the day.

6. Chris Whisonant12/08/2005 02:05:13 PM

Stan - very true about the celebration centering around the winter solstice. From previous research on the history of Christmas and it's date of December 25, that arose because of pagan celebrations on that date. Word has it that the Christians chose that date because they could celebrate while the pagans were too drunk to notice... However, the celebration of Chanukah doesn't really fit this? I'm not 100% definite, but from the deuterocanonical books of the Maccabees we get the history including the date of celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles.

I looked up "Christmas Tree" at wikipedia:

Funny to read about the first "ornaments" hung from the branches:
"Among early Germanic tribes the Yule tradition was celebrated by sacrificing male animals, and slaves, by suspending them on the branches of trees."

I would much rather hang my Hallmark Star Wars Ornaments, but that's just me...

7. Jackie Horowitz12/08/2005 05:28:08 PM

As an observant Jew, I actually find the use of a "Chanukah bush" way more offensive than the use of the term Christmas, or even the display of a manger scene. As a Jew in this country, I know that I am part of the minority, and at least to some extent, here at the graciousness of the Christian majority. So while I have no intention of singing carols, even Rudolph or Jingle Bells or the like, I also would not want to try to "imitate" Christmas. Chanukah is a completely different holiday, and actually one the celebrates the Jews that did not assimilate into Assyrian/Greek culture.

In terms of the source of Chanukah's date, it's not in the Bible at all, but in the Gemorah where the 25th of Kislev is mentioned as the date that Chanukah starts, which can fall anywhere between the end of November and the end of December. The Feast of Tabernacles, or Sukkot as we call it in Hebrew, is directly mentioned in the Bible starting in Leviticus when the three annual agricultural festivals are discussed.

8. Stan Rogers12/08/2005 06:44:38 PM

Point taken. However, that is a personal decision -- there is nothing fundamentally Christian about the tree, either. (The rigorous orthodoxy of Christianity rejects the tree because of its pagan origins.) There is, and always will be, a delicate balance between living in the larger community with your identity intact, and being assimilated into that community and losing your identity. Whether a seasonal decoration will diminish and dilute the true meaning of the holiday, or bind the celebration more strongly to the heart depends entirely on how it is handled in the home and the community.

The real danger of the "Chanukah bush" is not creeping Christianity, but secularism. The tree, the bearded guy in the red suit, and all of the red and green geegaws occupying every square inch of display space in the city is not a symbol of Christmas the holiday, but of Christmas the shopping season.

Those who were paying attention are (or, at least, should be) aware that the miracle celebrated during Chanukah is not that a small quantity of ritually prepared oil was able to last longer than expected, but that there were still people in the community who knew their place in the Temple, who knew the rituals, and had kept the significance in their hearts despite desecration, dispersion, forced integration, and the passage of time.

Chris's reference to "the Bible" is to 1 Maccabees 52, a part of what is sometimes referred to as "the Apocrypha" (texts that are not considered part of the canonical Christian text, but which constitute a body of work that may edify the soul), giving the date of the beginning of the rededication as 25 Kislev.

9. Richard Schwartz12/08/2005 06:46:43 PM

Thanks to all for chiming in. So far, that is. More are always welcome.

Regarding the "Chanukah Bush", my impression is that it's a phrase used more in jest than anything else, and I know that Jackie is not alone in taking some degree of offense to it when it is used seriously. I should also point out, though, that in American culture it is common these days to find mixed marriages -- less common within the more observant divisions of Judaism, but not unheard of -- and some such familes choose to observe both parents' traditions, and that is probably the most common scenario for finding a "Chanukah Bush" in a home. One parent's Christmas Tree is the other parent's Chanukah Bush, and to the kids it's both.

@Kevin: If songs of one faith are sung, IMHO it should be fine to sing songs from all. I think many schools struggle with trying to draw the line at the amount of overt religious reference holiday songs can contain. The typical Chanukah song ("Dreidel, dreidel, dreidel, I made It out of clay...") is not a religious song: it's about a toy, and so it may be more the equivalent of the songs about the guy in the red suit than the ones about your faith's founder. My daughter's high school chorus does sing some overtly religious songs at their holiday concert, but they make an effort to include songs of many faiths and traditions in every concert. The way I look at that is a little different than the way I look at what happens in the classroom: the canon of Western choral music contains a lot of traditional Christian songs, and kids who choose to be educated in musical performance should learn from the entire canon, not just a part.

