Court Christmas Party Stays a Christmas Party:
Tony Mauro has the story. Thanks to Santa Howard for the gift link.
Humble Law Student:
Money quote from Marshall, "As usual, I will not participate. I still prefer to keep church and state apart."

Lol, seriously. One night a Christmas party, the next night inquisitions against all those who dare call it the "Holiday Season."
12.15.2005 11:59pm
Abdul (mail):
The biggest problem with their nativity celebration is that they can never fill the quota of three wise men.
12.16.2005 8:12am
Jack S. (mail) (www):
If the courts could only have more people like Chief Judge Berrigan of the Eastern District of Louisiana. She celebrates/respects nearly every holiday under the sun.
12.16.2005 8:52am
dk35 (mail):
Humble Law Student,

Way to go, challenging the integrity of a dead supreme court justice. Not that I have any first hand info. on this, but somehow I have the instinct that he had more "christian" spirit in his little finger than you have in your whole body.

Does anyone else with to join me in chastising Humble Law Student on his "ad hominem attack" on Marshall? Or are such attacks ok on this site as long as they are associated with dead left-wingers?
12.16.2005 9:09am
Richard Bellamy (mail):
I have found a consistent inability to distinguish between what a thing IS and what it is CALLED.

If your recess happens the last week in December, irrespective of whether Hannukah overlaps or is in the last week of November, then it is a CHRISTMAS break, not a HOLIDAY break.

If you are cutting down a pine tree and sticking it inside in December, it is a CHRISTMAS tree, not a HOLIDAY tree.

If you change the guy's name from Jesus Christ to Jesus Holiday, you won't find many non-Christians will start worshipping him.

That is simply what those things are. Calling them something else doesn't change anything.

This is completely different from saying Merry Christmas versus Happy Holidays. Saying Merry Christmas means, "Have a good Christmas." Happy holidays mean, "Enjoy whatever holiday you happen to celebrate." I have no idea why anyone is angry that commercial establishments are sending one message rather than the other.

A person could have a Christmas party, or he could have a Holiday party -- those are two different things, and you can have either one, but you just can't have one and call it the other one.

People should stop worrying about what things are called, and started looking at what they really are.
12.16.2005 9:35am
Phil (mail):
Maybe if we start referring to the service as Holiday Eve Midnight Mass the Protestants will stay away (though it would not have kept me away when I was still Protestant)
12.16.2005 9:44am

I'm mostly with you, except that my tree usually stays up until at least February. So, on the "look to the dates" theory, it is probably more a "Procrastination Tree" than anything else.
12.16.2005 9:55am
Humble Law Student:
Richard B,

Points well taken. Many on my side act rather petty with this issue. We respond in a rather knee-jerk fasion on this issue, even if I do think its based on legitimate concerns in other church-state and religious topics.


No one (or few) will join you because I wasn't attacking his integrity. So calm down and stop the hysterics.

I was merely pointing out that Marshall's concern seemed a bit overwrought, regardless of how sincere he probably was.
12.16.2005 10:15am
MaryC (mail):

If your recess happens the last week in December, irrespective of whether Hannukah overlaps or is in the last week of November, then it is a CHRISTMAS break, not a HOLIDAY break.

If you are cutting down a pine tree and sticking it inside in December, it is a CHRISTMAS tree, not a HOLIDAY tree.

THANK you! I have no problem with people saying "Happy Holidays" for the sake of brevity, but it does disturb me greatly that there seems to be this trend of taking everything that is specific to Christmas, and turning it into a generic symbol of...nothing.
12.16.2005 11:03am
NorthWstPhd (mail):
Its starting to seem like the true Spirit of Christmas is gone, the feeling of closeness, community and Spirituality. For many years, I've noticed the dark-sidedness of the amoral minority in this country invading all that is holy, a constant shift. Now, I feel we need Jesus more than ever back into our lives, chasing away the money lenders and making Christmas a holy celebration.

Many Christians in times past would self-flaggelate around the Christmas season, to honor and symobolize the Holy Savior's birthday. Maybe we need not go that far, but what else can we do to symbolize Jesus's birth and his life trials?
12.16.2005 11:24am

Although if you go back far enough, it was actually Christians appropriating a preexisting midwinter holiday, and a preexisting set of associated traditions (including the tree), not the other way around. So, I don't see the problem if some people want to revive the even older traditions that have since been blended with the specifically Christian traditions.
12.16.2005 11:27am
dk35 (mail):
Just one question.

