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Me**y Chr***mas

December 27, 2000

A friend donated some books to his son’s nursery school here in New York. But one was rejected as too religious: “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” The friend, who is Jewish, was outraged that the school, which is vaguely Christian, was taking such a stupid stand on secretly Christian reindeer. Another friend in Cambridge, Mass., reports that her son’s private school will no longer put up wreaths on its buildings. The wreaths are also viewed as too religious and therefore “offensive to some members of our community,” according to a letter from the school’s director.

Yes, the silly season is upon us once again. This is the time of year when reindeer, trees, elves, Santa Claus, candy canes, poinsettias, and even red and green cookies are seen by somebody and his lawyers as (1) grave violations of church-state separation or, even worse, (2) insensitive and non-inclusive. Sensitivity, our new civil religion, requires us to get rid of anything that bothers anybody anywhere. Christmas, of course, is the busiest time of year for the sensitive person’s veto.

Santa Claus and all the post-Christian trappings of Christmas have been banned in the schools of Lawrence, Kan., by a 5-2 vote of the school board. Now teachers wonder if they will get in trouble if they let children draw pictures of forbidden Christmas trees. Pictures of elves or Rudolph are not allowed, but sleigh rides are permitted as long as nobody in a red suit is guiding the sleigh. What if one child hands another a card with the letters C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S right on the front?

A public school in Fresno, Calif., ordered its choir not to sing any Christmas songs, religious or secular, even “Jingle Bells.” The principal explained that many apparently innocent songs could give the impression that students were celebrating a holiday that to some people had religious connotations. Yes, I believe it was Thomas Jefferson, so vigilant about church-state separation, who warned us: “One day you let kids sing ‘Chestnuts roasting on an open fire …’ and the next thing you know, the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury are offshore in a submarine ready to take over America.”

In the end, “Jingle Bells” beat the religious rap in Fresno. At the last minute the principal allowed the song back into the program. According to a local news report, he held his breath and “hoped no one in the audience would object.”

It isn’t just the schools. An effort is under way to make nearly any public mention of “Christmas” seem controversial and exclusionary. The Toronto Star published a special section recommending “Holiday Carol Songsheets” because it couldn’t bring itself to use the term “Christmas carols.” “How open-minded do we get before our brains fall out?” one exasperated reader wrote to the paper. “I look forward to seeing what cutesy politically correct name you will give to Ramadan, Hannukah, etc.”

Performers at Chicago’s Navy Pier entertained children by singing “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” So that nobody would feel uncomfortable, the song was retitled “The Five Days of Holiday,” and began, “On the first day of holiday, my true love sent to me, a partridge in a pear tree.” “We’re trying to appeal to everyone,” said the Pier’s marketing director. Maybe they can follow this up next year with Irving Berlin’s classic song, “I’m Dreaming of a White Mid-Winter Vacation Day.” Or “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” might be sensitively rewritten as “I’ll Be Home Sometime Between December 24 and December 26, If You Know What I’m Referring To, Though I Surely Wouldn’t Want to Offend Anybody.”

Eugene, Ore., decided that Christmas trees are religious symbols and banned them from public spaces in an effort to “practice diversity.” The Eugene Firefighters fought back. One fire station decorated a ficus plant with lights — not exactly a Christmas tree, but city officials ruled that curtains had to be drawn so the offending plant couldn’t be seen from the street, thus hurting somebody’s feelings. Later officials backed down and allowed fire stations to put Christmas trees in stations from 8 a.m., Dec. 24, until 8 a.m., Dec. 26.

In Newport Beach, Calif., holiday lights are almost as controversial as lighted ficus plants in Eugene. Officials took them out of the public schools after objections that seasonal lighting is “a provocative act” that “disenfranchises and marginalizes non-Christian students.” White lights were bad enough, but in the words of one op-ed article, “At the heart of the issue is the question: Do red and green lights communicate the religious message of Christmas?”

Good question. Just to be on the safe side, we probably should get rid of all traffic lights. By the way, has anyone noticed that those stars in the sidewalk in Hollywood look a lot like the Star of Bethlehem? And why are stop signs red — the very same color as Rudolph’s Christian nose? Oh, where is the ACLU when you really need it?

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