Archives For Christmas

The Solstice is upon us, both winter and summer. To honor this seasonal change, I’ve decided to set my journalistic instincts aside (almost) and replace them with a cup of cocoa, some holiday music, and a Santa hat. In other words, the following post is an opinion piece with some facts, some anecdotes and some over-sized, good-spirited, inflatable fun.

By 4028mdk09 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By 4028mdk09 (Own Work) via Wikimedia Commons

Here in the United States, it is very difficult to avoid the holiday buzz during the last few weeks of December no matter what you do or don’t celebrate. More specifically it’s difficult to hide from Christmas.This megalithic holiday hangs like celestial mistletoe over the entire month of December with tiny little elves waiting at every turn to plant sweet peppermint kisses on your cheek.

Part of this seasonal tsunami is the yearly debate over who owns the holiday. What is the true “reason for the season?” As I noted in my article Caught in the Crossfire, you can set your clocks to these Holiday Games which begin around Thanksgiving.

Remember Freedom From Religion Foundation’s New Jersey billboard “Keep Saturn in Saturnalia?” Since my Crossfire post, the sign has been the target of repeated vandalism. In the most recent incident, two men attempted to burn down the offending metal sign. Local police have stepped up surveillance.

American Atheists elected to go bigger and rented a 40 x 40 digital billboard in New York City’s Time Square.  After seeing this billboard, New York state Senator Andrew Lanza called it an “expression of hate” and added “Religious persecution of this kind …led to the Holocaust.”  In response, the American Atheists rented a second billboard near the Goethls bridge which happens to lead to the Senators’ Staten Island district.

download (1)

Courtesy of American Atheists

In a recent post for Americans United, Rob Boston claims “There is no war on Christmas.”  Is he right? Is this just the virulent rhetoric of right wing conservatives? From the spectator seats of the religious minority, I would say it’s definitely more than simply rhetoric.  While there may not be a “War on Christmas,” these daily events are definitely part of a muddy tug-o-war between two cultural extremes.

Just this past week, Georgia State Senator Mike Dugan proposed legislation that would ostensibly permit the use of Christmas Trees, mangers, and the words “Merry Christmas” within Georgia public schools. Here’s the caveat:  at least one other religion or secular seasonal display must also be represented. When a local CBS reporter questioned the need to legalize something that is already legal, the Senator replied, “A lot of [schools] don’t [display Christmas trees] because they’re afraid they’re going to step on somebody’s toes or there’s going to be legal ramifications.”

It sounds like the First Amendment needs a publicity manager and not a legislator.

All kidding aside, there are important religious freedom issues at stake. Minority religions do need to be ever vigilant as the U.S. becomes more religiously diverse. Our public space should be kept neutral in order that everyone is allowed to enjoy their lives – both secular and spiritual.

As I pointed out in my Crossfire post, minority religions have recently been implicated in the games as unwitting allies. Paganism has been dragged onto the side of secularists through a common interest in the Solstice, nature and mythology. Judaism, which was once on the secular side, often finds itself teamed with the conservative Christians. If you sing a few rounds of “Dreidel Dreidel Dreidel,” you’re clear to belt out “The Hallelujah Chorus.”

In his article on the proposed Georgia legislation, Jim Galloway of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution clearly demonstrates this holiday strategy. Galloway quotes Senator Dugan saying, ‘The trick is to include a slightly off-season menorah.’ Then Galloway himself adds, “Or a symbol from some other religion – maybe something Wiccan, or a comparable secular image. Perhaps a scene from Macy’s.” 

Courtesy of Flickr's swh

Courtesy of Flickr’s swh

According to Sen. Dugan, minority religions are the ticket, the “trick,” or the constitutional work-around for the legal installment of religious Christmas expressions within the public sphere.  However, minority religions are also the catalyst that forces the removal of all religious expression from that same public space in the first place. If that isn’t a paradoxical ironic Christmas conundrum.

Let’s take a closer look beyond the public sphere. What are we debating anyway? The reason for the season?  According to a new Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) and Religion News Forum (RNF) poll, 90% of Americans celebrate Christmas. Of that number, 84% celebrate only Christmas while the remaining 6% celebrate both Christmas and another holiday.

