Christmas greeting debate nonsense

By Ned Cantwell

Hand me that AK-47. I am about to join the Culture War.
There is the notion that somehow the entire Christmas season has become an orchestrated movement by Christians to impose their faith on non-believers or followers of other sects.

Therefore, goes the argument, a Nativity scene on a courthouse lawn is a gross violation of the separation of church and state. Isn’t that a crock? It is as if the mere presence of baby Jesus in the manger with Mary and Joseph is going to force an atheist to fall on his knees and begin praying to God.

That makes as much sense as thinking that those of us who are Christians, the vast majority of the country, are going to pass a statue of Buddha and begin chanting to the Lotus Pond.

The truth is, Christmas is an American tradition that far transcends religion. It is a time when Americans, all Americans, have celebrated togetherness, kindness, love, good will toward men. Whatever your religion, or lack thereof, how can you argue with that?

Up until this season, the Culture War centered on the feared Nativity scene. That was resolved by the Supreme Court’s walk-the-tightrope decision that it is OK to display baby Jesus if you also throw in Santa Claus or some other secular trapping.

This year the Culture War escalated and New Mexico was on the front line. Our annual gift to the nation, the Christmas tree cut from the Santa Fe National Forest, was renamed the “holiday tree.” Washington came to its senses and reverted to “Christmas tree.”

More complex is the great debate over what people should say. Is wishing someone a “merry Christmas” a violation of church-state? Is it more appropriate to extend a “happy holidays”?

I come down on the side of who cares? More bothersome to me is the notion that either side should be able to dictate the thoughts and words of any American. Some national chains did just that by ordering their employees to say “happy holidays” rather than uttering any phrase mentioning Christmas.

Thinking back to the days when I ran a newspaper, I wonder what would have happened had I issued a similar directive. I think the staff would have told me to shove it, and well it should.

On the other hand, I am equally bothered by organized boycotts of retailers whose clerks say “happy holidays.” That’s dangerous, no less an imposition on free speech than the employers who mistakenly ordered it.

I cannot help but think America would be a better place if everyone would just cool it and use the Christmas season as a starting point to adopt tolerance as a national virtue.

I note that Katie Couric still says “happy holidays.” I don’t care. I like Katie Couric and if that is how she wishes to extend Christmas greetings, it is fine with me. On a visit to New York, I ventured down to the NBC studios to peer through the Today Show glass like a zillion other idiot tourists.

There was Katie, sitting on the couch. I waved and waved. I think she winked at me. Maybe she just had something in her eye, but no matter. My heart went pitter-patter. It made me want to sing, “Hark, the herald angels sing.”

Ned Cantwell wishes all his readers a blessed Christmas. Contact him at: