Christmas wins (in the December culture wars)

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(RNS) During the December holidays, emotions over Christmas, public creches, “Happy Holidays” and all the trimmings can run high. This year, Religion News Service kept tabs on the “war on Christmas,” with dispatches from the battleground formerly known as the month of December.

Pass the eggnog and fire up the tree

(RNS) The “war” is over — at least for this year. Let’s tally up the wins and losses.

Round 1 – According to the Pew Research Center, 96 percent of Americans celebrate Christmas. That includes a whopping 81 percent of non-Christians and 87 percent of people with no religion. Score: Christmas – 1; Blitzkreig on Grinchitude – 0.

Round 2 – Almost half of all Americans — 46 percent — say THEY DO NOT CARE whether you say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays.” Fewer — 42 percent — pick “Merry Christmas” over “Happy Holidays.” Turns out, your preference may depend on where you live. Score: Christmas – 2; Fox News – 0.

Where to say "Merry Christmas" and "Happy Holidays." Source: Public Religion Research Institute

Where to say “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Holidays.” Source: Public Religion Research Institute

Round 3 – Should Christian symbols, like nativities, be allowed on government property, like courthouses and capitols (I’m looking at you, Florida)? Seventy-two percent of Americans say YES, either on their own or with the religious symbols of other faiths. Only 20 percent say Christian symbols should not be allowed at all. Score: Christmas – 3; everyone else – 0.

Round 4 – The vast majority of Americans — 73 percent — say Jesus was born to the Virgin Mary and 81 percent believe he was laid in a manger. Score: Christmas – 4; Scrooge – 0.

The “war” on Christmas is over. Christmas wins. Quit your Grinching — at least until next year.

Belief in ‘war on Christmas’ drops (Dec. 22)

(RNS) More Americans say a “war on Christmas” does not exist than those who say it does, a new poll says.

Thirty-seven percent of Americans say they “believe” in a war on Christmas, while 42 percent say “it doesn’t exist.” That’s a change from three years ago, when 47 percent said they believed and 40 percent did not.

Frank the Fruitcake

Frank the Fruitcake

But before breaking out the celebratory Champagne, consider this: The same poll found that almost one-third (29 percent) of those who are sure there is a war on Christmas also say Donald Trump is the best candidate to wage that war. And a majority are not buying the Grinch‘s rehab — 60 percent view him “unfavorably,” giving him similar approval numbers to Sen. Mitch McConnell.

Other findings include that Santa is probably a Democrat (44 percent), fruitcake is disgusting (52 percent) and no matter what your crazy uncle thinks, “Die Hard” is not a Christmas movie (62 percent).

The poll was conducted by Public Policy Polling at Fordham University.

Festivus is not an attack on Christmas, author says (Dec. 21)

(RNS) It is a classic among sitcom classics — the “Seinfeld” episode where Frank Costanza (Jerry Stiller) insists on celebrating “Festivus,” the holiday for “the rest of us,” complete with a Festivus pole, the eating of meatloaf, some feats of strength and, best of all, the airing of grievances.

A lot of people never heard of Festivus until two years, when a Florida man stirred up a fuss when by getting his Festivus pole — originally made of beer cans — erected alongside a Nativity and a menorah at the Florida Capitol in Tallahassee.

Fox News’ Gretchen Carlson nearly had an on-screen coronary.

"Festivus! The Book" by Mark Nelson

“Festivus! The Book” by Mark Nelson

But Mark Nelson, a Canadian funny guy and Festivus fan, says Festivus is not an attack on Christmas. His new e-book, “Festivus! The Book,” describes how to celebrate the nonholiday — something he and his family have done for 10 years.

“Festivus is the innocent victim in this conflict,” Nelson writes in the e-book. “They should have just left Festivus out of it.”

In an email interview, Nelson elaborated:

“Most people who celebrate Festivus are not part of, and don’t even consider themselves as being part of, a ‘war on Christmas. Even on ‘Seinfeld,’ Festivus is not about being against any religion. It is mainly meant as being against what Christmas had become, i.e. commercialism.”

For its part, the Festivus pole is back at the Florida Capitol, and an application to place a “Gay Pride Festivus Pole” has been submitted in Little Rock, Ark., complete with rainbow fabric and mirrored disco ball. Frank Costanza would be proud.

Don’t celebrate — educate, author says (Dec. 21)

Tension and conflicts over how to approach Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa in the classroom are far from over, says Linda K. Wertheimer over at USA Today.

"Faith Ed" by Linda Wertheimer

“Faith Ed” by Linda Wertheimer

Wertheimer, author of “Faith Ed: Teaching About Religion in an Age of Intolerance,” says enough with the banning of Christmas trees and traditional holiday songs inside public school halls. Instead, she prescribes a middle way.

“Rather than treat Christmas as the bogeyman, teach about it and other religions’ holidays in schools,” she writes. “Hold a concert of sacred music representing many faiths, but base the date on an academic rather than a religious calendar.”

She holds up the example of Minneha Core Knowledge Elementary School in Wichita, Kan., where students start learning about Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Hinduism in October — and keep their own beliefs out of the classroom.

“It’s not just about being sensitive to our country’s growing religious diversity or the nearly one quarter of Americans who affiliate with no religion,” Wertheimer writes. “It’s about doing what’s legal and what’s educationally sound.”