If Kerry had won the election, and had made Breyer or Ginsburg CJ, and they decided to rename it a Hanukah party, would the Christians on here have any problem with that?

Just curious.
12.16.2005 12:23pm
NorthWstPhd (mail):

I have to believe that had God himself not stepped out of Heaven to stop such a thing from happening, that the Righteous Christians of today would have come out of the woodwork and overturned the government, returning this country to its true Christian heritage and stoning those that would attempt such a blasphemous act in the public square.
12.16.2005 12:31pm
I work in a small law firm with about 20 total attorneys/staff. We annually host a party for attorneys, staff, spouses/significant others, and clients. While I believe all of my co-workers are Christians or from a Christian background, I know that we have clients who are not. We advertise our party as a “holiday party.” The vast majority of those attending the party are celebrating Christmas, of course, but not everyone. Obviously, it is good business to avoid offending any of our non-Christian clients, but it also strikes me as the right way to act from the perspective of basic human decency, and also in line with the Golden Rule.

I am a practicing, believing Catholic, so obviously I am not offended by expression of the religious aspects of Christmas, a holiday that has also taken on secular components. Still, it seems to me that I can be strong and confident in my faith without using the holiday season to rub non-Christians’ noses in their minority status. Setting aside all church/state issues, holding an official “Christmas” party in a religiously diverse workplace and using the occasion to sing religious Christmas carols is quite rude, with all due respect to the late CJ. That’s what really strikes me about this whole “war on Christmas” discussion: the rudeness that so many Christians consider the appropriate response. If a store clerk says “Happy Holidays,” the appropriate response is “Merry Christmas,” even though I have no idea if the person celebrates Christmas. I should boycott any store that issues a “holiday” ad instead of a “Christmas” ad. It also strikes me as counterproductive, in that rude behavior in the name of Christianity reduces the likelihood that Christians and Christianity will be viewed in a positive light.
12.16.2005 12:55pm
Sean M.:
Eugene has posted on this before, and I think he has the right of it. People who do not celebrate Christmas should not be offended by "Merry Christmas," even if they do not celebrate Christmas. The intention is clearly a benign (at worst) one, and, besides, who wouldn't want to have a Merry December 25th, even if you don't happen to celebrate the holiday that falls on that date?

On the other hand, those people who are upset that "Happy Holidays" has replaced "Merry Christmas" also are being unreasonable. Again, there's a well-meaning intention behind it, not a war against Christmas or Christ. Besides, I've always viewed "Happy Holidays" as encompassing New Year's.

In the end, it's a semantic choice that's meant to be polite and cherery any way it's said. Why do we need to let semantics wreck the cheer and good will that's behind either of the statements?
12.16.2005 1:11pm
MaryC (mail):
JohnM - I agree with you that some of these cultural battles are over-the-top and distract from the bigger issue. If a company wants to have a holiday party, fine. Go ahead. If a clerk wishes me Happy Holidays, I thank her for her kind wishes, wish her a Merry Christmas, and appreciate her courtesy.

What bothers me, though, is the fact that there are certain traditions that are specific to Christmas, that are being shuffled aside, or renamed, for the sake of not offending anybody. Does any other faith traditinoally haul an evergreen tree into their living room and decorate it? Then why are people calling it a "Holiday tree"? I know it may sound really silly for me to be annoyed about this, but it just seems like the proverbial straw that's breaking the camel's back. Right now, it seems like Christians are the only group that's expected to sit back, be kind, and accept the fact that there soon will no longer be ANY public mention of the real reason for Christmas. We're being told that our sacred traditions are offending other people, but if we protest, we're accused of intolerance. Well...why can tolerance not go both ways?
12.16.2005 1:13pm
Ken Rohrer (mail):
The problem is that we have a minority of people who preach tolerance and hypocritically get offended at every turn when they hear speech that conflicts with their own sad belief system. So you want to call your party a holiday party in order not to offend anyone. I say, why do you grovel to this cowardly minority of people who need to grow up and have some true tolerance? I would have no problem with a Jewish business having a Hanakah party. I would even attend it AND not get offended. They have the right to celebrate their religion, just as Christians do. What about the majority of people you offend for supporting humanism?
12.16.2005 1:14pm
NorthWstPhd (mail):
Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays? I say the Rapture will sort it all out, and the sooner the better.

