Thursday, December 20, 2007

All is quiet on the Christmas front

“Peace on Earth, good will toward men.” That’s what we say at Christmastime, and this year we’re getting it — on one front, anyway.

We’re not hearing much about the so-called War on Christmas. That’s a pleasant change from last year, when the airwaves were filled with chatter about a sinister conspiracy that was supposedly trying to stamp out the holiday season.

Instead, when I Googled the phrase “war on Christmas” this week, most of the recent discussions were about how all of the war talk had settled down.

During the Dec. 12 installment of his Fox News Channel program, Bill O’Reilly, whose voice had been one of the loudest decrying the alleged secular assault on Christmas, declared victory. The War on Christmas was over, and his side had won.

But really, how much has changed? I still see signs that say “Happy Holidays” and “Seasons Greetings” instead of O’Reilly’s preferred greeting, “Merry Christmas.” Isn’t that a sign that the war is still on?

I suppose it would be, if people hadn’t been saying things like “happy holidays” and “seasons greetings” for decades, long before some people with nothing better to do decided those were fighting words.

The closest thing I’ve seen to a real war on Christmas in the past year is a T-shirt with the slogan “I support the war on Christmas.” Of course, it was a joke. The people who made those T-shirts did so only to irritate blowhards like O’Reilly.

Being a contrarian sort of person, I thought of getting one of those shirts for myself. But I decided I didn’t want to risk getting punched in the face.

If there is anything I abhor, it’s violence against me.

Anyway, as far as I can tell, nothing has changed. People are celebrating Christmas this year just as they did last year.

Yes, there are the usual little spats over putting explicitly religious Christmas symbols on public property. The Catholic League, led by the country’s most easily offended man, Bill Donohue, released a list of about a dozen instances in which a town refused to place a Nativity scene on a city lawn or something equally trivial.

Not that Nativity scenes are themselves trivial. They aren’t, and you can see them in front of churches far and wide, which is why one more in front of a courthouse or city hall doesn’t matter. People don’t need the government’s blessing to celebrate Christmas.

But most people don’t get worked up about such legal battles, anyway. How do I know? Well, I’ve seen a lot of houses decorated for the season, and I can’t recall one that had its own Nativity scene. There were lots of plastic Santas and reindeer, though. And since the houses were in Alabama, you can’t tell me that a bunch of Christmas-hating secularists live in them.

If people really did get agitated about the fact that you can’t put up religious symbols on government property, they’d protest by putting up their own — just as some students hold private prayer rallies to protest the fact that you can’t have officially sanctioned prayers in public schools.

It’s not much of a war on Christmas when the vast majority of Americans go about celebrating Christmas as they always have. And guess what? That includes most secular humanists.

Richard Dawkins, the British biologist and atheist who created a stir last year with his book “The God Delusion,” admits to loving Christmas carols. That doesn’t seem like much of a declaration of war, does it?

So, the unpleasant, divisive War on Christmas is over, or as over as something that was never real in the first place can be. If nothing else, it reminds me of the title of a John Lennon song:

“Merry Christmas (War Is Over).”

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