It has come to this: So desperate is the Religious Right to prop up its claims of a "War on Christmas" that it is actually trolling retailers' Web sites and blowing the whistle on those that fail to use religiously correct terminology.

The Rev. Jerry Falwell's legal outfit, Liberty Counsel, has actually issued a list of companies it deems "Naughty" or "Nice" depending on the firms' use of the word "Christmas." (No, this is not a parody from "The Onion.")

The list is quite illuminating. Banana Republic, we are told, "has 'Holiday Gift Guide' with no mention of any Christmas." The folks at the Gap, meanwhile, offer a "Holiday Survival Guide" that "has no mention of Christmas."

Even your poor dog is being oppressed. Liberty Counsel assures us that Petsmart has "a Holiday Shop, and Luv-a-pet ornaments, photos with Santa, but no Christmas."

But not all hope is not lost! Plenty of firms made the "Nice" list. Ace Hardware "sells Christmas trees and wreaths, Salvation Army bell ringers outside." J.C. Penney's Web site has a "Christmas shipping countdown," and, perhaps best of all, the makers of M&M's, the popular candy, will offer "red and green candies with pictures of Christmas trees and angels among other images." (That's a relief. But Liberty Counsel forgot to mention the Just Born Company's special line of Christmas Marshmallow Peeps shaped like Christmas trees, snowmen and Christmas cookies!)

I don't know what's sadder: The fact that Liberty Counsel is this obsessed over what words appear in store circulars or that they put this list out with a straight face. I have this pathetic image of legions of Falwell supporters grimly marching down to the local box stores to examine all of the decorations, make note of what the clerk says at the check-out register and inspect every entrance for Salvation Army bell ringers.

But like all ham-fisted bullies, Chairman Falwell faces difficulties keeping his retailers in line. Like back-sliding children who just can't manage to be good even though they know Santa is watching, some companies appear to be having trouble meeting the demands of the Christmas Police.

Macy's department stores are on the "Nice" list, for example, for putting "Merry Christmas" on the company Web site. But just two days ago, three full-page red-and-white Macy's ads ran in The Washington Post that were clearly designed to spur holiday shopping – yet the word "Christmas" did not appear once!

Falwell and Liberty Counsel head Mat Staver clearly have their work cut out for them. It's a hard job enforcing a religiously correct Christmas in a nation of 300 million people and, according to one source, 574 million MasterCards and Visas. So many store clerks, so little time. And I should note that many, many business don't appear on either the "Naughty" or "Nice" list. For instance, has anyone even checked to see what exactly Meineke Mufflers is up to at this time of year?

In all seriousness, there is something very sad about watching fundamentalist Christian organizations, whose leaders claim to take faith so seriously, making a fuss over what's going on at the local mall – and believing they are keeping Christ in Christmas while doing so. If Jesus were to come back this year, the last place you would find him would be the modern temples of conspicuous consumption known as shopping malls. (Look for him instead at the soup kitchen, the homeless shelter or the children's home.)

What should the legions of outraged, "war-on-Christmas" fanatics be doing? Instead of obsessing about L.L. Bean's Web site, maybe they should look for the real meaning of Christmas in some other places instead.

Perhaps a lesson from that wise old philosopher Dr. Seuss is in order. After taking all of the trappings of Christmas from the Whos, the Grinch was shocked to see them join hands and celebrate the holiday anyway. Seuss writes:

And the Grinch, with his grinch-feet ice-cold in the snow,Stood puzzling and puzzling: "How could it be so?It came without ribbons! It came without tags!"It came without packages, boxes or bags!"And he puzzled three hours, till his puzzler was sore.Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before!"Maybe Christmas," he thought, "doesn't come from a store."Maybe Christmas...perhaps...means a little bit more!"

Ironically, it is Falwell, Staver and their ilk whose actions make a mockery of what Christmas is supposed to represent. People of faith who really value Christmas as a season of peace and goodwill would never use it to bash others, divide Americans, advance personal agendas or raise funds. (This year, Falwell began carping about the "War on Christmas – and soliciting funds to fight it – two weeks before Halloween.) True fans of Christmas don't use a day they consider holy and sacred to advance a misguided "culture war." They don't arrogantly demand that everyone celebrate the holiday in the same manner or using the same language.

For those believers who truly seek it, the true meaning of Christmas always comes through. Some find it while joining in a community of like-minded believers in a house of worship. Others experience it while serving meals at a soup kitchen. Still others find it surrounded by extended family and friends. Only the most vacuous among us are denied those joys because local retailers used the "wrong" terminology in their sale circulars.

Like the Whos down in Whoville, the real meaning of Christmas comes to those who want it "without packages, boxes or bags" – and it surely comes no matter what type of salutation K-Mart puts on its Web site.