December 8, 2005
Oh, Holiday Tree?

By Mark Davis

A Christmas quiz: What is the difference between these two events?

1. A clerk at a department store tells shoppers "Happy holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas."

2. A store renames Christmas trees, calling them "holiday trees."

Answer: Event No. 1 is a reasonable and praiseworthy attempt at inclusiveness, since the clerk does not know which shoppers celebrate Christmas and which do not.

Event No. 2, however, is a gutless and ridiculous dodge of the obvious, buying into a new level of politically correct absurdity.

As believers and nonbelievers work themselves into a lather over the Christmas Wars, rational distinctions like this can be lost.

Relief can be found in examining the roots of various holiday pronouncements and an assessment of their motivation.

Back before extremism made sensitivity a bad word, "Happy holidays" was a nice greeting that one could offer safely to Christians, people of other faiths and complete nonbelievers.

It's not as if "Merry Christmas" was a brick to the head of those not recognizing the enormity of Jesus' birth; "Happy holidays" was simply a wish intended to find its target irrespective of faith.

Nothing wrong with that.

But sometime in the last decade, as sensitivity became hypersensitivity and inclusiveness became jargon for pathological social engineering, the cursor moved.

A simple wish to broaden a holiday greeting morphed into obnoxious condescension, seeded by the most intolerant wings of the secular left.

Suddenly the invocation of "Christmas" was a perceived affront, and a new phony right was born – the right of religious minorities to never have to endure any reference to the social or economic activities of the majority faith.

The resulting eradication of "Christmas" from the lexicon of retail commerce and school pageants has lighted a righteous fire in those who fairly ask: Is the mere acknowledgment of Christmas in our daily lives now elevated to the First Amendment-volatile level of, say, forced Bible study in public schools?

The sad answer is yes, by some. But the good news is that these people are nuts, and they are losing.

Witness the large cities and stores of every size punting the ridiculousness of "holiday trees" and calling them what they are: Christmas trees.

Some school districts have even awakened to a fresh reality about Christmas concerts: a choir or a band performing "Silent Night" is neither a purveyor nor a victim of religious indoctrination.

Interestingly, the baseless complaining that poisoned the well of Christmas tolerance came not from Jews or Muslims, who generally seem quite unbothered by Christmas imagery, but from churchless busybodies who just can't stand to see society give the slightest nod to a season sparked by the birth of Jesus.

Harsh reaction to this is understandable, but defenders of Christmas need to refrain from engaging in their own lousiness born of oversensitivity.

"Did you know that 'Xmas' is an atheist plot to de-emphasize Christ?" bleats one e-mail campaign, ignorant of a religious abbreviation dating back centuries. "If a clerk says 'Happy holidays,' complain to a manager," exhorts another stupid spammer just looking to pick a fight.

The proper battle is to make advertisers and schools comfortable with the C-word again. Seeing it in store signs and catalogs and hearing it from the lips of third-graders in a Christmas concert are not the drumbeat of proselytization; it is the acknowledgment of this season's central wish of peace and good will.

The imagery and customs of Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and any other prevailing holidays should always be welcome in the public square. It should not be too much to ask to extend that same tolerance to the holiday celebrated by the vast majority of Americans.

Merry Christmas to all.

Mark Davis is a columnist for the Dallas Morning News. The Mark Davis Show is heard weekdays nationwide on the ABC Radio Network. His e-mail address is mdavis@wbap.com.

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