Jewish World Review Dec. 8, 2004 / 25 Kislev, 5765

Michael Graham

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Consumer Reports

Keeping the X in Xmas | By now you've probably heard about the New Jersey public school system that has banned all Christmas carols from its "Formerly Known As Christmas" concert. Even the instrumental versions of such innocuous fare as "Jingle Bells" and "Here Comes Santa Claus" have been stricken from the program because of their overt "religious" content.

The theological dogma raised while "dashing through the snow in a one-horse open sleigh" escape me, but I'm not a professional educator and no doubt lack their insight.

New Jersey is not the only place one can find such anti-Christmas lunacy, of course. The mayor of Denver tried to pull down the traditional "Merry Christmas" sign outside City Hall. This p.c. stupidity provoked a severe backlash from radical, pro-Christmas extremists (a.k.a. "normal people"), and the mayor quickly backed down.

At the same time, however, the Denver Christmas Parade — oops! make that the "Parade of Lights" — has chosen to exclude a church-sponsored float featuring choir members singing both secular and sacred Christmas music. Instead, the parade will include floats like one last year that featured (I kid you not) cross-dressing, homosexual American Indians participating in religious ritual and dance.

Ah, yes — nothing says "Merry Christmas" like gay, cross-dressing Indians. Didn't they make an appearance in that Rankin & Bass claymation classic "Rudolph and the Island of Misfit Hairdressers"?

When asked why the parade association was kicking the church float out of the lineup, the spokesperson said songs about religion "made some people uncomfortable." More uncomfortable, apparently, than a truck full of gender-confused tribal holy men rolling past crowds of Denver children waiting to see Santa.

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Banning the church choir is "not something where we want to exclude anyone," parade spokesperson Susan Rogers-Kark said. "And I realize this feels like it's excluding someone, but it's about a concern for someone else watching it and not feeling that it's a specific reflection on, perhaps, what their own religion is or what their beliefs are."

So remember, kids — when I kick you out, it only "feels like" I'm excluding you. In fact, I'm giving you a big Rama-Hanu-Kwanz-Mas holiday hug.

What bugs me about stories like these — and they are all too common — is that they are premised on the idea that there is something potentially offensive about Christmas. That's simply nonsensical. Christmas is the ultimate inclusive event.

You want a Christian Christmas? No problem. Pick up your inflatable nativity scene with the baby Jesus action figure on aisle seven.

No religion? No problem. Santa and the snowmen are waiting for you on aisle eight.

Black Santa? Got him. Asian Santa? Got him. Transgendered Native American Santa? I'll have to call Denver for that one.

Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Druid, atheist, Rotarian, even registered Democrats — EVERYONE can do Christmas. All you need is the desire for a little peace and good will in this world.

There are some in the Christian community who disagree. They believe Christmas is, and should be, a specifically Christian celebration. They're wrong on both counts.

First, one could argue that, from the time the early Church swiped the winter solstice party from the Romans, Christmas has never been a Christian holiday. Jesus was likely born in August, not December. There were no Santas, snowmen or small, decorative bowls of Andes mints scattered about. Until someone can tell me what side of the manger Mary put the tree and mistletoe in, I will continue to view Christmas as a celebration that only has profound religious meaning for the faithful.

Some devout Christians insist that it is impossible to celebrate Christmas without celebrating Christ. But spending an hour in any local mall shows this is nonsense. The only religion found among the teeming masses there is the religion of commerce and the holy text of the "50% Off All Items" coupon.

And if Christmas is impossible without celebrating the unique Godhood of Jesus, then the public school tree-banners and song-squelchers are in the right. Putting Christ in Christmas means promptly removing it from City Hall as a state-sponsored religious event.

But are the Scrooges right that Christmas must be about Christ's birth or it shouldn't be celebrated at all? I understand why Christians would want all the world to put Christ at the center of their Christmases. But that is impossible.

What's left, though, is a celebration of the idea that selflessness and generosity ought to be celebrated. The specific theology of Jesus might be optional at Christmastime, but his spirit, often re-packaged under the label "Christmas spirit" — is still there. Is that such a bad thing?

Forget "Keeping the Christ in Christmas." If we can just keep the spirit of Christmas, that's a pretty good start.

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JWR contributor Michael Graham is a talk show host and author of the highly acclaimed "Redneck Nation: How the South Really Won the War." To comment, please click here.



© 2004, Michael Graham