Here is my latest column from River Region's Journey magazine, dealing with some of the rather perplexing rules and rulings that surround the Christmas season. This was during the first part of November, and there are plenty more stories from the Christmas (Twi-) Light Zone.
It’s a bit of an early Christmas present each year, as the runup to Christmas Day yields its share of skirmishes involving how best to observe the holiday. Even with polls showing that 90 or more percent of Americans celebrate a holiday on December 25th called, “Christmas”, we see that many government entities have become increasingly cool to the idea of actually observing that day in step with the overwhelming majority of Americans. So we have this so-called “War on Christmas” that has erupted, and each year, I cite my share of public leaders who try to derail the celebration and “Christmas lights”, as I call them, who stand strong on the Constitution and attempt to prevent the denial of the free expression of religion this time of year.
Well, the Christmas craziness began early this year, as the great state of Arizona was chosen as the site from which to harvest the “Capitol Christmas Tree”. Arizona schoolchildren were asked to do their part by designing ornaments for the tree that honors their state. There, of course, were certain regulations that were given to the children, including the outlawing of religious themes in the ornament designs. Say what? On the Capitol Christmas! Tree?! This didn’t last long – the Alliance Defense Fund got involved, and almost faster than you can say, “Feliz Navidad”, the restrictions vanished! Chalk one up for seasonal sanity.
Meanwhile, in the state of Kentucky, another Christmas controversy was stewing like a pot of cider. Before it was November in the Bluegrass State, Governor Steve Beshear was attempting to be “inclusive”, as he announced that the traditional state Christmas tree would be a “holiday” tree. The Governor mentioned that the state was using terminology applicable to Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, and the New Year. Pardon me, but when is the last time you saw a Thanksgiving tree? And those who celebrate Hanukkah will be sure to tell you that a menorah is the predominant symbol of that holiday. A New Year’s Tree? OK, you see where I’m going here. Good news alert… Apparently, the Governor has reversed his course and will be referring to the Christmas tree as…a “Christmas Tree”. Seasonal sanity wins again!!
And, already, there is action in Washington state, where last year, a dueling holiday contest took place, as an atheist group wished to display a placard mocking religion alongside a Nativity scene. Governor Chris Gregoire allowed this, and a flurry of permit requests resulted. Because of the supposed “tolerance” shown to the atheist group, the whole scene moved into the realm of the ridiculous. This year in the Capitol? No religious displays inside the building. But outside? Well, let’s just say it could get a bit crowded on the lawn. A setback here! This comes from the state that brought you the great Christmas tree disappearing act 3 years ago, where the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport actually removed 17 trees for fear of displaying a symbol of Christmas, dreading a lawsuit from a rabbi who wanted to display a menorah in the airport. The rabbi said he never intended for the trees to be removed, and the trees re-appeared in the airport, not to return the following year, when they were replaced by foam migrating birds and birch trees covered by falling snow at the sound of wind chimes.
But, these sorts of skirmishes are nothing new. At the risk of offending a small, select group of people, governmental bodies are enacting or considering new policies that restrict the expression of those who would want to observe Christmas, which, last time I looked, is a Federal holiday!! This has gone to such extreme lengths that you find proposals such as the one from Fort Collins, Colorado, where two years ago, a task force recommended to the mayor and council that in order to keep from appearing to endorse Christmas, a long-recognized traditional holiday, that red and green lights should not be used in its Christmas light décor.
It’s all about intimidation. Those in leadership in some of our cities, counties, and states are seeing religious displays being challenged in various locales, and, strapped for cash, do not want to risk a lawsuit. As evidenced by efforts to remove “In God We Trust” from our money and “Under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance, there is a definite trend involving attempts to scrap reminders of our religious heritage from the tableaux of our society. And, while it is discouraging to see the overreaction of some public officials, there are Christian legal organizations that provide sound resources that can aid them in making correct decisions in some of these matters, as ADF showed in the Capitol Christmas Tree controversy. It’s very important that Christians are knowledgeable about our religious roots and continue to speak that knowledge into our culture.