@Chris: I'm not aware of any controversy over what stores call what they sell. I'm aware of the "holdiay tree" v. "Christmas tree" but I didn't think it was at the retail stores -- I thought it was only an issue with the pubkic displays in various cities. If retail outlets are selling "holiday trees", that's as ridiculous as "hollday candles" would be (presuming what they're really selling is those little candles that are specially sized for the ANSI standard Chanukiah ) The controversy at Target/Walmart, I thought, was over requiring employees to greet customers with the phrase "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas", and that I believe is a very different issue. Actually, it's two issues. First of all, bear in mind that WalMart has about 1.3 million employees, so that means that probably 50,000 of them are non-Christian. (Just a guess, but probably pretty close). That's a very large group and WalMart would be insane to offend them by requiring them to say "Merry Christmas" as part of their jobs. Which is not to say that all 50,000 would take offense. Many would not. Probably the majority. But offending even 10,000 people is not something that WalMart wants to do. 10,000 people makes for a pretty nasty lawsuit over a "hostile work environment". Now, I don't think WalMart, or anyone else actually requires employees to say "Merry Christmas", or "Happy Holidays" for that matter, but they absolutely do judge employees by how congenail they are to customers, and then the problem arises of some employees suspecting that they are being judged unfairly if they are only saying "Happy Holidays" while most of their co-workers and their supervisors are saying "Merry Christmas". It would be crazy for WalMart to allow that situation to develop, hence the decree to standardize on "Happy Holidays".

The second issue is the customers. My reaction, as customer when I hear "Merry Christmas" from a store employee, depending on my mood, is to either just ignore it, or say "Thanks, but wrong holiday. Have a happy chanukah, to you too." To me, as one of those customers, being wished a "Merry Christmas" is not offensive for the sentiment that it expresses-- but it is somewhat offensive for the lack of thought that it demonstrates. Lack of thought about who you are -- or might be talking to. And I'm not saying that they should look at me, or look at my name on my credit card and know the right thing to say. You can't look at a customer and divine whether he or she is Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, or otherwise. Well, actually in some cases you can, but you can not do it reliably. You can't tell reliably from a name, either. (I even know of a Jewish family in which one of the children is named "Christian"!) It's unthinking because with even minimal thought one should conclude that on any given day there are non-Christians walking in the door of every WalMart store. That's going to be true even in a part of the country where the Christian majority is 99% or above. WalMart management is, I'm sure, very aware of the real demographic numbers, and they are very aware that the impact of offending even a small percentage of the small percentage of non-Christian customers who walk through all their stores' doors is not just a matter of millions of dollars. It's potentially hundreds of millions of dollars. One tenth of 1 percent of their revenue is more than $200 million. As a business decision, it's a no-brainer. It's a no-brainer until, of course, the lunatic fringe thought leaders comes in and tell people they should be offended by what they don't hear.

10. Christopher Byrne12/08/2005 08:57:23 PM

Bottom line, if someone wishes me "Happy Holidays", I respond with "Merry Christmas" or "Happt Chanukah". And if I must have a "Holiday tree", which is offensive on so many levels, than the I guess we cannot have a Mannorah (apologies if misspelled), but "Holiday lights".

It is all so ridiculous!

11. Richard Schwartz12/08/2005 10:14:38 PM

@Chris: are any retailers actually marking trees as "holiday trees"? Any examples out there? I've been avoiding stores like the plague since Thanksgiving. The only cases I've heard of where the name "holiday tree" has been used were the public displays in cities like Boston.

