Black Friday this year had no sooner come and gone -- along with Cyber Monday -- than the news stories began, as regular as clockwork: some state or city government somewhere has banned the term "Christmas tree" and instead recommends use of the meaningless "Holiday Tree". Because the very word "Christmas", as we all know, is offensive. To someone. Somewhere. I can barely bring myself to write the word, much less say it out loud. Hold on a moment...
...I was right. I just tried to say the word out loud and I choked on it.
This won't be the last such story. Soon there will be examples from all over the country of towns where nativity scenes will be banned from the lawn outside the city hall, and festive municipal celebrations that will include the lighting of the traditional "Holiday Tree". ACLU types will defend these decisions, while people with more common sense will argue against such ordinances; some places will remain unfazed and uphold the ban on the word "Christmas", while other places will give in to the public outcry and risk the end of the civilized world by referring to the big, brightly-lit fir tree in the town square as a Christmas tree. The next thing you know it's January and the focus is on some hapless Republican presidential candidate, what kind of Christmas the nation's retailers had and Lindsay Lohan going back to jail for five or ten minutes. The controversy dies away. Until next year.
The offended parties vary from year to year and locality to locality: the ACLU can always be counted on to pop up here and there in their Grinch gear, and the atheists -- that is, the capital A-Atheists -- are routinely offended by any number of references to God or Jesus. And not just at Christmas, but year-round.
My question is: if you don't believe in anything, how can you be offended by people who do? It's one thing to be ticked off when someone makes a bad joke about your religion, but if you have no religion, where's the offense? I mean, a crèche in front of city hall is hardly the same as a billboard off the Interstate that says "Atheists Are Doody-Heads!"
I think that people are less offended than insulted. While Christians (of all stripes, Protestants and Catholics, etc. and so on) are still in the majority in this country there are, of course, people of many other faiths, some of whom may feel that this whole part of the year has been highjacked by said Christians and they're tired of it and it's not fair. (Giant menorahs have been popping up in malls and on the lawns in front of municipal buildings for some years now.) But as has often been pointed out, no one has the right not to be offended. What about the tens of millions of Christians who see their religion bashed every year about this time? (For that matter, all year long. Christians, like white males, are one of the few groups it's okay for people to make fun of who claim to prize diversity and understanding above all else.
Besides, the roots of the Christmas celebration as we know it are pagan. It was the celebration of the gods Saturn and Mithras and involved feasting and drinking and giving gifts and decorating the house with greens. In the 1600's it was outlawed in England and the Colonies altogether because of its pagan beginnings.
So there, atheists: Christmas originally was about false idols and getting drunk. Very much as it is today.
Get over it.
(Coming up: Christmas with Robert Stack)