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The Statesman

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The Statesman

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    The “War Against Christmas” Returns

    Now, at the dawn of the new millennium, a winter battle roars that threatens to mark the birth of a new age of unprecedented secularism. It is waged, of course, in the frosted windows of our bustling airports, in the color pages of our wintertime ads, and in the buzzing aisles of our decked-out department stores.

    ‘Score one for the good guys,’ Bill O’Reilly wrote on his website, on Tuesday, Dec. 12. He was celebrating the decision of Seattle Airport to refrain from removing Christmas trees from its concourses. The airport intended to do away with the trees, initially, in the interest of being politically correct, O’Reilly said, but a public outcry persuaded them to keep their decorations.

    It was just another skirmish in what some, like O’Reilly, have begun to call the War Against Christmas. This conflict has become a seasonal spectator sport on television and radio news; it is the defining characteristic of Christmas in the new millennium. The materialism thing is old news, after all.

    Some people, though, think that the presence or absence of Christmas spirit doesn’t deserve to be in the headlines. ‘Humbug to those phony Christians who think Christmas is all about minimum-wage employees uttering vapid niceties to gluttonous shoppers in mega-store foyers and checkout lanes,’ Wayne Madsen, a columnist, wrote on star-telegram.com on Dec. 10.

    Madsen and O’Reilly duked it out on The O’Reilly Factor on Dec. 12, in the most recent eruption of verbal violence in the War Against Christmas. The fight, though, has been heating up since last year.

    In 2005, Christian Conservatives began to lash out against department stores like Wal-Mart, Target, Macy’s, Kmart, Walgreens and Kohl’s for using ‘happy holidays’ instead of ‘merry Christmas’ in ads and in-store promotions, according to a recent article in the Chicago Tribune. The advocates of ‘merry Christmas’ claim that business and media are secularizing the holiday, according to the Chicago Tribune. Many say they intend to ‘put the Christ back in Christmas.’

    Even President Bush has managed to stir the pot. Last year, Christian Conservatives noticed that the White House Christmas cards, which were mailed to 1.4 million of Bush’s friends and supporters, wished them a ‘happy holiday,’ according to the Washington Post. William A. Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, is quoted in the Washington Post as saying, ‘This clearly demonstrates that the Bush administration has suffered a loss of will and that they have capitalized on the worst elements in our culture.’

    Last year’s controversy also sparked a dogfight between two media heavyweights: O’Reilly and Nicholas D. Kristof, a Pulitzer-prize winning columnist for the New York Times. ‘When you’ve seen what real war does, you don’t use the word lightly to describe disagreements about Christmas greetings,’ Kristoff wrote on Dec. 18, 2005, in a New York Times article entitled, ‘A Challenge for Bill O’Reilly.’

    Kristoff put O’Reilly on the defensive by writing, ‘Perhaps I’m particularly sensitive to religious hypocrites because I’ve spent a chunk of time abroad watching Muslim versions of Mr. O’Reilly — demagogic table-thumpers who exploit public religiosity as a cynical ploy to gain attention and money.’ According to mediamatters.org, which had a transcription of some of the Dec. 19 episode of the O’Reilly Factor, O’Reilly responded by saying, ‘So now I’m Mullah Omar. How nuts is this guy?’ and posting an image of his face garnished with a superimposed beard and turban.

    On the same day that Kristof’s column ran in the Times, Sam Donaldson of ABC News accused O’Reilly of playing up the War on Christmas in order to boost ratings, according to mediamatters.org. And so, O’Reilly was further put on the defensive.

    This year, the message of the White House Christmas card hasn’t yet been reported. However, the tide seems to be turning in O’Reilly’s favor. Wal-Mart, Target, Macy’s, Kmart, Walgreens and Kohl’s have all reverted back to ‘merry Christmas’ as a result of the pressure they received last year, according to the Chicago Tribune.

    69 percent of Americans prefer ‘merry Christmas’ to ‘happy holidays,’ according to a Nov. 24, 2006 poll by Rasmussen Reports, a public opinion firm. 23 percent prefer ‘happy holidays.’ Rasmussen Reports surveyed 1,000 adults.

    The conflict is less partisan than one might think. While 85 percent of Republicans report a preference to ‘merry Christmas,’ 61 percent of Democrats and 60 percent of independents share the sentiment, according to Rasmussen Reports.

    So, it seems, the ‘merry Christmas’ movement is tipping the scales in its favor. However, Dec. 12’s O’Reilly Factor is proof that this war is far from over.

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