12. Richard Schwartz12/08/2005 10:23:45 PM

@Chris: The usual English spelling is "menorah", but you're really free to spell Hebrew words any way you want in English. Transliteration is inexact. OTOH, if you're referring to the 9-candle holder used at Chanukah, some people will say it's more correct to call it a "Chanukiah" because "menorah" actually refers to a 7-candle holder used throughout the year. Others might say that "menorah" refers to either a 7-candle or a 9-candle holder. The wikipedia entry for "menorah" starts out by saying that it is seven, but then a couple of paragraphs later it says it is 7 or 9. Go figure.


P.S. Happy Holidays!

13. Laurette Rynne12/08/2005 10:27:55 PM

Well, down here in Australia, we are still a long way from "holiday trees" or not being allowed to say "Merry Christmas". Perhaps as we are a much smaller country, the proportions of the population who would be offended are too small to have a voice yet. Perhaps it's because the predominant minorities in Australia are Asian (many of whom practice Christianity) and Middle-Eastern (mostly Muslim), and so perhaps the non-Christians are not so upset as there isn't really a clashing holiday (such as Chanukah) during the Christmas season. Perhaps we're just so used to having winter imagery in the middle of summer, so we don't get upset about such things anyway I know that in Sydney, with a large Chinese community, that although we have a massive New Year's Eve celebration, there are also city celebrations of Chinese New Year - all this really means is we get two celebrations - not one at the expense of the other.

It seems to be a particularly Western mentality to apologise or hide customs or rituals which belong to the majority, in order to avoid upsetting a minority. I guarantee that if you go to Saudi Arabia (for example), you will find no apologies during Ramadaan, and no apologies for a lack of Christmas imagery during the Christmas season. While this may not be the best example of a tolerant society , the point can still be made.

I do think that tolerance (religious or otherwise) shouldn't require one group (even a majority) to give up their own beliefs or customs at the expense of others. Tolerance should go both ways - the minority sometimes has to respect the beliefs of the majority and not feel as though it's a personal slight. If I was told that I wasn't allowed to wish people a "Merry Christmas", I would be very upset. Conversely, I would love to have someone wish me a "Happy Chanukah", if for no other reason that it would tell me something about them, and give me a feeling that I am now in some way included in some other tradition of which I am unaware. Surely the message is more about the person giving the message than the person receiving?

I acknowledge that it's easy for me (as a part of the "majority") to say some of these things, but I can only offer my own opinions!

14. Chris Whisonant12/09/2005 09:23:42 AM

Richard, regarding "holiday trees", Lowe's was selling them as that and not Christmas trees. A somewhat funny thread is here:

"By the way," he added, "they only had 'Christmas' tree stands for their fresh cut 'Holiday' trees."

I wouldn't mind if Wal-Mart simply said "Welcome to Wal-Mart" like they always do, and frankly, I don't care if they tell me Happy Holidays. America is a melting pot! Many of the stores like Target and Sears are now changing their minds. They both will start putting up Merry Christmas signs in their stores. Thinking of it from a purely economical standpoint, they have a lot to lose if a good portion of the nation's majority decides to shop elsewhere. I would think that they would lose a lot more customers by not doing what the majority of their Holiday shoppers would like to see.

Personally, I see it as a fine example of the majority (of shoppers) getting their way over a small minority that the stores were trying to prevent from being offended. We could get into debates of that endlessly though, but that's not what this thread is for!

15. Richard Schwartz12/09/2005 11:06:02 AM

@Chris: Lowe's isn't here so I missed that. Actually I believe they're building a store here but it's not open yet. At least I don't think so. Haven't been out in that direction in a while. In any case, they're being stupid. It's a Christmas tree and that's what a retail store should call it. City governments, on the other hand, shouldn't. If they have a tree display at all, they should use neutral language.

As for the "fine example of the majority getting their way over a small minority"... The majority used to get their way with whites-only bathrooms and water fountains in stores. That was wrong and I'm sure you agree. So is this.

If Bill O'Reilly started a movement to have WalMart's greeters say "WalMart wishes white shoppers a happy December 25th", the white majority wouldn't go along. He'd be off the air, because even Fox wouldn't put up with it. But he's doing exactly the same thing. There's no difference other than who the minority is: saying "Merry Christmas" to Christians and non-Christian alike is equivalent to "WalMart wishes Christian shoppers a happy December 25th". But O'Reilly is still on the air and getting great ratings for advocating exactly that.