Atheists start #ISlapBack campaign over ‘Happy Holidays’ (Dec. 18)

(RNS) In response to a Texas official who promised to slap the next person to wish him “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas,” atheists and others took to social media warning #ISlapBack.

The #ISlapBack campaign was started Thursday (Dec. 17) in response to a Facebook post earlier in the week by Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller that said, “If one more person says Happy Holidays to me I just might slap them. Either tell me Merry Christmas or just don’t say anything.”

David Silverman, president of American Atheists and author of “Fighting God,” took up the challenge on Twitter:

It was picked up by other Twitter members who identify as atheists in their bios:

Within hours, Progress Texas, a grass-roots organization, established a Web page where people can virtually send Miller a “Happy Kwanzchristmakkah card.”

Miller’s Facebook and Twitter feeds have been rippling with good wishes for a Happy Holidays since he posted his initial remarks.

California kindergartners plan walkout to visit canceled Santa (Dec. 18)

(RNS) Parents of kindergartners at a San Jose elementary school plan a walkout for their 5- and 6-year-olds over the cancellation of a field trip to see Santa.

Sartorette Elementary School canceled the field trip, scheduled for Friday (Dec.18), after one parent complained about it. The field trip has been described by others as a decades-old tradition.

“This is not a Jewish issue for me,” the parent, who gave her name only as Talia, told NBC Bay Area News. “It’s an inclusion issue. We can’t spend five days on just one culture. That’s fostering intolerance. When Christmas is given the same time, or less time, than American holidays, like Veterans Day, then kids don’t feel as American.”

Other parents say they are outraged. “One parent, who along with a rash board decision, ripped apart the community by forcing the school to remove a much-revered field trip by fighting religious imbalance in the curriculum,” one parent said.

Parents told the TV station they would stage a walkout with their 5- and 6-year olds Dec. 18 and walk them en masse to the coffee shop to see Santa.

Don’t ‘Be Merry’ … just ‘Be’ (Dec. 17)

For 33 years, Ethel Holloway has decorated the halls of unit 1C at the Audie Murphy Veterans in San Antonio for the holidays, using her own money to buy the reindeer, Santas and “Merry Christmas” signs. This year, some of her decorations wound up in the trash.

“See where it says ‘Be Merry’?” Holloway, a veteran herself, asked a local reporter, pointing to a picture of the hospital wall before it was edited by hospital staff. “They took the ‘Merry’ down and left the ‘Be.'”

Hospital officials said that they had received “a number” of complaints that the decorations were “overly religious and offensive.”

What else was dumped? The middle car of a three-car train, with Santa in the engine. He survived, as did the caboose. The middle car was imprinted with “Merry Christmas.”

Also, the “Merry Christmas To All” disappeared. The “To All And To All A Good Night.” Out there by itself.

Video courtesy of USA Today

Oh Texas! Why, Texas? (Dec. 17)

(RNS) Why is it always Texas?

Sid Miller, Texas Ag Commissioner

Sid Miller, Texas ag commissioner

As a former resident of the state and graduate of its greatest university (Go Horns!), this reporter has to ask herself that question every other time a “war” on Christmas item plonks in her email (see below, and above — and then thank me for not putting them all in here).

This time, it’s a Republican official — complete with ten-gallon hat with Lone Star decor — who says he will personally slap the bejeezus out of the next person who wishes him a “Happy Holidays.”

“If one more person says Happy Holidays to me I just might slap them,” Sid Miller, Texas’ agriculture commissioner, wrote on his Facebook page Wednesday (Dec. 16). “Either tell me Merry Christmas or just don’t say anything.”

Good advice, Sid. TAKE IT.

Santa returns to NYC school; ‘Charlie Brown Christmas’ out in Kentucky (Dec. 16)

(RNS) New York City school officials restored Santa — and the Pledge of Allegiance — to a Brooklyn elementary school after an overzealous principal nixed them.

The New York Post reports Eujin Jaela Kim, principal of P.S. 169 in Brooklyn, discontinued the recitation of the pledge, turned Thanksgiving into a “harvest festival” and warned staff away from mentions of Christmas and St. Nick.

“Do not celebrate Christmas, do not celebrate gift-gifting, do not celebrate Santa. We need to be respectful,” the Post reports a source told them Kim instructed staff. “Christmas is a Christian celebration and something that is tied to religion.”

On Monday (Dec. 14), a school superintendent visited the school and restored both Santa and sanity. Kim has apologized.

Meanwhile, a Kentucky public school has cut the iconic Nativity story from a stage play of “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” sending parents to the picket line outside school district offices.

Parents protest outside Johnson Country, Ky. school district offices. Photo by Sarah Hill, Paintsville Herald

Parents protest outside Johnson County, Ky., school district offices. Photo by Sarah Hill, Paintsville Herald

At least one parent in the Johnson County school district complained about Linus’ reading from the Gospel of Luke that was a focus of the 1965 television special that gave rise to the play. On Monday (Dec. 14), school officials announced they would cut that from the play to avoid a potential lawsuit.

That upset other parents who want the play to remain intact and sent them to the Alliance Defending Freedom, a religious liberty watchdog group. ADF lawyers maintain the school district is within its constitutional rights to stage the play as it was written.