Merry Christmas, everyone! At least I know where I'm going.
12.16.2005 1:25pm
markm (mail):
"Does any other faith traditinoally haul an evergreen tree into their living room and decorate it?" There used to be one, but so-called Christian knights slaughtered it's last practitioners nearly 1,000 years ago...
12.16.2005 1:41pm
Houston Lawyer:
Growing up, the Company my father worked for had a family Christmas party every year. After a huge meal and plenty of alcohol, we'd sing carols and wait for Santa. Each family brought one present for each of its own children and Santa always came to distribute the gifts. As children, we looked forward to this party every year. I don't know if it continues as such.

The only controversy that I can remember, this being in a small town, was the choice for a replacement Santa after our perennial Santa went on a diet and shed about 100 lbs.

At big law firms and small, no one is fooled by calling it a Holiday party. Everyone knows what it is and everyone is invited. My sense has always been that Christians, Jews and everyone else all attend and enjoy themselves.
12.16.2005 1:45pm
MaryC (mail):

Forgive me for only thinking of the last 200 years when I think of the term "traditional." :)
12.16.2005 1:51pm

I think the broader point is that no one really "owns" ideas like bringing an evergreen inside during some midwinter celebration. Rather, over time different people and different cultures tend to just appropriate whatever ideas they like and give them meaning as they see fit. That lack of ownership is generally a good thing, of course, since something like an idea is not a scarce resource (we can keep duplicating and spreading an idea without ever running out of it).

So, if some other family wants to call it a Holiday tree instead of a Christmas tree, you really have no grounds to object, and vice-versa. That is because neither of you "owns" the idea, and it is better that way.
12.16.2005 2:22pm
MaryC (mail):
It's not just the Christmas tree, though. That's just an example. What disturbs me is the fact that some people are just so incredibly hypersensitive that the entire country is twisting itself into legalistic knots in order to avoid offending them. Everybody else has to sit down and deal with it. This is tolerance? There just seems to be a lot of anti-Christian sentiment in today's society, and the second that one of us stands up and says, "Okay, everybody that's enough", then we're either mocked (Oh, poor Christians...saying that they're being persecuted again.), or slapped down (You intolerant Bible-thumpers just want to get rid of all other religions!). We can't win. Anti-Christianity has grown exponentially in the last 20 years...where will it end? Maybe I'm being paranoid for thinking that our traditions need to be protected, but maybe we've all just had our heads in the sand up until now.
12.16.2005 2:31pm

But that is my point--they are not just "your" traditions, and you can't ask "everybody" to follow these traditions in your preferred way.

Of course, if someone is truly being "anti-Christian"-- meaning, for example, that they try to tell you what to call your tree--then you have every right to object. But that is just a corollary of the same basic principle: you have no right to tell other people what to call their trees, and other people have no right to tell you what to call your tree. In other words, everyone "owns" their own tree, and their own holidays, and thus no one has the right to dictate terms to anyone else.

So, if we all follow that principle (that no one tells anyone else how they should celebrate, or what they should call their trees, and so on) then we can be respectful of everyone, Christians and non-Christians alike. It is only when people insist on other people doing things their way, and their way alone, that we get into trouble.
12.16.2005 2:46pm
NorthWstPhd (mail):
Medis has failed to note that this country was founded on Christian beliefs and there is a constant bedrock foundation of Christianity in every part of our daily lives. Without it, society would crumble. Those trying to paint Christmas as a "holiday" weaken the foundation, the eventuality is chaos.
12.16.2005 3:48pm

I am pretty sure that you are satire, but I will reply anyway.

Speaking of this country's Christian beginnings, did you know that the Puritans prohibited the celebration of Christmas? Their belief was that no one knew in what season Jesus was born and that Christmas was actually based on the pagan celebration of the winter solstice. In fact, celebrating Christmas was a crime in Massachusetts from 1659-81, and the festive aspects of Christmas, including the tree, did not take hold in New England until the late 19th Century.

More fun facts: Congress was actually in session on December 25, 1789 (the "First Christmas" of the First Congress). Indeed, Christmas did not become a federal holiday until 1870.

What drove the widespread adoption of Christmas in America in the late 19th Century was basically two things: (1) German immigration; and (2) Victoria and Albert's reintroduction of lavish Christmas celebrations (including the tree--from Albert's native Germany) in England. This "Victorian" Christmas spread to America through fashion-conscious Anglophiles on the East Coast.

