Christmas in America is a season of time-honored traditions — the sacred performance of the annual ACLU lawsuit over the presence of an insufficiently secular “holiday” tree; the ritual provocations of the atheist displays licensed by pitifully appeasing municipalities to sit between the menorah and the giant Frosty the Snowman; the familiar strains of every hack columnist’s “war on Christmas” column rolling off the keyboard as easily as Richard Clayderman playing “Winter Wonderland” . . .
This year has been a choice year. A crucified skeleton Santa Claus was erected as part of the “holiday” display outside the Loudoun County courthouse in Virginia — because, let’s face it, nothing cheers the hearts of moppets in the Old Dominion like telling them, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus — and he’s hanging lifeless in the town square.” Alas, a week ago, some local burghers failed to get into the ecumenical spirit and decapitated him. Who are these killjoys? Christians intolerant of the First Amendment (as some have suggested)? Or perhaps a passing Saudi? Our friends in Riyadh only the other day beheaded Amina bin Salem (so to speak) Nasser for “sorcery,” and it would surely be grossly discriminatory not to have some Wahhabist holiday traditions on display in Loudoun County. (The Islamic Saudi Academy, after all, is one of the most prestigious educational institutions of neighboring Fairfax County.) Across the fruitcaked plain in California, the city of Santa Monica allocated permits for “holiday” displays at Palisades Park by means of lottery. Eighteen of the 21 slots went to atheists — for example, the slogan “37 million Americans know a myth when they see one” over portraits of Jesus, Santa, and Satan.
I don’t believe I’ve mentioned the city of Santa Monica in this space since my Christmas offering of 1998, when President Clinton was in the midst of difficulties arising from his mentoring of a certain intern. My column that year began:
“Operator, I’d like to call Santa Monica.”
“Why? Just ’cause he’s a little overweight?”
Crickets chirping? Ah, how soon they forget. Perhaps Santa Monica should adopt a less theocratic moniker and change its name to Satan Monica, as its interpretation of the separation of church and state seems to have evolved into expressions of public contempt for large numbers of the citizenry augmented by the traumatizing of their children. Boy, I can’t wait to see what those courageous atheists come up with for Ramadan. Or does that set their hearts aflutter quite as much?
One sympathizes, up to a point. As America degenerates from a land of laws to a land of legalisms, much of life is devoted to forestalling litigation. What’s less understandable is the faintheartedness of explicitly Christian institutions. Last year I chanced to see the e-mail exchanges between college administrators over the choice of that season’s Christmas card. I will spare their blushes, and identify the academy only as a Catholic college in New England. The thread began by asking the distribution list for “thoughts” on the proposed design. No baby, no manger, no star over Bethlehem, but a line drawing of a dove with a sprig of olive in its beak. Underneath the image was the following:
What is Christmas?
It is tenderness for the past, courage for the present, hope for the future.
It is a fervent wish that every cup may overflow with blessings rich and eternal,
and that every path may lead to peace.
Agnes M. Pharo