The fact is, it isn't the majority getting their way. It's a noisy fringe telling the majority that they should expect to be greeted as a Christian instead of as a person because Christians are the majority. The fringe is demanding an overt exclusive greeting, and telling the majority that inclusiveness is offensive to them. That's not just wrong, it's un-Christian (according to my non-Christian understanding of Christianity).

What about Good Will To Man? Isn't that supposed to be one fo the key principles of the Christian celebration of Christmas? And isn't it supposed be to be Good Will to All? If Bill O'Reilly makes a stink about changing the lyirics of the song to "Good Will to Christians" will you just go along? Of course not, but that's what the fringe is leading you toward. The fringe is demanding that a Christian greeting be given to everyone at this time of year, whether or not they are Christian.

There are places in this world where Christians are a minority, and they are subject to all sorts of discrimination. In some of the societies that they live in, it's not just fringe leaders, it's the law that requires stores to greet them as Muslims even if they're not. That's offensive to Christians. The chances of it ever ending go down if Christians in the US act the same way toward their non-Christian brothers. I would thnk that real Christians would care about that a lot, and lead by example. Unfortunately, the fringe elements who position themselves as thought leaders of American Christianity are demonstrating that they don't care about it. That's sad, and it's sad that so many will follow like lemmings.

16. Jackie Horowitz12/09/2005 01:00:11 PM

@Richard: I know that if I truly want to be treated as a Jew, I need to move to Israel. The most amazing December experience that ever happened to me was during my year living in Israel. We woke up on the morning of December 25th, and realized we had not heard a single carol, not seen a single Santa the whole month of December (much less November or October, but the commercialization of the holidays is a whole other issue). And yet Chanukah was everywhere - menorahs in every window of every apartment complex in the section of Jerusalem we were living in, Chanukah decorations in the store, and probably the thing that struck me the most of any other Chanukah image was the bus shelter that replaced its normal ad area with a huge poster depicting a man and his son lighting the menorah with the (translated) phrase, "Light with heart." It was so beautiful, and yet it struck me that it was really just the reverse of the situation in this country.

This is just me, but I saw nothing wrong with that, and still don't. I do feel that if I ever really want to fit in to society, it will require moving to Israel (which is my long term goal). Maybe you would see that as sad or as giving up, but I think all humans want to be in a society that shares their practices, beliefs and traditions, and that because of that the majority society will always dictate the manner of celebration (and, IMHO, has the right to dictate it). All I would ever ask/expect of the majority is to be treated with respect and dignity, even if that means without a recognition of my holiday, or as the case has mostly become here in the U.S., with dual recognition of holidays but with the expectation that Christmas still gets "top billing" and is recognized as a religious holiday.

17. Chris Whisonant12/09/2005 01:34:40 PM

@16 - Jackie, I really like your last statement that you expect to be treated with dignity. That really is what it's all about, and it's the same thing that Richard was alluding to @15 regarding one of the truths of Christianity.

I guess we have to keep this discussion really focused. 1) Am I saying that the "Christian" majority should expect stores to not generalize the holiday that the stores will be making Billions of dollars off of? Yes. The retail stores live for Christmas gifts and thrive off of it. Should we expect them to say Merry Christmas (since their executives will be given a Merry Christmas from all the money rolling in!)? I think they should have signs up if that they're banking on for the big sales month(s). I think the verbal greetings should probably be as they would any other time of the year. But tens of millions of people will be forking over a lot of money to buy Christmas gifts and it shouldn't be overly generalized.

2) Am I saying that the government should force stores to do this or that the government should force the celebration of Christmas? No. But if you think about it - what is the Federal Holiday called that most employees have?

I don't believe it's equitable to compare the majority voice being heard about the name of a holiday or tree to the grave injustice of racism. If you will also recall, the majority was for ending segregation. Sure there were hotbeads of racism (mostly in my area of the country...), but overall those who feel one race is inferior or superior are plain idiots! Are there still racial issues? Of course - remember that all races have supremacists, though. Again, that's another topic...

In summary, we will have a Merry Christmas and I hope that you have a Happy Holiday with your family.

Welcome to Wal-Mart!

18. Devin Olson12/09/2005 02:01:29 PM

Getting back to the roots of the Christmas tree; didn't this evolve from the pagan germanic tribes practice "yule log", which was burned during the winter solstice celebration / ceremony / fertility ritual / orgy "thing"? (sorry, I don't really know what to call it) And wasn't this holiday itself an outgrowth of the Greek "Saturnalia" mid winter blood letting and orgy?

It has been my understanding that in 350 AD Pope Julius I declared that a feast and mass be celebrated every Dec 25 in recognition of Jesus Christ's birth (Christ's Mass). There has been quite a bit of conjecture about his reasons for selecting this date, from the "gotta stop those pagans from partying so hard" to the "this has been an important date for centuries, we might as well keep it" view. I don't really think his reasons for selecting Dec 25 as the date are that important. The point is, this is the date that Christians celebrate Christ's birth.

Going back to the Christmas tree, this was never part of the early church. Christmas and the solstice celebration, both being important events in the culture of the time, and both "occuring" so close to one another, began to naturally blend & share attributes with one another. Gift giving, the tree, holly berries, the 12 days of celebration, and mistletoe; all of which were extremely important parts of the pagans' celebration, were over time incorporated into the Christmas celebration.

What does this have to do with anything? Well, if you (not you Richard, "you" being the person reading this posting right now) happen to be a Christian (as am I), and you find yourself getting offended by the term "Holiday Tree" -stop for a minute and pull your head out of your ass. What somebody who doesn't share your faith calls something has absolutely no effect on any religous importance you may assign to that thing.

I have a Christmas tree in my home. It's there because I like the way it looks, and my wife & kids enjoy it. It is a part of several wonderful traditions my family observes. But it has absolutely no religous importance to me -it has no more to do with my religion than 8 maids a milking does. Check out your bible, and read the 2nd Commandment. Have you turned your Holiday tree into a Golden Calf?


19. Richard Schwartz12/09/2005 02:18:31 PM

@Jackie: I am as much against Israel's various Jewish theocratic laws and policies as I am against attempts to bring Christian theocratic policies to the US. I consider it as wrong and offensive as state-imposed Islamic law in majority Muslim societies, and as state-imposed Christian law in majority Christian societies.

If in Israel there are pressure groups out there demanding that retailers who serve Jewish, Christian and Muslim customers greet them with "Happy Chanukah" or any other specifically Jewish greeting, then I would object just as strongly. If am Israeli retailer chooses to do so, that's their right; but if they choose to be inclusive there are no grounds for the Jewish majority to take offense. It's as unthinkingly hubristic for a Jew to greet a non-Jew with a Jewish religious greeting as it is for a Christian to greet a non-Christian with "Merry Christmas". In fact, it's even more so due to the fact that the strict definitions of Judaism -- and I believe that Israeli law still follows those definitions, though I may be wrong about that -- is inherently exclusive. I.e. you're either born Jewish or not Jewish, and no conversion is allowed. At least when Christians give non-Christians a religious greeting, they are holding the belief in their hearts that everyone can be a Christian.

@Chris: If the federal government were not an employer, it would be wrong for them to declare Christmas a holiday. but as an employer it is pragmatic for them to do so. And that's all that the federal holiday on Christmas is: a matter between a very large employer -- the government -- and its employees. The federal government recognizes that the vast majority of its employees will take the day off on Christmas, leaving them under-staffed. It's simply common sense and economically sound policy to make it a holiday for all. The vast majority of Americans, however, get the day off not because they federal government says they must. It's not a law. They get it off because their own employers follow the federal example. It's not a matter of law that they must do so. It's just also a matter of practicality. Banks can not function without the treasury and federal reserve. Businesses can not function without banks. And so on.

But as it happens, many non-Christian federal employees do work on the federal Christmas holiday in those critical federal jobs that can't ever shut down. The same goes for Jewish doctors, nurses (my wife included) and employees in many other service-sector jobs. The people who do this take a compensatory day off of their choosing, and in many cases it is their choice to take off a holiday from their own religion as compensation. That balances things out nicely.

20. Chris Whisonant12/09/2005 03:52:36 PM

@18 - Just to make it clear, I really don't care what the tree is called. But at the same time the retailer should consider what it will be used for - over 99% will be used for Christmas decorations. I think they should call it what it is...

@19 - Good point on the "Federal" holiday. It's the same reason that other companies give it as a holiday.

Richard, not to get much off topic (or start a side thread), but was the Torah not the basic legal code for the nation of Israel (as well as being the basis of the moral code for the Israelites)? In the Hebrew Bible we read of the Kingdom of Israel with Kings who were followers of YHWH and enforced the laws of Moses. (In a very basic nutshell of course!)

21. Stan Rogers12/09/2005 04:46:00 PM

@Rich -- I'm pretty sure that things like the Right of Return and so forth are available to "ben Avraham Avainu" as well, although the standard of proof of conversion is high. (Brit milah or hatafat dam brit, immersion in a mikveh, and -- beyond merely accepting the law -- living "as a Jew", all certified by a Beit Din.) But it is more than a matter of saying, "I believe". And you don't get to choose your Judaism, so to speak -- but then, to many, anything other than strict orthodoxy is not Jewish at all:

Q: "Why are you davening? You are supposed to be the biggest apostate on the planet!"

A: "I'm a meshumad, not a shaygetz!"

22. Richard Schwartz12/09/2005 05:03:30 PM

@20 - Chris: I don't know enough about the Israeli legal system to know what the extent of the relationship between religious law and civil law is. In any respects that it is discriminatory against non-Jews, or against non-Orthodox Jews, and to any extent in which it does not respect freedom of thought, conscience, privacy and equal protection for all, I object to it as strenuously as I object to attempts by the Christian majority to impose such laws here.

And going back to @17, "I don't believe it's equitable to compare the majority voice being heard about the name of a holiday or tree to the grave injustice of racism." that's not quite the comparison I was going for, and I agree it's not an equitable comaparison. But there is an element that is fundamentally the same in the "Merry Christmas" issue, and I want people to see it.

When Bill O'Reilly and others out on the fringes insists that WalMart employees must say be required to say "Merry Christmas" to shoppers (or be allowed to... I'm not really sure which he is advocating since I am getting what he says second hand and have no intention of listening to him), he is advocating something that is exclusionary. It either makes some shoppers feel less welcome, or it makes some employees feel less welcome (and afraid to resist for fear of getting lower evaluations). It is an issue of far lower magnitude, but the fundamental similarity is that racist policies like whites-only lunch counters or bathrooms weren't really intended to deny physical amenities to blacks. They weren't intended to starve blacks or prevent them from going to the bathroom at all. They were intended to make blacks feel less welcome.

The rulings against "separate but equal" years ago weren't about the inequity of denial of physical amenities or material rights. With those rulings came the idea that systematically making a class of people feel less welcome is wrong. And that's what O'Reilly et al. are advocating: systematically, through majority Christian pressure for a policy at WalMart and other large retailers, making a class of people feel less welcome as employees or as customers in stores.

23. Bruce Perry12/09/2005 07:04:32 PM

There have been Christians who banned Christmas. I'm certain the Pilgrims did, and there were probably others. We're really talking about custom here, not actual religious practice. Neither a big birthday party for Jesus, saying, "Merry Christmas", nor decorated trees are sacraments of the Christian faith (though an off-planet observer might reasonably deduce that they were).

To me, this seems to be an etiquette question, not a religious one. If I know their preference, I do try to use a seasonal greeting that won't irk my Jewish, Pagan, or Atheist friends and neighbors. I do tend to use "Merry Christmas" as a default though (it's a tradition AND a habit). I hope those I greet will tolerate an occasional infelicitous choice of greeting or let me know what they prefer.

On a lighter note. The Daily Show had a segment two nights back where they caught O'Reilly using a Daily show item from last year to claim that Comedy Central is part of the current War on Christmas. It's very funny if you like the Daily show and/or dislike O'Reilly.

