Inside the Capitol

Monday, December 05, 2005

12-9 'Tis the Season

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- What is the meaning of Christmas? What is a traditional Christmas? Is it appropriate to observe a holiday season instead of Christmas?
These questions and many others have arisen lately -- many more than in previous years. And New Mexico's 2005 Capitol Holiday/Christmas Tree has been right in the middle of it.
Our gift to the nation began its journey as a holiday tree and quickly became a Christmas tree upon its arrival in Washington, D.C. The switch was made by U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert. And it didn't go unnoticed.
Congress decided to put in its two cents worth and came down on Hastert's side. That set off newspaper editorials and columns around the nation. And Fox News jumped into the middle of it to turn the matter into a political debate.
Readers of this column know that it comes down on the Christmas tree side of the issue. But the heated discussions about "taking back Christmas from the liberals" have headed toward polar opposites that should be explored in order to avoid further bloodshed.
Currently liberals are being thrown to the lions on talk radio and conservatives are being skewered by late night comedians. And neither seem to be making much sense.
Much has been said of Americans' need to take back their traditional Christmas. But traditions have a habit of changing. Christmas wasn't even celebrated by the early Christians who came to our shores.
The Catholic Church opposed it. The Puritans believed that Christmas as celebrated in Europe was un-Christian and hoped to keep it out of America. They traced Dec. 25 to a Roman heathen celebration and noted that there was no mention of the date in the Bible.
On their first Dec. 25, the Puritans worked on building projects and ignored the holiday. When the state of Massachusetts was created, celebrating Christmas was made a crime.
Until the mid-1850s many mainline churches closed on Dec. 25 to emphasize that they did not accept the day as a holy one. At the time, only 18 states recognized Christmas.
It was Germans who brought us the Christmas celebration. Few Germans arrived in this country until the 1700s and they didn't have much effect on traditions until the 1800s.
It wasn't until the 1920s, when the retail industry adopted Christmas as a shopping season, that commercialism became a part of Christmas. Religious leaders strongly objected. Those objections still are voiced from the pulpit, with reminders about the true meaning of Christmas.
It appears they work with a large number of Americans. But there still are the hordes who line up at stores in the wee hours of Black Friday morning, the day after Thanksgiving.
And there seem to be few businesses that don't enter the Christmas commercialism act. One of the funnier entries has been Fox Television, a leader in the "take back Christmas movement." Fox opened the season by advertising "Holiday Collections" in its online store.
Featured among the items was the "O'Reilly Factor Holiday Ornament." Commentator Bill O'Reilly has led the battle to encourage shoppers not to buy at stores that have replaced "Christmas" with "Holiday." Bloggers caught the hypocrisy first, and Fox has gotten religion.
Perhaps, like corporate execs under indictment, they didn't know, but it demonstrates the confusion about Christmas that reigns over the land.
One group urges us to be more inclusive so as not to hurt anyone's feelings. But other cultures don't have the same traditions, especially when it comes to Christmas trees. And for the most part, non-Christians seem to adapt to the Christmas season rather well, understanding that they live in a country where theirs is not the majority religion.
A clever approach has been taken by another movement, which reasons that if the government determines that any religious ties have to go, then government services should continue during the Christmas and Easter seasons -- and maybe Sundays too.
FRI, 12-09-05

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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