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It’s Called ‘Christmas,’ Stupid

It’s a Christmas tree, not a holiday tree. It has always been a Christmas tree and those afraid to mouth the word “Christmas” just appear foolish.

by
Abraham H. Miller

Bio

December 24, 2011 - 7:09 pm

Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee has designated the traditional state Christmas tree as the “holiday tree.” So, what holiday does the tree represent — Kwanzaa, Chanukah, New Years, or Eid al-Fitr?  Are our holidays now interchangeable, or are they one big homogeneous politically correct melting pot?  Imagine walking through Macy’s and hearing, “Silver bells, silver bells. It’s Kwanzaa time in the city.  Ring-a-ling, soon it will be Eid al-Fitr.”

It’s a Christmas tree, not a holiday tree. It has always been a Christmas tree, and you can call it a holiday tree, but every two-year-old knows it’s a Christmas tree. No one is being fooled. Those afraid to mouth the word “Christmas,” as if it were some sort of obscenity, just appear foolish.

The University of California, Berkeley, provides a prayer room in the student union for Muslim students, and the University of Michigan-Dearborn has installed footbaths for Muslim students, as have a dozen other universities. A technical school in Minnesota has installed footbaths, but the coffee cart’s Christmas music has been turned off as a violation of the separation of church and state and, perhaps, insulting to those taking a footbath.

Ever vigilante when Christianity is ostensibly intruding in the public domain, the  ACLU has been reluctant to object to footbaths, calling the issue “complicated.” And universities, in their typical newspeak, have claimed that anyone can use the footbaths. We all know how many non-Muslim students are in need of a footbath five times a day.

As a society, we seem especially sensitive to the presence of religion in the public square when that religion is Christianity.  Otherwise, religion in the public square is simply celebrated as part of our multicultural heritage.

Perhaps, we need to be reminded that despite what President Obama said in his Islamic-pandering speech in Cairo, this is a Christian country.  A majority of Americans still identify as Christians and some 95% of Americans, Christians and non-Christians, celebrate Christmas. These non-Christians celebrate Christmas as an authentic and quintessential American holiday. It was this fact that led the Supreme Court to uphold the right to have a Christmas tree in the public square and to call it that.

Christians have so far been incredibly tolerant of the affronts to their beliefs. No person who created, funded, or otherwise supported the outrageously offensive “Piss Christ” has been physically harmed for it.  I doubt if those who smugly believe that Piss Christ is pushing the parameters of art would attempt a similar work involving Mohammed.

Sometimes, as Mark Twain noted, along with having a First-Amendment right comes the good sense of knowing when not to exercise it.  It seems that when it comes to Christianity, that sense ceases to exist.

Christians are told that their religion needs to be scrutinized for constitutional violations. Christmas trees are an affront, but the pre-sunrise call to prayer that blasts nearby residents from sleep is emblematic of religious tolerance.

When our ancestors came here as immigrants, they knew it was a Christian country, not by establishment, but by custom and tradition. When they voluntarily changed geography, they also changed history, and with that, they acquired a new set of cultural expectations.

Increasingly, we see groups of immigrants who also yearn to come to America but do not desire to become Americans. They seek not just accommodation but privilege to impose the culture, politics, law, and religion of the places they left behind on the rest of us. They seek rights for their faith and restriction on the faith of the majority.  They bemoan Christmas closings as a violation of church and state and decry the presence of Christian symbols in the public square, even though the Supreme Court has upheld the public display of Christmas trees and even nativity scenes — when appropriately done — as part of our secular and cultural heritage.

The word “Christmas” has nearly become taboo. Non-denominational prayer in school, even a moment of silence, is prohibited. There are also a variety of activist organizations that will rush to court at the slightest hint of prayer in school, Christian prayer in school that is. Yet school systems have created space for Muslim prayers, and in Wellesley, Massachusetts, one school transported students to the Roxbury mosque, where they prayed in gender-segregated rooms. In the Bryon Union School District in California, students lived and prayed as Muslims for three weeks, and none of the usual civil liberties organizations raised an objection.  The program, eventually challenged by the Thomas Moore Legal Center, was upheld by the liberal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The United States Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of the appellate court’s decision.  Nearly everyone knows that if students were living and praying as Christians, the appellate court would have come to a much different decision.

Such prejudicial attitudes do not pave the way for a more tolerant and inclusive society, but they do give rise to resentment and outrage that invariably lead to an organized mass movement.  Mobilized to defend a majority culture under attack, that kind of movement, once unleashed, will gravitate toward the extremes.

So, when you see the symbols of Christmas in the public square, remember those are the symbols of people who, in this country, created a unique religious tolerance, people who refused to permit government to establish a religion, and people who extended that tolerance to other religions and even to non-believers.

Yes, it’s a Christmas tree, and “Merry Christmas” is not an epithet.  You live in a Christian country.  Be thankful for it.  In case you haven’t noticed, the alternatives are a lot worse.

Abraham H. Miller is an emeritus professor of political science and a former head of the Intelligence Studies Section of the International Studies Association.
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