Charles Haynes, vice president of the Newseum Institute and founding director of its Religious Freedom Center, says public schools can stage works with religious themes as long as the overall purpose is educational and not devotional. They are also within their rights to cut the play.

A Charlie Brown Christmas

A Charlie Brown Christmas

“While I think a school performance of ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ would probably pass constitutional muster as is, I also think it would be wise for a school to have a disclaimer in the program” that there is religious content in the play, he said in an email. Or they could add a disclaimer — “Christians believe that … ”

“Whether or not any fix is needed could be debated (and it is difficult to say what a judge would decide),” Haynes continued. “But it would be prudent for the school to find a way to signal First Amendment neutrality — without changing the script to excise all references to religion.”

Good grief.

Zombie Nativity featured on ‘The Daily Show with Trevor Noah’ (Dec. 16)

(RNS) One of the highlights of past holiday seasons has been watching Jon Stewart, the recently departed host of “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” skewer the blowhards on both sides of the “war on Christmas.”

Jon Stewart on "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart"

Jon Stewart on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart”

This week, Stewart’s replacement, Trevor Noah, waded into the war for the first time. Noah is originally from South Africa, where they apparently have better things to do in December.

The segment focused on Ohio’s now infamous “Zombie Nativity” (covered here below) and pointed out that the “war on Christmas” is really about something other than Christmas.

Watch warning — there is one word that will land correspondent Jordan Klepper on the sort-of-naughty list.

Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, winter? Check. Christmas? No way! It’s a ‘T’ state thing (Dec. 15)

(RNS) A Texas middle school upset local parents by featuring every December holiday in its school calendar — except Christmas.

Parents of students at West Memorial Junior High, located in the Houston suburbs, told Covering Katy they were upset with an online school calendar that omitted Christmas. Parents complained and school officials updated their calendar with “Christmas” added to the Dec. 25 box.

West Memorial Junior High school calendar. Screen capture from Covering Katy.

West Memorial Junior High school calendar. Screen capture from Covering Katy

Some parents were already sore at the school, where a student complained in October that a teacher required him to disbelieve in God for a class assignment. Or something like that.

Texas is the scene of another battleground. Friendly Atheist reports that city officials in Orange pulled down a Nativity scene from city property rather than allow a banner created by atheists to hang nearby.

The thinking of Orange city officials, according to their public statement, goes like this:

“Supreme Court decisions have tried to address this question in an array of decisions but there is not a clear case that gives affirmative direction to displaying the Nativity scene. This makes it difficult to formulate a policy for Christmas decorations on City property. Based on this and knowing that the Constitution makes a distinction between church and state, the City will be removing the Nativity scene to avoid the legal costs associated with defending the placement of the Nativity scene and focus on the true meaning of Christmas.”

Maybe it’s a “T” state thing. Officials at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville suggested students refrain from having “Christmas” parties and opt for the somehow less offensive “holiday” or “winter” party instead. And “secret Santas”? Right — out! Their memo to staff was much the same and went like this:

“Holiday parties and celebrations should celebrate and build upon workplace relationships and team morale with no emphasis on religion or culture,” The Daily Beast reported. “Ensure your holiday party is not a Christmas party in disguise. Consider having a New Year’s party and include décor and food from multiple religions and cultures. Use it as an opportunity to reinvigorate individuals for the New Year’s goals and priorities.”

The university backtracked. No comment from Secret Santas because they’re, you know, secret.

Orange County Atheists proposed banner, Courtesy Friendly Atheist

Orange County Atheists proposed banner, courtesy of Friendly Atheist

House Republicans want to ‘protect’ Christmas (Dec. 15)

(RNS) Three dozen Republican congressional representatives proposed a resolution that would protect “the symbols and traditions” of Christmas.

House Resolution 564 was proposed Monday (Dec. 14) by Rep. Doug Lamborn of Colorado and reads, in its entirety, “Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that the symbols and traditions of Christmas should be protected for use by those who celebrate Christmas.”

Photo by The Examiner

Photo by The Examiner

Thirty-five additional Republicans signed on to the resolution as co-sponsors. The proposal of the resolution was reported by The Hill.

In a brief statement about the resolution, Lamborn managed to reference Jesus, the Founding Fathers and the U.S. Constitution, all in relation to Christmas.

” … Attacks on Christmas clearly violate the rights of religious expression our Founding Fathers deliberately provided for us in the Constitution,” Lamborn said.

Cthulhu declares war on Christmas (Dec. 15)

(RNS) We’re not entirely sure what to make of this.

It seems a fictional, self-declared presidential candidate with green tentacles called “Cthulhu” officially declared a war on Christmas at Krampusnacht DC, a fund-raising party featuring all things dark and scary about Christmas.

Cthulhu is a fictional. tentacled presidential candidate. Photo CthulhuforAmerica.com

Cthulhu is a fictional, tentacled presidential candidate. Photo CthulhuforAmerica.com

“The celebrations of the darkest days have been stolen, polished and candied,” the candidate says in a “press release.” “I hereby officially declare ‘War on Christmas.’ People want someone in the White House who is a fighter, a champion. I will fight this overbearing, presumptuous system to take what is mine.”

As part of his (her? its?) war on Christmas, the Cthulhu for America campaign is offering a “War on Christmas Coffee Activist Kit” ($5.55) with Cthulhu stickers that just fit over the Starbucks symbol on the now notorious red cups.

One Minnesota “Cthulhu activist” recently created a video featuring her antics with the Cthulhu stickers at a local Starbucks.

Cthulhu is the product of the prolific 20th-century science fiction writer H.P. Lovecraft, who featured a pantheon of cosmic gods in some of his stories.

RNS is on top of this breaking news story and will add further updates here.

Calling SNL’s Church Lady (Dec. 14)

(RNS) Please, evangelical Christians, do not tell your children “Santa” is an anagram for “Satan.”

That’s the advice of Keri Wyatt Kent, a blogger over at Christianity Today, a kind of Time magazine for all things evangelical. Apparently, some zealous Christians have been telling their children this in an effort to focus their offspring more sharply on the baby in the manger than on the gifts under the tree.Santa is Satan

“Santa Claus embodies Christian values such as kindness, generosity, forgiveness,” Kent, a Christian author, writes. ” … While Santa is not a Christ figure — that must be clear — the Santa myth is not the problem. The problem is that we have let advertisers hijack Santa, turning Christmas into a retail event.”

And what better way to combat the materialism of the season than by telling children about the real St. Nicholas — a Christian! — who thought it was better to give than receive.

Meanwhile, the Santa-Satan folks are apparently legion. Last Christmas, a Georgia church posted a sign outside its church with a simple equation: “Santa is Satan.”

‘Fashion Santa’ is hot in more ways than one (Dec. 11)

He’s a fashion model with a long white beard and he’s hot — no bowlful of jelly on this guy.

Model Paul Mason is "Fashion Santa"

Model Paul Mason is “Fashion Santa”

But as pictures of him in designer togs are going viral on social media, to some he is just another volley in the “war” on Christmas.

“Hey hipsters — thanks for ruining Christmas,” Benjamin Spears quipped on Twitter when confronted with a photo-shoot-worthy shot of the svelte, sexy 50-something model.

Spears was tweeting with tongue firmly in cheek, but some were less than amused.

“And so goes another tradition,” Walt Kaiser, also a professional Santa — though of the more jolly kind — tweeted.

“Fashion Santa” is actually model Paul Mason and he’s posing for pictures at Toronto’s Yorkdale mall. And he’s using his lumbersexual superpowers to raise $10,000 for a children’s hospital.

HuffPost Live investigates the roots of the ‘war’ on Christmas (Dec. 10)

(RNS) Lest you think this is a new thing, listen to Salon writers Daniel Denvir and Amanda Marcotte trace the roots of the “war” on Christmas back to Henry Ford in a segment of HuffPost Live.

Denvir and Marcotte — who have each written for Salon about the battleground we used to call the holidays — sat down with The Huffington Post’s Nancy Redd.

“It is a politically anxious freak-out among people who are terrified of the way this country is changing,” Denvir said in the broadcast. ” … They tend to be downwardly mobile white people.” Oh, and Trump supporters, he added.

During the segment, they discuss the Ohio “Zombie Nativity” — which we covered below — as “hilarious,” “a fun thing” and “just a spin on something iconic.”

“Jokes are part of Christmas,” Marcotte said, noting that generations of kids have sung “Jingle Bells, Santa smells” and that in Spain there is a tradition of adding a figure of a defecating celebrity to some creches. (No, really.)

It's a thing in Spain -- adding pooping celebrity figures to nativity scenes. Photo Fortune 500

It’s a thing in Spain — adding pooping celebrity figures to Nativity scenes. Photo Fortune 500

“There is a humorlessness to this,” Marcotte said.

Their conclusion: Political correctness can go too far at the holidays.

‘Happy Holidays’ infringing on your religious freedom? Call these guys (Dec. 10)

(RNS) A South Carolina Christian group is manning a “Defend Christmas Freedom Hotline” to connect people who feel their religious freedom is being trampled this December with lawyers.

The Palmetto Family council (slogan: “Making South Carolina Great!”) launched the hotline just after Thanksgiving and will keep it open at least through January, The Washington Post reports. Palmetto Family is affiliated with Focus on the Family, an evangelical group, and will refer callers with what it deems to be legitimate gripes to lawyers at the Becket Fund and the Alliance Defending Freedom, two religious liberty watchdog groups.

And while Dr. Oran Smith, Palmetto Family’s leader, says the hotline is open to serve all religious people, including Jews and Muslims, only Christians have called in so far.

He adds he hopes the hotline will receive no calls — from anyone.

“If things go as we would like, we would like not to receive any calls,” Smith said.

A Texas value to ‘protect Christmas in our schools’ (Dec. 9)

(RNS) An organization called Texas Values is petitioning state residents to protect a 2013 state law that permits the usage of words such as “Christmas,” “Hanukkah” and “Santa” in the red state’s public schools.

Texas Values wants to 'protect' words like 'Christmas' and 'Hanukkah' in public schools.

Texas Values wants to ‘protect’ words like ‘Christmas’ and ‘Hanukkah’ in public schools.

But the law isn’t under fire and the use of such words by anyone in a public school has never been against the law, says Charles Haynes, vice president of the Religious Freedom Center at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.

