Do you celebrate Christmas? If so, how do you celebrate it – as a religious or a secular holiday? Maybe you do a little bit of both. Perhaps you celebrate the Solstice. Maybe you celebrate another holiday or do nothing at all.
I'm glad we have the choice about what to do at the time of year. But I'm troubled by the fact some people don't want us to have that choice.
U.S. Rep. Henry E. Brown of South Carolina will soon introduce a congressional resolution lauding Christmas. He's been circulating a brief resolution that is clearly designed to give aid and comfort to the Religious Right's "war on Christmas" crowd.
It reads, "Whereas Christmas is a national holiday celebrated on December 25; and
Whereas the Framers intended that the First Amendment of the Constitution, in prohibiting the establishment of religion, would not prohibit any mention of religion or reference to God in civic dialog: Now, therefore, be it Resolved, That the House of Representatives –
(1) recognizes the importance of the symbols and traditions of Christmas;
(2) strongly disapproves of attempts to ban references to Christmas; and
(3) expresses support for the use of these symbols and traditions by those who celebrate Christmas."
Across the country in California, another effort is under way to promote a Religious Right view of Christmas using public channels.
A substitute teacher named Merry Susan Hyatt is pushing a ballot initiative that would essentially mandate that public schools perform religious Christmas carols.
Hyatt recently moved to the city of Redding in far northern California. This is not an especially liberal area of the state, yet the newspaper there, the Redding Record Searchlight, had no problem seeing the flaws in Hyatt's proposal.
"Her charming proposal was OK'd for signature-gathering just in time for the holidays," observed the paper. "Who could possibly object to this all-American project? Well, a lot of people.
Continued the editorial, "Sikh nut farmers in the Sacramento Valley. Hindu engineers in Silicon Valley. The Buddhists whose temples outnumber Roman Catholic churches in San Francisco (according to a University of Southern California survey). Jehovah's Witnesses who don't even celebrate Christmas. It's easy to forget in the Redding area, but California is one of the world's most religiously diverse societies. A one-size-fits-all musical mandate makes as much sense as saying Mass in a mosque."
Hyatt's proposal is, I believe, obviously unconstitutional. I hope it never comes to a vote because I'd hate to see the cash-strapped state of California squander money defending it in court. It's a guaranteed loser.
Meanwhile, the gang at Jerry Falwell Jr.'s Liberty Counsel continues its crusade to serve as the "Christmas police" and make sure everyone uses the appropriate "religiously correct" seasonal greeting.
The group has issued its annual "Naughty & Nice" list. Liberty Counsel actually drafts people to examine retailers' Web sites and comb through holiday catalogs and circulars looking for the word "Christmas." If a company doesn't use the term enough, it ends up on the "Naughty" list.
Here's an actual example. The company American Girl, which manufactures a popular line of dolls, ended up on the "Naughty" list. Why? Liberty Counsel reports that the firm used the words, "Order Christmas gifts by Dec. 10 to avoid rush shipping charges" on its home page but "otherwise, holiday was everywhere with only four items that mentioned 'Christmas.'"
So now it's not enough that a retailer uses the word "Christmas." They have to do it many times and in a context approved by the Liberty Counsel.
Looking at something like this, I don't know whether to laugh or cry. The thought of people sitting around somewhere actually counting up these references on Web sites and in catalogs and thinking that they are achieving something makes me feel kind of sad.
I don't know what holiday (if any) you celebrate at this time of year, but whatever it is, I hope you have a good one. We have the right to choose how we'll celebrate the December holidays, if we'll celebrate them at all and what traditions we will acknowledge.
Religious people can avail themselves of any number of churches and hear as much religious holiday music as they like. Those of a more secular bent can stick to Santa, Frosty and Rudolph. Non-Christians can refrain from celebrating or blend elements of the holiday into their own traditions.
This infuriates the Religious Right, of course. To strident would-be theocrats, there is only one way to celebrate Christmas – theirs. But as I said, it's all about choice. You can choose to ignore them and do your own holiday thing.
That right, which springs from our country's great tradition of religious liberty through the separation of church and state, is the greatest gift of all.