- The Washington Times - Monday, December 27, 2004

A few Decembers back, I was in Santa Claus, Ind., and went to the Post Office — a popular destination thanks to its seasonal postmark.

“Merry Christmas!” I said provocatively.

But Postmistress Sandy Colyon was ready for me. “A week ago,” she said, “I’d have had to say ‘Happy Holidays’, but we’ve been given a special dispensation from the Postmaster-General allowing us to say ‘Merry Christmas’. So Merry Christmas.”

That’s “Christmas” at the dawn of the third millennium — a word you have to get a special memo from head office authorizing the use thereof. There was more hoo-ha than usual this “holiday season” about the war to expunge the C-word from American vocabularies, and, now that we can stick the bland nullity of “Happy Holidays” away in the closet until the start of Ramadan 2005, it’s worth considering who are the real winners and losers in this struggle.

Yes, the competition for the American Civil Liberties Union’s silliest Santa suit seemed particularly fierce this year. In one New Jersey school district, the annual trip to see Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” was canceled after threats of legal action. At another New Jersey school, the policy on not singing any songs mentioning God, Christ, angels, etc, was expanded to prohibit instrumental performances of music that would mention God if any singers were around to sing the words. So you can’t do “Silent Night” as a piano solo or Handel’s “Messiah” even if you junk the hallelujahs.

This has nothing to do with Christianity. “A Christmas Carol” is a secular work — there’s no more God or Jesus in it than there is in “White Christmas.” And, if works of music that reference God are banned from schools, that cuts out a big chunk of the aural glories of this world, including the best of Bach and Mozart. Forbidding children from being exposed to Handel and Dickens is an act of vandalism and, in the end, will eliminate any rationale for a public education system.

But let’s not obsess on New Jersey’s litigious secularists. In Plano, Texas, in the heart of God-fearin’ Bush country, parents were told not to bring red and green plates and napkins for school “winter” parties, as the colors have strong Christmas connotations and thus are culturally oppressive.

Jesus, Mary and Joseph long ago got the heave-ho from the schoolhouse, but the great secular trinity of Santa, Rudolph and Frosty aren’t faring much better. “Frosty The Snowman” and “Jingle Bells” are offensive to those of a non-Frosty or non-jingly persuasion: they’re code for traditional notions of Christmas. The basic rule of thumb is: Anything you enjoy singing will probably get you sued.

Philip Roth famously observed that, with “Easter Parade” and “White Christmas,” Irving Berlin had taken the two holidays that celebrate the divinity of Christ and “de-Christed” them both, turning Easter “into a fashion show and Christmas into a holiday about snow.” But Berlin found an angle on Christmas that anyone can get into. The new school of “de-Christers” seems to deny the possibility of any common culture, so that the holiday concert winds up a celebration of hermetically sealed cultural ghettos. “E pluribus unum — from one, many,” as Al Gore mangled it a couple of years back.

And yet this year I’m disinclined to join in the general bemoaning. Flipping the dial on my car radio, I noticed more stations than ever were playing nonstop 24-hour “holiday music” for the month before C-day — not just “Winter Wonderland” and “Jingle Bell Rock” but Bing and Frank doing “Go Tell It On The Mountain” and Andy Williams singing “O Holy Night.” And not just the old guys, but all the current fellows, especially the country singers: Garth Brooks’ new album — “The Magic Of Christmas” — includes “Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow” but also “Baby Jesus Is Born” and “O Little Town Of Bethlehem.”

The seasonally litigious rest their fanatical devotion to the deChristification of Christmas on the separation of church and state. America’s Founders certainly opposed the “establishment” of religion, whose meaning is clear enough to any Englishman: the new republic did not want President Washington serving simultaneously as supreme governor of the Church of America, as the Queen today is simultaneously head of the Church of England, or the Bishop of Virginia sitting ex officio in the U.S. Senate, as today the Archbishop of York sits in the House of Lords. Two centuries on, these possibilities are so remote to Americans that the “separation” of church and state has dwindled down to threats of legal action over red-and-green party napkins.

But every time some sensitive flower pulls off a legal victory over the school board, who really wins? For the answer to that, look no further than last month’s election results. Forty years of ACLU efforts to eliminate God from the public square have led to a resurgent, evangelical and politicized Christianity in America. By “politicized,” I don’t mean anyone who feels his kid should be allowed to sing “Silent Night” if he wants is perforce a Republican, but only that year in, year out, it gets harder for such folks to support a secular Democratic Party closely allied with anti-Christmas militants.

American liberals need to rethink their priorities: What’s more important? Winning a victory over the New Jersey kindergarten teacher’s holiday concert, or winning back Congress and the White House?

In Britain and Europe, by contrast, the formal and informal symbols of religious faith remained in place in national life and there were no local equivalents to America’s churlish litigants, and Christianity withered away anyway: Across the Continent, the churches are empty. In attempting to sue God out of public life, American liberals demonstrate yet again that they’re great on tactics, lousy on long-term strategy.

Oh, well. ‘Tis the season of good will to all men, so in that spirit let me wish the ACLU a Happy Day After the Day After Boxing Day. Yes, I know. Dec. 26 is only Boxing Day in Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, etc, not in the District of Columbia. But I don’t see why America’s fetishization of multiculturalism shouldn’t extend to white, English-speaking cultures, too. And at least with “Happy Day After the Day After Boxing Day” you may get looks of incomprehension but you won’t get sued.

Mark Steyn is the senior contributing editor for Hollinger Inc. Publications, senior North American columnist for Britain’s Telegraph Group, North American editor for the Spectator, and a nationally syndicated columnist.

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