So, thanks to immigration and East Coast elitists, we Americans are no longer so "Puritanical" about Christmas ... and MaryC. is free to celebrate it as she sees fit, "pagan" tree and all. But if you really want to go back to our religious roots, then you should be leading the fight AGAINST the celebration of Christmas, and Christmas trees, not trying to defend them.
12.16.2005 4:25pm
Ken Alfano (mail):
I think for many Christians (including myself), it's not about having or not having any particular celebration or recognition; indeed many make the point that they're not theologically required for most denominations.

Rather, it's simply a clash of equally subjective worldviews between ecumenicalism/pluralism vs. exclusive/absolute truth. To those subscribing to the former, public/universal assertions of the latter are received as arrogant and offensive. On the other hand, ecumenical approaches deliberately designed to dilute a pre-existing doctrinal significance are likewise perceived as an "attack" by those who are offended by the primacy of inclusiveness.
12.16.2005 4:51pm
Maybe this is only my ignorance showing, but isn't there significant difference between a tree and a season that justifies both "Christmas tree" and "Happy Holidays": i.e. specific and universal terms?

If only Christians use a tree as a symbol, then it would make sense to call it a Christmas tree, because it is both the most specific and universal phrase. Similarly, one could always distinguish and use specific phrases: If Christians and Jews both buy presents, one could call them "Christmas presents" and "Hanukkah presents," respectively, so long as one knew that the specific phrase was applicable.

But if people are taking a range of days and celebrating for a variety of reasons, why not use the more universal phrase - "Happy Holidays" - than a more specific term which it encompasses - "Merry Christmas" - when one doesn't know if the specific term is applicable?
12.16.2005 5:32pm
Owen Hutchins (mail):

Does any other faith traditinoally haul an evergreen tree into their living room and decorate it?

We're still here, and many pagans decorate trees for Solstice. The practice predates Christianty, and it was borrowed along with other practices.
12.16.2005 7:02pm
Barbara (mail):
I'm not Christian, but I wish people "Merry Christmas" at this time of year unless I know they're Jewish; then it's "Happy Hannukah." My Muslim acquaintances have never mentioned a big holiday around now; they're more interested in Ramadan. None of them would be upset if I or someone else wished them "Merry Christmas" also (though I don't).

Occasionally I run across a stranger in a store or whatnot who protests (usually rather nastily) that they're not Christian. I smile and tell them I'm not either. If they persist in being a jerk, I just smile some more and ask them if they aren't merry about getting paid day off, and go on my merry way. If someone gives me a Hannukah or other religions greetings, I just say thanks, you too, and let it go. Life's too short.

The vast majority of Americans are Christian, at least nominally. The (not-so-anymore) religious holidays don't bother me; they're a good excuse to have special food (fruitcake! sugar cookies! turkey &trimmings!) and a party and in some cases a paid day off. Works for me.

(When proselytizers come knocking at the door, however, I don't answer. There are limits....)

Barbara Skolaut
12.16.2005 7:14pm
Ellen Saideman (mail):
One interesting point about the whole "war on Christmas" issue is that the usual villain in the campaign against "secularism" is Hollywood, but that villain is entirely missing from the so-called "war on Christmas" because the TV schedules are full of Christmas shows, both regular television shows like Everybody Loves Christmas, special movies and reruns of classic movies such as A Christmas Carol and It's a Wonderful Life.

As capitalists, the stores want 100% of Americans to buy presents, trees, ornaments for trees, etc. So if holiday trees are "politically incorrect" and the proper name for a decorated evergreen is a Christmas tree, does that mean that only Christians should buy Christmas trees?

In my New England town, I had a conversation with the Christian mother of my daughter's friend, and she told me that she thought it was good that I as a Jew did not have a Christmas tree. I read a study that 82% of Jews don't have Christmas trees; that suggests that 18% do. Are they wrong to have a tree and call it a holiday tree or a Hannukah bush?

When I told another friend of Jon Stewart's line that 100% of our Presidents have been Christian, she told me that she disagreed. She thought that Thomas Jefferson was not a Christian because he did not believe that Christ was divine. He certainly was a Deist.