“This law doesn’t change existing law, but it sends a message to school officials that some people are angry about the movement away from acknowledgments of Christmas in an increasingly pluralistic society,” Haynes said in an email.

“All in all, a culture war over little or nothing,” he continued. “But, to be fair, some schools have gone too far by jumping in fear every time ‘Christmas’ is mentioned.”

Texas Values describes itself as committed to “biblical, Judeo-Christian values by ensuring Texas is a state in which religious liberty flourishes, families prosper, and every human life is valued.” The petition drive is called “Merry Christmas Texas.”

A peacenik in the ‘war’ on Christmas (Dec. 8)

(RNS) A church that has erected a Nativity at the Florida Capitol building for the last two years says this year it will not display a manger — in the interest of harmony.

“My hope is that the Christ in Christmas is louder than a wood display and some figurines,’’ Pam Olsen, a spokesperson for the International House of Prayer in Tallahassee, told the Miami Herald. “The racial tensions and mass murders, the shootings at the Planned Parenthood and in California — something is very wrong in our country. We need to step back and say we need to stop. Let the sound of the Christ Child bring hope, joy and peace instead of dissension.”

The church’s Nativity prompted other groups to apply for December displays and resulted in a “Seinfeld”-inspired Festivus Pole (courtesy of American Atheists), a winter solstice banner (from the Freedom From Religion Foundation) and a diorama featuring the Flying Spaghetti Monster, a noodle-y character who wears a colander on his meatball head and is beloved of some skeptics and other nonbelievers.

You want zombies in your Nativity? That’ll be $500 (Dec. 8)

(RNS) An Ohio man who erected a “zombie Nativity” in his yard last year before town officials forced him to take it down is back with an even bigger display this year — at the cost of $500 a day in city fines.

Jason Dixon, who manages a Halloween haunted house, was denied a permit for his Nativity — complete with a blue, glow-eyed undead baby Jesus — by Sycamore Township officials because, they said, it would take up 35 percent of his lawn — too much to comply with town ordinances.

Zombie baby Jesus in Sycamore Township, Ohio

Zombie baby Jesus in Sycamore Township, Ohio

Dixon put up the manger anyway and is facing fines of $500 per day — that’s $9,000 between now and Dec. 25.

But no worries — Dixon has launched an Indiegogo campaign to defray the costs. Total raised as of this writing: $878.

Santa says ‘Skip church’ in new billboards (Dec. 7)

(RNS) New billboards featuring a smiling Santa suggesting people “skip church” appeared this week, courtesy of American Atheists.

The smiling Santa suggests people “be good for goodness’ sake” and then really throws out the red meat with a big “Happy Holidays!”

American Atheists' annual holiday billboard. Photo courtesy of American Atheists

American Atheists’ annual holiday billboard. Photo courtesy of American Atheists

The billboards went up in Winston-Salem, N.C., and Colorado Springs. Colorado Springs is often referred to as the “evangelical Vatican” for the number of Christian ministries and churches based there. It was also the site of a Planned Parenthood shooting, in which the shooter many have had religious motivations; police are still investigating.

Last year, American Atheists’ billboards featured a little girl writing a letter to Santa that said, “All I want for Christmas is to skip church.”

“This year, Santa wrote back,” Silverman said.

‘Call that a Christmas tree and I quit.’ On second thought …  (Dec. 7)

(RNS) A New Jersey councilwoman decided to rescind her resignation over the name of the town’s annual tree lighting ceremony.

Charlene Storey, a Roselle Park, N.J., councilwoman-at-large, was upset that town officials approved a “Christmas tree lighting” ceremony instead of a “Tree lighting ceremony,” and she handed in her resignation.

“I cannot in good conscience continue to be part of a council that is exclusionary or to work with a Mayor who is such,” Storey, a cradle Catholic who is now a nonbeliever, said. The name “cuts non-Christians out of the loop and favors one religion.”

The mayor and the councilwoman sat down for a tete-a-tete and she took back her resignation. The annual December event will continue as a “Christmas tree lighting.”

Charlene Storey and Mayor Carl Hokanson in 2014, photo from NJ.com

Charlene Storey and Mayor Carl Hokanson in 2014. Photo from NJ.com

But wait until next year — “She (Storey) said she hopes that (she) can set up an application process so religious and non-religious groups can submit proposals for additions to the event and display,” NJ.com reported.

‘Santa is dead,’ Norwegian newspaper says (Dec. 7)

(RNS) Norway’s second-largest newspaper apologized to its readers after a prankster inserted a false obituary for Father Christmas, the Norwegian version of Santa Claus.

The obituary reported “Dear Father Christmas,” born Dec. 12, 1788, died Dec. 3 and his funeral would be held on Dec. 28.

“Aftenposten has strict guidelines for both the content and use of symbols in our obituaries,” the newspaper, Aftenposten, said in its apology. “This ad is a violation of these and should never have been published.”

No word on the prankster, though Krampus, perhaps emboldened by his movie success in the U.S., is under investigation.

‘Snaketivity’: And you thought ‘Zombie Nativity’ was bad (Dec. 3)

(RNS) Michigan Satanists (nota bene: NOT Santaists) have announced their intention to stage their own “live nativity” — with snakes.

Their slithering display is intended as a counterpoint to another live nativity — this one with homo sapiens — sponsored by Republican presidential candidate (and evangelical Christian) Ted Cruz. Both will be staged on the lawn in front of the Michigan state Capitol in Lansing.

The point? Not to proselytize for Satan, but for religious liberty, the Satanists say. “We refuse to allow one religious perspective (to) dominate the discourse,” a leader of the Satanists said in a press release.

There seems to be a run on alternative nativities this far ahead of Christmas. A pair of young Arizonans — an atheist and a Catholic — are launching a “Zombie Nativity” toy.

Welcome to "Zombie Nativity," a new Christmas decoration/collectible/toy featuring a holy family, an angel, a shepherd and a donkey who are undead, partially decomposing and looking for their favorite meal -- the grey matter inside your head. Photo courtesy of NerdTalk Toys

Welcome to “Zombie Nativity,” a new Christmas decoration/collectible/toy featuring a holy family, an angel, a shepherd and a donkey who are undead, partially decomposing and looking for their favorite meal — the gray matter inside your head. Photo courtesy of NerdTalk Toys

 

No ‘Christmas’ trees in New Hampshire (Dec. 2)

(RNS) A Marlboro, N.H., man was told he had to remove the word “Christmas” from fliers he was sending home with local schoolchildren to remind them and their parents of the town’s annual tree lighting ceremony.

John F. Fletcher, an American Legion member who also plays Santa at the ceremony, said he used Wite-Out to cover “Christmas” on each of 250 fliers, which the school district then sent home with students.

“Our School District celebrates the religious freedom that our students enjoy,” a press release issued by the local school district says. “However, the Establishment Clause of our Constitution forbids a public school district from aiding, promoting or endorsing a particular religion or religious activity.”

But Charles Haynes, vice president of the Newseum Institute and its Religious Freedom Center, says the school district has erred too far on the side of caution. Using the word “Christmas” is not an establishment of religion, he says, but just a description.

“This is an example of how poorly some school leaders are educated about the First Amendment,” he wrote to RNS in an email. “Absurd overreactions like this give ‘separation of church and state’ a bad name. I expect to see this on many fundraising letters in the coming months!”

Fletcher isn’t backing down. “It’s easier to offend the majority, so you don’t offend the minority,” he said. “That’s what it comes down to.”

Bill of Rights Nativity (Dec. 1)

(RNS) The Freedom From Religion Foundation, which describes itself as a First Amendment watchdog group and frequently challenges public displays of religion, is marking the 20th anniversary of its secular seasonal display in Wisconsin’s state Capitol.

Members of Freedom From Religion Foundation and their secular nativity

Members of Freedom From Religion Foundation and their secular nativity

Featuring three cartoon Founding Fathers and the Statue of Liberty gathered around a manger holding — you guessed it — the Bill of Rights — the display reads, “Happy Winter Solstice. At this Season of the Winter Solstice, we honor reason and the Bill of Rights (adopted Dec. 15, 1791).”

A smaller signs reads, “Thou shalt not steal, please.” In previous years, FFRF “nativities” have included images of Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, Emma Goldman, Mark Twain and Thomas Jefferson. FFRF sets up its secular nativity in response to a nativity set up in the Capitol’s rotunda by a Christian group each year.

Red signs for Jesus

The Rev. Jimmy Terry has printed thousands more yard signs that read “Christmas is all about Jesus,” and he plans to distribute them across all of Tennessee's 95 counties. Photo by Tony Centonze, for the Leaf-Chronicle, courtesy of USA Today

The Rev. Jimmy Terry has printed thousands more yard signs that read “Christmas is all about Jesus,” and he plans to distribute them across all of Tennessee’s 95 counties. Photo by Tony Centonze, for the Leaf-Chronicle, courtesy of USA Today

Some Tennessee pastors hope to turn lawns red with brightly-colored signs that proclaim their reason for the season: “Christmas is all about JESUS.”

“We have let Satan dethrone Jesus Christ,” one of the pastors, James Shepherd, told the Clarksville, Tenn. Leaf-Chronicle. “There has already been a great response to these signs, but it hasn’t been a flood. Our goal is for every home to have one.”

The pastors hope to put at least 100 of the free signs in each of Tennessee’s 95 counties.

Catholic League comes down on Cosmopolitan

The Catholic League — watchdog of anti-Catholicism — has some choice words for the December issue of Cosmopolitan magazine and they aren’t “Merry Christmas.”

In a press release, Catholic League president Bill Donohue takes issue with the magazine’s cover story, “Sex Wish List,” which he describes as exploiting both Christmas and Hanukkah. Top of Donohue’s naughty list (and Cosmo’s, for that matter) is the suggestion to “Have Yourself a Merry Little Xxx-mas,” an activity that involves a hand-held vibratory device, and “Light His Menorah,” which includes a candle, some hot wax and a man’s bare chest. That sounds Ho Ho Hot — literally.

“Cosmopolitan was once a women’s magazine, but in the 1970s it decided to become a soft-porn publication,” Donohue explains. “Helen Gurley Brown bet that the fastest way for women to achieve equality with men was for the gals to mimic the most debased male traits. She succeeded. What women won remains a mystery. No matter, up until now the magazine at least stayed away from trashing Christian and Jewish holidays. That it can’t resist doing so these days tells us just how low it has become.”

Yes, Virginia, there ARE religious Christmas stamps at the post office

A Christmas stamp design from 2013 that will be offered at the US Postal Service this year. Photo courtesy of USPS

A Christmas stamp design from 2013 that will be offered by the U.S. Postal Service this year. Photo courtesy of USPS

The rumor that United State Postal Service will not sell religious-themed holiday Christmas stamps next year is just that — a rumor.

It seems that since September, a story has been floating around on social media claiming that someone went to buy the religiously-themed Christmas stamps the post office has offered for years and was told by the clerk to stock up — after 2015 the USPS would only issue secular holiday stamps. And who’s to blame? President Barack Obama.

The story is a rumor on all fronts. USPS spokesman Mark Saunders said the post office does have religious-y Christmas stamps for sale and has no plans to eliminate them. However, he said there would be no new religious stamps this Christmas because there is such a huge backlog of older ones — a half-billion of them.

“That’s more than twice sold during a typical [h]oliday season,” Saunders said.

The late Christopher Hitchens is still kicking Christmas around

Uber-atheist Christopher Hitchens died in 2011, but he is still publishing books and still fighting religion, including Christianity, according to The New York Times.

In a review of Hitchens’ new book, “And Yet,” Dwight Garner, a Times book critic, says of Hitchens: “He liked Thanksgiving, which made immigrants like himself (he was born in England) feel welcome. He disliked Christmas almost entirely.”

“And Yet” is collection of previously published essays by Hitchens, whose most famous — and infamous — book is 2007’s “God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.” It includes two anti-Christmas/anti-Christian essays, according to Garner.

A quote from one of those essays goes like this: “There are millions of well-appointed buildings all across the United States, most of them tax-exempt and some of them receiving state subventions, where anyone can go at any time and celebrate miraculous births and pregnant virgins all day and all night if they so desire. These places are known as ‘churches,’ and they can also force passers-by to look at the displays and billboards they erect and to give ear to the bells that they ring. In addition, they can count on numberless radio and TV stations to beam their stuff all through the ether. If this is not sufficient, then god damn them. God damn them everyone.”

Don’t tell Tiny Tim.

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  • Jack

    “We have let Satan dethrone Jesus Christ,”

    For a supposedly sovereign deity, Christians sure do think it’s easy to overpower the Son O’ God.

  • Alan

    The annual war against people celebrating what they want begins thanks to Christian fundies. They hate freedom.

  • Don Van

    The title of this article should read; The Alleged War on Christmas. Whether you think there is a war all depends on which side you stand. As a non-theist I feel overwhelmed ever year at this time with Christmas decorations, trees, music on the radio, specials on TV and the obligatory get together s with family, all of which are only “cultural Christians” who have not been inside a church in years. So as wars go, I am overwhelmingly outnumbered. You have the Christian soldiers who continue the battle with their presumptuous greeting “Merry Christmas”. My reply, simply thank you. I am outnumbered.

  • I love Christmas.
    I also love Saturdays.
    Saturday is named for the god Saturn. But I don’t care about that.
    Christmas is named for the god Christ. But I don’t care about that either.

    Pass the figgy pudding, the hot cocoa and light the fire. We are kicking back by my pagan tree bedecked with silver and gold and we shall have a merry time!
    Just don’t mention Jesus. I can’t care.

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  • Larry

    Only Christians can come up with the silly notion that choosing not to engage in obnoxious sectarian behavior in public settings is somehow an attack on them.

    If Christians can’t accept the notion that this nation is filled with people who do not share their beliefs, nor have to, they are welcomed to leave it.

  • Richard Rush

    TrueChristians don’t seem to be happy unless they are engaged in a war, and so, right on schedule, the Merry Christmas tribe is once again attacking people who mistakenly believe they have the freedom to say Happy Holidays.

    It’s time to end this war with a compromise, such as “Happy C-word.”

    The benefit of a compromise for TrueChristians is that they will be able to concentrate even more of their time and resources on re-energizing their war against gay people in the wake of losing the battle against marriage.

  • Garson Abuita

    What’s wrong with good sex as a Hanukkah gift?

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  • larry, the atheist one

    Maybe it’s because if the obnoxious privilege Christians take with public resources. As if the public sphere only belongs to them.

    God may not exist but people who act like raging dillholes in his name certainly do. 🙂

  • “Why go banzai over what doesn’t exist?”

    As long as people are deciding an imaginary god wants them to kill actual people Actual people need to point out that the gods are imaginary!

    When Christians and Muslims stop going banzai over their God’s imaginary instructions as they intrude on my life – I will stop going banzai!

    Religion is an anti-social, primitive blunder.

  • Jess

    Christians are too when they complain about their perceived war on christmas

  • Fran

    How is that possible (in answer to the title of this article), since Santa does not even exist, but Jesus does?

  • Cyn

    “an omnipotent “god” would have known that Jesus wouldn’t really stay dead. That is no sacrifice at all.” I’ve been saying this all my life, Bob. But my all-time favorite is from George Carlin.

    There is an invisible man in the sky
    He sees and knows everything
    He has 10 rules you must follow
    If you don’t follow those rules you will burn in hell for eternity
    But he loves you

  • Fran

    I will continue to be free of false religion which teaches hellfire forever, the trinity doctrine, and that all good people go to heaven (when the meek shall inherit the earth), just to name a few. It is because of “false religion” that many people have a “bad taste” about God today, and they don’t think that God cares about us humans, which is totally false.

  • Be Brave

    Totalitarianism and hatred of religion.

    Like smoking and cancer.

    How the hateful always use the same tactics throughout the ages.

    That the baby Jesus must be so attacked over and over again is quite the statement about the content of character of the haters.

  • A. T. Heist

    Santa, being a combination of one religious (St Nick) figure and 2 pagan ones (Kris Kringle and Longbaror aka Odin), would probably argue that Christians hijacked and stole the holiday of “Saturnalia”, or the Yule (the Wild Hunt between December and January), and that all this overhyped, overly-sensitive religious fervor over the perceived “attack” on Christmas is propaganda and very “un-Christian” of you. Didn’t Jesus say to turn the other cheek? I’m pretty sure he did. If anything, the attack on Christmas is on the secular side of it by the Christian right, which likes to pretend Christmas has nothing to do with the winter solstice celebrations and paganism when in fact almost all the traditions of Christmas, down to the date, are actually pagan in origin. But who cares what I say, you will either ignore me or condemn me out of hate/spite and not actually look at history or facts.

  • Jim

    I am an atheist who thinks that belief in any god is a superstition. But I recognize that in America we live in a predominantly theistic and Christian society. I don’t mind when someone wishes me a merry Christmas. I wish them the same. There are more than 2,000 religions in the world and more than 360 versions of Christianity, each claiming to know the one truth. They can’t all be right. It doesn’t affect me what they believe. A “war” on Christianity, or on any faith, is when their adherents are beheaded, not when many disagree with them.

  • DougSlug

    “It’s time to end this war with a compromise, such as “Happy C-word.”

    Nah, then we’d have to deal with the backlash from the Women’s Rights organizations.

    (reminds me of the airport pager/Moe’s Tavern prank call for “Harry Seaward”.)

  • Fran

    Totally agree with you, A.T. Heist! That is why I, as a Christian, refuse to celebrate that pagan holiday!

  • Fran

    God will never burn anyone in a place of fiery torment forever. That is a teaching of false religion. He is a God of love and justice. However, wicked ones and terrorists will soon face death in the grave, not aware of anything, just as all humans have been doing since the days of our first parents and their death (Eccl. 9:5,6,10; Isaiah 11:4; Psalm 37:10,11).

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  • Bob

    As a young man, I asked many of the same questions you have. I still don’t know the answers. Instead, I’ve realized there are things that, as human beings, we can never know and never understand. I try to follow “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” but also understand how difficult it is to live up to that seemingly simple code of conduct. While I wish I could feel the assured faith that many Christians I’ve encountered seem to, I’m probably a ‘better to believe and be wrong than to not believe and be wrong Christian. That said, I think you miss the point of the message of Christ’s life, death and resurrection – to let us know that this is not all and that, even if we are found wanting, through God’s grace, our spirit can survive and experience the life after. My hope is that that is true and that, as many of today’s scientists claim, all we know and don’t know didn’t just happen.

  • Bob

    Like.

  • Noddy

    Actually, that line ““Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” that one of the Bob’s uses above is not from the bible. It’s actually from Aesop’s fables, which are actually far better moral guidance than the bible is.

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  • Julie

    The so-called “War on Christmas” is a seige mentality myth created by reactionaries. This tired canard comes up every year. And every year I continue to experience as much Merry Christmas and nativity scenes & Christian religious music as I have since childhood. (I’m 56 & Christian.) The only difference? Now a bunch of Scrooge-ish Christians have added self-righteous whining, lawn signs & letters to the editor (among other things) trying to scare decent people into worrying about Christmas “disappearing.” These scaremongers are the REAL Grinches. I especially pray that Christ’s love will drive out this fear and replace it with genuine ACTS of love toward those who differ from us in any way. THAT is what has the power to draw people to Christ.

  • Julie

    Ah. A Universalist in the mix. Welcome!

  • Garson Abuita

    Although variants of the ethic of reciprocity are found in many cultures, both pre-Christian and secular, I’ve never found it in Aesop’s Fables.

  • Doc Anthony

    I think you care a little bit about “the god Christ.” You never quote Saturn, but you often quote (or at least attempt to quote) Christ.

    Christ has a special way of sticking in the Atheist craw, I notice.

  • Steven McAbee

    It is found in Matt 7:12, so it is in the Bible

  • samuel johnston

    The Christians did/do not know when Jesus was born.
    As they built their churches on the sacred sites of previous religions they also reinterpreted traditional Soltice holidays (Christmas, Easter) declaring them Christian Holy Days. Nothing new in this empire building behavior, but that does not make it moral. Christianity attempts to displace personal honor and integrety with its propaganda. (Our Tradition) Nothing new here either, but it is disheartening when factual historical information is available free to all at the public libraries, yet ignored, even by college graduates.

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  • doc,

    When Saturnites start killing people to promote The Saturn Jihad or the Saturn End Times or the Saturn Creationism
    I’ll be glad to challenge the claims about God Saturn and might even advocate renaming Saturday into Humanday in defiance.

  • Todd

    Really? The fictional holiday of Festivus offends some people? Maybe they should bring this up when they air their greivances….