Putting the "Christ" back in "Christmas," or putting Christ where he doesn't belong?

USA Today ran an editorial last week by T. Jeremy Gunn, the director of the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief. In this editorial, Gunn discusses the "fictional war on Christmas." The editorial gives examples of people protesting the "outlawing of Christmas," without providing any examples of instances in which Christmas was actually outlawed. The editorial and the ACLU website both have links to caselaw demonstrating that it is perfectly legal to have Christmas displays in public locations, teach about Christmas in public schools (please note that that's "teach about Christmas" not "teach Christmas"), and have Christmas parties in secular work settings. This website, although less professional, also is a good collection of links to articles on the matter.

This is not to say that there have not been any instances of Christmas being banned. In Medway MA, a school banned the singing of songs that mention Christmas and the wearing of red-and-green elf hats, allegedly stating that these were "Christmas colors." I haven't seen any follow up as to whether anyone in Medway has enlisted the help of the ACLU, but I hope someone does, as they have a great track record of defending students who have been told they could not bring nondisruptive religious-themed possessions (such as bibles, clothing, etc.) to public schools.

The really frustrating thing for me, as someone who is a strong advocate both for religious freedom as well as inclusion and representation of all cultural groups, is that the concrete thinkers in this country are taking stories like the Medway one and overgeneralizing them, insisting that any sort of attempt at inclusion is "banning Christmas."

We had a holiday party at work last week. I noted that there were traditions included from at least four religious/ethnic backgrounds, but that most of what was included (lights, exchanging of gifts, discussion around community, singing of songs) was in fact "holiday" celebration, as all of this is common to most backgrounds, and it was all set up in such a way that people who chose not to participate in any aspect of it could do so inconspicuously.

After the party, I heard two different coworkers voice complaints about our agency having a "holiday party." One individual expressed that the event is offensive, because it's clearly a Christmas party, which has no place in the work setting. The other expressed that it's obviously a Christmas party, and it's "PC bullshit" to call it anything different. I think this said more about the individuals and their worldviews than the actual event.

It seems that the first individual, who is of non-Christian background and currently aligns strongly as being non-religious, has rightly become tired of society's emphasis on Christmas during December, without similar regard for major holidays of other faiths throughout the year. However, as a non-Christian myself, I didn't find the party to really be Christian-centric whatsoever. I also do not think there would be anything wrong with holiding a Christmas party, complete with religious component, at the workplace, provided it was considered optional. I highly doubt that this person finds it offensive when we have (optional) Kwanzaa or Passover events at the agency.

It seems that the second individual was also displacing some anger at events such as the one that took place in Medway. I did not witness anyone mandate that Christmas could not be discussed at our event, yet this person and a few others seemed to have this impression. A senior adminstrator, in fact, alluded to how we "can't discuss Christmas in our residential programs anymore." We don't have a specific agency policy on this -- in fact, we regularly provide transportation to church for individuals who are interested, and our residents all display religious items in their homes as they wish. We often incorporate a person's faith into their treatment if their faith is a strength they have. It appears that this administrator was basing this comment on the warped sentiments in the media, rather than our actual practices or any regulations coming from the state bodies that govern us. This person also, on another occasion, said something about how we "can't sing Jingle Bells anymore since they outlawed Christmas songs." Wait, what? First of all, that's not a Christmas song. It's a winter song. That song is not about Christ. Also, it's perfectly legal to sing songs about Christ in a residence or at our office, as long as it's done with sensitivity that there are also other beliefs. It's a constitutional right, even.

I suppose what really caught me off guard during the party was when the first individual who was expressing that Christmas was being discriminated against or suppressed began complaining that a box of cookies said "holiday cookies" on the box, when it should have said "Christmas cookies." I looked at these cookies, and I couldn't find a reference to the remembrance of the birth of Christ. These cookies were shaped like starbursts and had green sprinkles on them. This person made similar complaints about anything on which the word "holiday" was present, including a box of clear "holiday lights," which also did not seem to contain any reference to Christ. Even if they had instead been a creche set, is "holiday" not an appropriate way to describe Christmas? Is it not a holy day?

It's one thing when references to Christ are actually forbidden, which is unconstitutional, but I just don't get why being secular or inclusive is offensive to some people.


LaDivina said...


(Wait, can I say that here?) :-D

eeka said...

All expressions are welcome here at One Smoot.

Well, unless they're illogical or blatently hateful.

LaDivina said...

Thanks, eeka.