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Deregulate Christmas!

Nov
15
2006

Most Americans, regardless of their religious beliefs, plan on taking the day off work this December 25. It’s a Federal Holiday after all -just like Veterans’ Day or Martin Luther King Jr. Day. But I’ve decided it’s time we deregulate Christmas and get it out of the public sphere.

No one ever seems to ask how celebrating Christmas passes Constitutional muster. I believe there is something in the First Amendment about how Congress shall pass no laws to establish religion. But what separates Christianity from other religions is the existence of the Lord Baby Jesus (a.k.a. “Christ”) and without “Christ” there is no “Christmas”…right?

For years, Christian conservative activists have bemoaned the de-Christening of Christmas. The topic has become as ubiquitous on talk shows like Bill O’Reilly’s as holiday lights are from Regent Street in London to Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles. These campaigns to “Bring Back Christmas” have paid off to a degree this year. Corporations like Wal-Mart and Macy’s have decided to bring back “Merry Christmas” – not “Season’s Greetings” in 2006.

But the government is not so quick to embrace or reject the holiday. Instead, it just takes the “Christ” out of Christmas so everyone can “enjoy” the holiday. Which ends in silly compromises. The United States Marines’ Toys for Tots program recently rejected a donation of 4,000 talking Jesus dolls – for fear that they may end up being given to Jewish of Muslim children as Christmas gifts. That’s a nice illustration of the problem with government- approved celebrations. For example, we celebrate civil rights each January by honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. But imagine the uproar if someone suggested commemorating, say, Cesar Chavez – a civil rights icon to Latinos -on the same day!

If a religious holiday becomes a public holiday, then the holiday must become secular. As important as nativity scenes are to the story of Christmas, they are no more proper if displayed by a government agency – City Hall, the country courthouse or Capitol Hill – than a crucifix, a Star of David or Osama Bin Laden’s latest Fatwa. Each is an expression of religious beliefs, which should have no place being promoted by a government agency.

It would be blasphemy to suggest canceling Christmas altogether. Besides, I like presents as much as the next person – maybe more! But I think the federal, state and local governments which celebrate the holiday should “deregulate” it – send it back to the people to celebrate whatever Winter Solstice commemoration they choose. It’s another step – a much-needed one – in getting government out of our lives.

Everyone understands the seductive nature of public sanction. It’s power. Christians are taught to go forth and spread the Word by evangelizing to the masses. But evangelizing can take time, work and be a major sacrifice. The easy way out of evangelism is to use the government to do your dirty work by passing laws requiring people to act like good Christians. Banning abortions and homosexual relationships is how fundamentalists’ save sinners from themselves but it’s also how they impose their religion on those of use who believe that same-sex couples should marry or that a woman has a right to end her pregnancy.

Since the government took over marriage, a formerly entirely Christian rite has been expanded to Jews, Muslims, and even non-believers. It’s become secularized and courts across the country are beginning to say – rightly – that all Americans should be entitled to celebrate that right as they see fit. Which, of course, bothers conservatives to no end. And, like all the fights about creches, crosses, Santas and seasonal greetings, we’re left with ham-handed, if not offensive, attempts to define marriage as one group sees fit.

Like marriage, Christmas has been secularized since the government got involved – and I understand why that makes many Christians unhappy. But the answer, as with marriage, is not to mandate that people celebrate it the way we want them to. Instead, we should consider deregulating Christmas and start down the path of getting government out of one more aspect of private citizens’ lives.

Share  Posted by Scott Olin Schmidt at 1:15 PM | Permalink

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