The Secular Central clip will be available here for a while:

(language might not be suitable for the office, use your discretion)

24. Chris Whisonant12/09/2005 09:44:33 PM

Rich, I will admit it. Generally my nightly routine involves watching part of The O'Reilly Factor at 11:00 instead of the local news. I've been keeping up with what he's saying about the Christmas controversy. And certainly due to his massive viewership his ideas seem to make inroads.

I will just leave you with his quote on the matter from 3 nights ago:

There is a move under foot to discourage people from buying in stores that do not use 'Merry Christmas' in their advertising. I am not a part of that. I am not a part of that movement. And I'll tell you why.

I want you to make up your own mind on this. I don't want to be telling you where to buy and where not to buy.

25. Richard Schwartz12/09/2005 10:48:01 PM

@24: That's one of the favorite techiques of all propagandists, Chris, including O'Reilly. It's not the first time, nor will it be the last, that O'Reilly has used it. Find a non-issue and make it into an iissue. Find a "movement" that advocates taking your supposedly moderate position on the issue to it's extreme. (Just make up such a movement out of thin air if you have to.) When people call you on it, deny you're part of it. Continue to claim to be neutral and/or moderate, but keep talking about it and talking about it. Keep claiming to be moderate, but keep giving plenty of air-time to the "movement". Tell people you want them to make up their own minds, but give them only one side, or better yet demean the other side.

26. Chris Whisonant12/10/2005 08:18:27 AM

@25: Richard, I understand where you're coming from and I believe there is some element there. But in watching O'Reilly, I just don't see him telling people to do this or that. And I don't agree with everything he says and he does take some things a little too far. To me, he feels there is a more of an organized conspiracy against things like Christmas or even gas prices. I'm not sure that I would say there is any organized movement, but it's fairly easy to see how conservative religious people tend to be the target. Schools are allowed to teach about other religions or beliefs, but you better not mention anything from the Bible (Hebrew or Christian Bible)! Those who are tolerant of almost everything are least tolerant of Christians (and to a lesser extent Jews).

This has been a great discussion but I believe it's officially off-topic now...

27. Carl Tyler12/10/2005 08:38:18 AM

@15 There is one now on 101 in Epping.

@23 In my opinion O'Reilly is no different to Howard Stern, just he chooses to be extremes on things other than sex. They are both very clever manipulatuve men. His manipulation of the French issue, and his pedalling of his online store rubbish show how smart he is.

For the last few months I have been dating a Jewish girl, for me personally it has been very educational. Growing up in the English countryside you don't really meet many Jews. I lost my religious beliefs about 50 minutes into watching return to the planet of the apes when I was 13. This doesn't mean I disrespect the choices of others, but it does give me an understanding of being raised Christian and having holidays shoved down one's throat.

For most businesses, Christmas, holiday season etc is about one thing, balancing the books.

Having lived in America now for 10 years, I don't believe America is a mixing bowl, I think it is a salad bar. Sure every now and again, some lettuce will fall into the carrot section, and some tomatoes will end up in the cheese, but mostly similar things stick together. This isn't just America by the way, this has been true for pretty much every country I have lived, worked or pass through.

So my greeting to everyone? As John Lennon said "Imagine"

28. Bruce Perry12/10/2005 10:59:27 AM

@25 - it has also been suggested that O'Reilly isn't explicitly recommending a boycott due to the fact that his boycott against French products was so ineffective. Since he's not part of this boycott, he needn't take any blame if it fails.

P.S. O'Reilly's on-line store was selling "Holiday Ornaments". They've fixed that on the current web site, but there are screen shots of the old version out there on the web.

29. Richard Schwartz12/10/2005 11:36:10 AM

@Carl: re Lowes: I think they're putting one in on 101A in Amherst, much closer to me. There may even be one in Manchester out on South Willow. Something in the back of my mind says there is.

re the rest of the post: Nicely said.

