Dreaming of a politically correct Christmas

It’s that time of year again: jostling throngs of bargain-hunting shoppers, office parties, the age-old debate over holiday exhibits and use of the “C word”—that is, Christmas.

From flaps over children singing Christmas carols to a row about Christmas trees at an airport or a traditional nativity play scrapped in favour of reggae-style carols, the Christian world is awash with examples of political correctness this season.

Even Pope Benedict XVI has waded into the controversy, speaking out in support of Christmas crèches threatened with banishment from public view in predominantly Catholic Italy.

In Britain, the popular press is spreading plenty of Christmas jeer against politically correct do-gooders who, they say, are spoiling the fun for everyone.

One school has banned Christmas cards in class, a court has restricted the number of lights one homeowner can have on his property and a school is offering halal turkey and chicken for its Christmas meal following pressure from many Muslim parents.

In the United States, where nativity scenes and displays with religious themes in public places are pretty much a thing of the past, what critics call “the war on Christmas” has subsided this year, although several incidents have made headlines.

One involved the removal of 14 plastic Christmas trees at Seattle-Tacoma airport, in the western state of Washington, following a complaint from a local rabbi who said the holiday decorations should include a menorah to mark Hanukkah.

The airport restored the trees after the rabbi said he would not file a threatened lawsuit and a public outcry.

Another incident concerned a high school choir ordered to abruptly stop singing Christmas carols at a holiday ice-skating show featuring Olympic medallist Sasha Cohen, out of concern she would be offended because she is half Jewish.

Officials at the rink in California approached the Rubidoux High School Madrigals just as they launched into “God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman” and requested the troupe immediately stop singing. Cohen later said she was stunned by the flap and never made a request to silence the singers.

Newspapers have also carried stories about: children at a school being told not to use the word Christmas when writing to US troops in Iraq; the American Civil Liberties Union filing suit over some Tennessee school children singing “Away in a Manger” and “Joy to the World” at a Christmas event; attempts to change Christmas school vacations into winter breaks; and an overzealous employee at a retirement home clipping the wings of an angel on a Christmas tree so as to remove any religious connotations.

Major stores, meanwhile, appear in a quandary over proper etiquette.

The world’s largest retailer, WalMart, last year required its employees to say “happy holidays”, fearing the traditional “Merry Christmas” might offend customers.

This year, following criticism by some Christian groups that called for boycotts, it has reversed course and is going with Christmas in a big way.

Stores that have chosen to remain politically correct are exposing themselves to the wrath of Christian groups like the Liberty Counsel, which is advertising a “naughty and nice” list featuring retailers that use the “C word” and others that are sticking with “holiday”.

Several groups have also launched crusades to “Save Merry Christmas” and are selling buttons and bumper stickers defending the religious holiday.

“It’s ridiculous that Americans have to think twice about whether it’s OK to say Merry Christmas,” noted Joe Infranco, senior counsel at the Alliance Defence Fund, a Christian legal aid group.

Those sickened by the war of words and eager to see the bah-humbug season over have launched tongue-in-cheek campaigns calling for the holiday to simply be scrapped.

EndChristmas.com is offering free copies of the documentary film The God Who Wasn’t There, which questions Christian doctrine, and said its aim this year is to save children affected by the myths surrounding Christmas.

Satellite radio owners for their part can tune in to a special Christmas Channel that unabashedly delivers wholly unsentimental holiday songs.

Their pickings include, Santa Is a Psycho, Santa’s in a Wheelchair and Elvis Won’t Be Here for Christmas.—AFP

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