It’s that wonderful time of year when pristine snow blankets the Rockies; decorated evergreens and colorful lights adorn most homes; people of all faiths welcome the appearance of Kris Kringle and the exchange of gifts; hearts of Christians turn to the birth of Messiah; and secularists and atheists play the Grinch role to stymie the festive season. Yes, regrettably, the latter is pro forma for the season. And this year is no different.
Malls in North Carolina and Long Island, NY, replaced Christmas trees with glaciers. The North Carolina mall manager said it was to avoid possible conflict and to make Santa feel more at home when he visited. The New York mall manager said they did so to prevent offending anyone.
A New Hampshire Air Force veteran and his wife, who dress up as Santa and Mrs. Clause and host an annual tree-lighting ceremony, were disallowed distributing flyers for the event to school children because they said “Christmas” on them. John Fletcher, who also serves as the local American Legion Commander, said of the school district’s demands, “I respect everybody’s rights, but don’t take our rights away from us.”
An international Christian ministry called Samaritan’s Purse helps disadvantaged children around the world. One of their primary charity events is Operation Christmas Child, which is used to solicit toys, basic clothing and school supplies for children. An Air Force employee at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware asked his fellow soldiers for support, much to the chagrin of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, which called the operation a “manifestly dangerous tool.” Inscrutably, they doubled down by referring to it as a “radioactive wrecking-ball of surpassing hazard.”
Belen is a small town in New Mexico, and is the Spanish name for Bethlehem. They’ve had a long-standing tradition of erecting a nativity scene, not only of significance for the season, but for the etymological significance of the town’s name. The Freedom From Religion Foundation, which is over 1,300 miles away took umbrage at the nativity scene, and demanded that it be removed.
The University of Tennessee issued a “ten-point plan” for essentially banning Christmas this year. Among their admonitions, “ensure your holiday party is not a Christmas party in disguise,” and games like “Secret Santa” should not be played, since Santa himself is a proscribed presence on campus, according to the sardonically titled Office of Diversity and Inclusion. Even the exchange of gifts was discouraged.
Employees of the Department of Veteran Affairs at the Salem Virginia Medical Center have been banned from saying “Merry Christmas” to their patients or visitors. They also banned the singing of Christmas carols at the facility.
An Eastern Kentucky elementary school allowed the students to reenact the fifty-year-old “Charlie Brown Christmas” play, but they were required to delete Linus’ most poignant and salient lines. In explaining what Christmas was all about, Linus quotes a few verses from Luke 2 in the New Testament: “Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in the manger. And suddenly, there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, ‘glory to God in the highest, and on Earth peace, good will toward men.’ ” The Biblical quote was deemed too offensive.
Frankly, what any reasonable American should find offensive at this time of year is that kind of idiocy and self-absorption! Traditions and customs are critical components to our social fabric. And that some would choose to take offense at them, and impose their own lack of Christmas spirit on everyone else, is the ultimate act of egocentrism and selfishness. Confucius is credited with saying, “He who takes offense when none is intended is a fool, and he who takes offense when offense is intended is a bigger fool.”
Each of us determines for ourselves whether we will be offended. And it’s not just about Christmas or religious expression; it’s about everything in life. When we are offended, we’re making a conscious decision to grant someone else control over our attitude, and requiring everyone else to cater to our own narcissistic biases. If we allow others to offend us, whether intentional or otherwise, we sacrifice control of our attitudes to someone else, and impose our prejudices upon others.
Author and actor Ben Stein, in a CBS Sunday Morning episode in 2005, uttered perhaps the most cogent exposition on the Christmas season. Said he, “I am a Jew and every single one of my ancestors was Jewish, and it does not bother me even a little bit when people call those beautifully lit-up, bejeweled trees Christmas trees. I don’t feel threatened. I don’t feel discriminated against. That’s what they are — Christmas trees.”
He continued, “It doesn’t bother me a bit when people say ‘Merry Christmas’ to me. I don’t think they’re slighting me or getting ready to put me in a ghetto. In fact, I kind of like it. It shows that we’re all brothers and sisters celebrating this happy time of year. It doesn’t bother me one bit that there’s a manger scene on display at a key intersection at my beach house in Malibu.”
“If people want a crèche, [nativity scene] fine. The menorah a few hundred yards away is fine, too. I do not like getting pushed around for being a Jew, and I don’t think Christians like getting pushed around for being Christians. I think people who believe in God are sick and tired of getting pushed around, period. I have no idea where the concept came from that America is an explicitly atheist country. I can’t find it in the Constitution and I don’t like it being shoved down my throat.”
May we all celebrate the Christmas season in our own way, and allow others to do so in theirs. After all, shouldn’t tolerance and love of our fellowman bridge all religious and secular boundaries? And isn’t that the real spirit of Christmas anyway?
Associated Press award winning columnist Richard Larsen is President of Larsen Financial, a brokerage and financial planning firm in Pocatello, Idaho and is a graduate of Idaho State University with degrees in Political Science and History and coursework completed toward a Master’s in Public Administration. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.