@26 Chris: It's my blog, so I get to decide what's on topic or off Re "I'm not sure that I would say there is any organized movement, but it's fairly easy to see how conservative religious people tend to be the target. Schools are allowed to teach about other religions or beliefs, but you better not mention anything from the Bible (Hebrew or Christian Bible)! Those who are tolerant of almost everything are least tolerant of Christians (and to a lesser extent Jews)"...

This is to be expected, and it isn't wrong. Why? Because there's a tension between ideals in our system. In this case, three ideals: one is freedom, another is protection of minority rights, and the third is equal protection. It is worth noting that equal protection came into the Constitution significantly after freedom and protection of minority rights. That does not make it a lesser right in an of itself, but it is worth noting for one good reason: those who lament that current policies depart from the principles of the nation's founders tend to ignore the plain fact that the founders bothered to specifically write a bill of rights whose primary purpose was protection of political minorities, and they didn't bother to write in equality under law as a basic principle.

That being said, equal protection is part of the Constitution now, but where there is tension between equal protection and specific constitutional protection of minority rights, society must ask: which is the greater good? Or in Constitutional terms, which does more to promote the general welfare? And to answer that question, there is a simple test: which side suffers more potential harm?

Christians are the majority. The overwhelming majority. They have political power (i.e. votes) on their side. And although Christianity benefits from the principle of equal protection, the minority religions benefit slightly more from the principle of protection of minority rights because they are at more risk of harm. That is why when deciding what constitutes teaching about religion (which is not merely allowable... it is a good thing), versus teaching religion itself (which is not allowable, and opinions differ as to whether or not it is good), a stricter standard is applied to Christianity (or Judeo-Christianity for that matter) than is applied to other faiths.

This, by the way, could easily mutate into a discussion of another one of O'Relly's favorite bugaboos: so-called "legislating from the bench". I'm going to save the bulk of what I have to say about that for another post, but I do want to say this right now. Those who decry "legislating from the bench" would have you believe that every law and every constitutional principle is defined unambiguously and that there are no conflicts between laws, between laws and the constitution, or even between separate clauses of the constitution. That's patently false. We have a judicial system precisely because that's false, and it is the job of the bench to resolve those ambiguities and conflicts that the legislature creates -- and even those that the writers of the constitution created. Every single claim of "legislating from the bench" boils down to someone objecting to a decision made necessary by the fact that the Constitution and laws have amiguities and internal inconsistencies that the legislature either can't or won't resolve.

30. Chris Whisonant12/10/2005 09:35:36 PM

@28 - That's funny about O'Reilly's holiday ornaments...

@27 - Carl, I agree that the season is definitely one for profits. It's a struggle to find the right balance for my family between the secular and religious aspects of Christmas.

@29 - Well, as long as you don't think it's off topic! Good points - I'll look forward to your other post, but the "legislating from the bench" idea has been around quite a while. I can understand that sometimes SCotUS may need to weigh in. However, the issue (from any angle regards laws made that most likely would not have been penned, deliberated, and voted on in the halls of Congress! That's the huge issue with activist judges (from any side of the aisle). In 1973, Congress would never have passed a law allowing for abortion. Instead, SCotUS took care of it. The Court is meant to interpret the law. But you know that...

Man... I just saw that Richard Pryor died... he suffered for so long though. While not the most wholesome comedian, he will be missed.

31. Richard Schwartz12/10/2005 11:11:09 PM

@Chris: I'm wasn't going to dive right into that case right from the start, but when I do start that thread I was not going to object to commenters taking it there. But since you've mentioned it here though, I will probably have to go ahead and point out the two fundamental mistakes you have made in your analysis. The first is that you omit mentioning that in 1973 Congress also never would have passed a law banning abortion. Your second mistake is more closely relevant to the argument that I will be making, and I will deal with it when I do a full post on "legislating from the bench" Watch for the post, though not necessarily soon.

Definitely too bad about Richard Pryor, when he was in top form he was amazing. Not wholesome, and not even close to a good role model for anyone to follow, but still amazing.

32. Alan Bell12/12/2005 05:45:33 PM

Christmas is traditionally all about presents and materialistic commercialism. Not sure who started all this talk of religious aspects to it, must be a modern thing

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