Christmas By Any Other Name ...

AROUND THE RIM COUNTRY

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One of the themes of the 2005 holiday season seems to be an extra special, over-the-top sense of outrage about the dastardly people who want to take the word Christmas out of Christmas.

This attitude seems to be especially rabid in the United States of People-Who-Know-Better-Than-the-Rest-of-the-World-What's Right-and-What's-Wrong. Why, right here in Payson, a couple of opinions to that effect have recently appeared in print.

Just to put some distance between ourselves and our narrowmindedness, I turned to a foreign news source for an update on this trend. In an article titled "Christmas Makes a Comeback," Zenit News Services out of Rome notes that Christmas "is no longer a taboo word."

Here's some of the evidence:

  • The tree on the West Lawn of the Capitol will be changed back from the the Holiday Tree, as it's been known of late, to the Christmas Tree.
  • Ditto for a tree erected on Boston Common, especially after the city was rocked by protests and threatened with lawsuits.
  • A Christian legal group threatened to sue a Georgia school district for its attempts to de-Christianize holiday observances in its classrooms.
  • Target has come under fire for using "Gather Round" in its holiday ads instead of something "more Christmasy."

In his book "The War on Christmas," Fox's John Gibson works himself into a lather on the subject. According to Gibson the majority of those in the forefront of banning Christmas are "liberal guilt-wracked Christians, aided by assorted secularists, humanists and cultural relativists. And organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) provide the legal back-up."

A letter that appeared recently in the Payson Roundup was critical of The Home Depot for advertising "holiday trees," but surprisingly it is Wal-Mart that is garnering most of the heat on a nationwide basis.

According to Zenit, the mega-monster retailer was forced into defending its decision to have its greeters say "Happy Holidays" instead of "Happy Christmas." Its initial defense was a statement noting that "Christmas is actually a composite of ancient traditions, made up of elements such as Siberian shamanism, Celt and Goth customs, and the worship of Baal."

You can just imagine the reaction this provoked. In fact, Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, called for a worldwide boycott.

Wal-Mart quickly backed away from this statement, but to its credit refused to tell its greeters to say "Happy Christmas."

I don't want to digress completely off the subject, but isn't it "Merry Christmas" not "Happy Christmas," and wouldn't it be more fitting to call Donohue's group the Catholic League for Making People Think Like the Rest of Us?

I don't know about you, but I think this whole issue is "much ado about nothing." And speaking of Shakespeare, isn't it amazing how many situations this quote from "Romeo and Juliet" fits:

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose

By any other word would smell as sweet."

Lest Shakespeare's point be lost on the Catholic League for Making People Think Like the Rest of Us, allow me to spell it out: It doesn't matter what you call Christmas. What matters is the manner and spirit with which you observe it.

It's a notion that's echoed by Coleridge:

"Ah! replied my gentle fair,

Beloved, what are names but air?

Choose thou whatever suits the line;

Call me Sappho, call me Chloris,

Call me Lalage, or Doris,

Only, only, call me thine."

(Another brief digression: Well, OK, maybe not Doris. That's a pretty antediluvian name. Now watch the International Society of Dorises join with the Rim Country Federated Sisterhood of Quilters in urging a boycott of this column.)

There are two things that strike me most curious about all the people who are outraged because an international retail chain that serves people of all religions and creeds chooses to greet its customers with "Happy Holidays." And about all well-intentioned attempts to genericize Christmas to make it palatable to the largest number of people:

  • How soon we forget that these United States were founded by people who were fleeing religious oppression, intolerance and discrimination. How dare we repeat the very sin that drove our ancestors from their homeland -- allowing the majority to dictate what everybody else believes and thinks.
  • Getting so worked up about all of this seems to me to be the very antithesis of Christianity, especially during this special time of the year.

The Zenit article notes that the Catholic church in Australia is fighting to restore the good name of Christmas. One example cited is that Archbishop Philip Wilson has imported from Rome the custom of having people bring in their Nativity scene figures to be blessed. Wilson puts it this way:

"This is a wonderful tradition, reminding children and parents during the hectic Christmas period of the significant message of hope, peace, tolerance and forgiveness in the story of God incarnate in a baby born to a poor couple sheltering in a stable."

As you celebrate Christmas -- or whatever you choose to call it -- may you remember that "hope, peace, tolerance and forgiveness" are basic tenets of the Christian faith. Imposing your faith on others just because it happens to be the majority faith is simply not a Christian thing to do.

Happy Holidays.

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