I'm not insulted when someone wishes me Merry Christmas, but I do prefer hearing Happy Holidays. And it is bizarre to me that anyone can be insulted by calling the time off from school "winter break." The main point is that Christians get their holiday off from school. And the break usually includes New Year's and other days besides Christmas. (And even Jewish schools in American close the last week in December. I suppose no one minds if my children's Hebrew school calls the last two weeks in December a winter break). I always have to write notes to get my children excused from school on the Jewish holidays.

Believe me, no one in American can avoid knowing that the federal holiday is Christmas.
12.16.2005 11:32pm
Smithy (mail):
It is important that everyone feel comfortable in this society, regardless of their religous beliefs. As much as we may diasgree about public displays of religion, that is something I think we all agree on. This country has a wonderful heritage of faith but also of religious tolerance. Some on the left believe that religious freedom is best maintained by suppressing public displays of religion, while others (like me) believe just the opposite. But I hope that we all realize that the other side simply wants what it thinks is the best expression of this country's tolerance for religious diversity.
12.17.2005 1:30am
I agree Smithy. And for what it is worth, while I am not a religious person myself, I also think that public displays and celebrations of religion are part of our country's history of religious tolerance, and that practice should be encouraged and continued. My only caveat is that the government should not be sponsoring, endorsing, or otherwise favoring these displays and celebrations. But that principle should not prevent religious people from using public fora to display and celebrate on their own dime.
12.17.2005 8:47am
I'm curious if anyone thinks the Religious Right is putting itself in a corner by arguing that it is important to protect the religious nature of the symbols and wording of Christmas (trees, "Christmas Break," writing "Merry Christmas" on the White House holiday/Christmas card). Next time there is an Establishment Clause case because of a tree or a creche in the town square, can they then turn around and argue that these symbols are secular and therefore should be allowed to be funded by government money and put on public property?
12.17.2005 4:08pm
Smithy (mail):
My only caveat is that the government should not be sponsoring, endorsing, or otherwise favoring these displays and celebrations.

I disagree but I see where you are coming from. I think the Founding Fathers meant for this to be a Christian nation, but unfortunately they wrote the Constitution in such a way that that this isn't clear, so many reasonable people believe the opposite -- that they believed in the separation of church and state. But I think when you look closely at the disagreements, they aren't all that great. Sometimes too much is made of very minor points of contention. And I'm probably as guilty of that as anyone.
12.17.2005 7:00pm
Ken Alfano (mail):

Many people of faith are offended at the notion of "ceremonial deism" as much as others are at "genuine theism." For example, I personally think that it is more disturbing to put "In God We Trust" on our money if we don't actually mean it sincerely, than not to do it at all. (Of course, I prefer to keep these traditions -- along with the religious significance that apparently didn't pose a constitutional problem when they first originated.)
12.17.2005 9:33pm

The Founding Fathers were a diverse bunch when it came to religious matters. But for what it is worth, even those who argued in favor of a strong separation between church and state thought that such a wall was justified in part because of the threat the state posed to religion. So, in that sense even those who favored this separation were "pro-religious" in their own way.

And I think that is just as true today, in fact. Indeed, as Ken notes, "ceremonial deism" is in some sense more damaging to religion than "genuine theism". And so you might want to think about whether you really want government officials in charge of religious matters.
12.17.2005 9:43pm
Smithy (mail):
The Founding Fathers were a diverse bunch when it came to religious matters.

Yes, yes, I know Ben Franklin was supposedly a "theist". Be that as it may, I have a hard time believing they would have supported TWOC and some of the other anti-religion initiatives of the ACLU.
12.17.2005 11:42pm
Assuming TWOC="The War on Christmas", I direct you to the history I noted above. In a nutshell, Christmas was not celebrated widely in America until the late 19th Century (eg, it wasn't a federal holiday until 1870).
12.17.2005 11:58pm
Medis--you are fantastic.

Smithy--Good to see you espousing tolerance.

To all people of good will: take the greeting in the spirit in which it is intended. Be it "Merry Christmas", "Happy Chanukkah", "Joyous Kwanzaa", or whatever, the speaker is wishing you well. Accept it, smile, and move on.

If a rabbi tells me, "Mazol Tov", I say "Thank you Rebbe" and go on. If a priest or a minister says, "God Bless", I say, "Thank you Father/Reverend" and go on my merry way.

That we have descended to fighting about this is the true shame; this is not a battle of politics, but of manners. I believe that I was raised better, and I hope that you all were as well.

And to everyone, a happy and joyous holiday season.
12.20.2005 5:04pm