Thursday, December 8, 2005

Christmas is alive and well at the White House despite the fact that the name of the holiday does not appear on the 2005 greeting cards of President Bush and first lady Laura Bush.

There’s an 18-foot Christmas tree in the Blue Room and an 18th-century Italian creche in the East Room. Official White House Christmas ornaments are for sale, and presidential aides and advisers wish one another “Merry Christmas.”

But conservatives are rankled that the word “Christmas” doesn’t appear anywhere on the official White House card — 1.4 million copies of which were mailed to presidential friends and supporters.

The card features a snowy scene of the South Portico by artist Jamie Wyeth, a quotation from Psalm 28, and the message: “With best wishes for a holiday season of hope and happiness 2005.”

“Junk mail,” said Joseph Farah, editor of the conservative Web site, who added that he tossed his White House card into the trash. “The Bushes have been tiptoeing around Christmas for five years. It’s nothing new.”

What bothers many conservatives is the creeping sense that Christ is no longer welcome at Christmas in America. “Bush is falling victim to a cultural phenomenon,” Mr. Farah said.

Not so, says the White House.

“It’s a time when we welcome all different faiths,” said Susan Whitson, press secretary to Mrs. Bush. “The president has an obligation to acknowledge that.”

Elsewhere across the area, some staffers for D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams and Virginia Gov. Mark Warner were mum about whether their bosses’ holiday cards mentioned the C-word.

In Baltimore, Mayor Martin O’Malley sent out invitations to the Holiday Open House at City Hall that did not mention any specific holiday. Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan’s cards feature the greeting “Happy holidays.” The campaign committee for Virginia Lt. Gov. Tim M. Kaine, now governor-elect, sent out a greeting card with the message “Wishing you a joyful holiday season.”

Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and first lady Kendel S. Ehrlich sent out several hundred holiday cards that coupled “Merry Christmas” with more generic greetings, including “Happy holidays.”

Official White House holiday cards, however, have not mentioned Christmas since the current president’s father occupied the Oval Office in 1992. Still, Mrs. Whitson insists, “The president and Mrs. Bush are Christians and they celebrate Christmas.”

One White House adviser said that if the word “Christmas” had appeared on the White House card, “there would be a firestorm from the opposite direction.”

“I think it’s absolutely appalling for [conservatives] to make a brouhaha over this,” said former White House social secretary and etiquette guru Letitia Baldridge. “It’s a beautiful card with a really lovely message and quotes from the Bible. How religious do they want it to be?”

• S.A. Miller contributed to this report.

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