Why is this so interesting? According to the latest Pew Forum pole, only 78% of Americans identify as Christian. If the two studies are accurate, at least 12% of the people celebrating Christmas are not Christian.  Moreover if you consider that a small portion of Christians don’t celebrate Christmas that number is actually higher than 12%.

Does this mean that Christmas is slowly becoming a secular holiday devoid of any spiritual essence?  Are other religions co-opting the holiday? Are there an increasing number of interfaith families? Or are religious or secular Solstice celebrations being recorded as Christmas celebrations? There are similarities in the traditions. Does it even matter?

By McKay Savage from London via Wikimedia Commons

By McKay Savage from London via Wikimedia Commons

I believe that the answer is deeper and more complex. Family cultural traditions are hard habits to break. When belief and nostalgia compete, nostalgia often wins or at least leaves an indelible mark. I still eat Matzoh during Passover which, if you have ever tried Matzoh, is almost inexplicable.

Let me illustrate with a personal anecdote. I have always celebrated Christmas despite growing up as wholly religious “none” (not to be confused with a holy religious nun.) My atheist father was raised Catholic so Christmas was his family tradition which we kept in a purely secular fashion. Each year our Christmas dinner guests were always Jewish friends and family and, on occasion, some Muslim friends. Despite our secularism, that night was always sacred and magical in ways that are completely indescribable.

When I began to explore the spiritual, I came to understand the deeper meanings within the Winter Solstice and that magic it brought. Today my multi-faith family has expanded to include Baptists, Methodists, Pagans of many practices and more. As such the magic of the season has only become stronger.

While watching this public Yuletide tug-o-war, I return to the original question, “What is the reason for the season?” When I listen closely and distill each and every seasonal prayer or story, I find a common point – a universal message.  It is one of hope.

Pagans find hope in the rebirth of the Sun through deity, through nature, through art and through mythology. Jews find hope in the oil that lasted for eight days.  Christians find hope in the birth of Christ. Hindus find hope in the lights of Diwali. Atheists find hope in the scientific rhythms of the stars.  And so on and so forth.

The reason for the season is hope, in whatever form it comes.

So I say: Keep the Sol in Solstice. Keep the Saturn in Saturnalia. Keep the Christ in Christmas. Whatever it is that brings you peace and however you choose to celebrate…..Keep the Hope in Humanity.

By User:Darwinek (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons

By User:Darwinek (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons

 

Due to family obligations we won’t be blogging today, but we’ll be back tomorrow with our regular daily dose of modern Pagan-related news and commentary. In the meantime I wish a very happy holiday season to you all, and a very happy birthday to Jesus of NazarethMithrasCarlos CastenadaSol InvictusRobert Ripley, and Annie Lennox among many others.

Leaf disc dedicated to Sol Invictus.
Leaf disc dedicated to Sol Invictus.

Happy Holidays! Back tomorrow.

Choir Boy

Eric O. Scott —  December 14, 2012 — 15 Comments
shepard large

Shepard Elementary School, St. Louis, MO.

Mr. Dellard, standing behind the piano in Shepard Elementary School’s music room, points to me. This is my signal; I step forward, separating myself from the rest of the eight year old boys that make up our public school choir’s tenor section. I have the solo in this song, the only song in our repertoire that even has a solo. For two verses, the twenty-five other children fade into the background, dim lights eclipsed by my star. They are merely the Supremes; I am Diana Ross.

“What you gonna call your pretty little baby?” the choir sings. “What you gonna call your pretty little baby, born, born in Bethlehem?”

“Some say one thing,” I reply, beaming. My voice echoes the bounce of the Mr. Dellard playing the melody. “I’ll say Immanuel!”

Thus did the Heathen child welcome Christ into the world.

December was the best time of year for a choir kid. No other after-school club at my school got the chance to travel around the city; we alone were allowed to skip class during the Christmas season and perform concerts in downtown St. Louis. There is no currency so precious to an eight-year-old as extra field trips. We lorded it over our fellows, reminding them that while they suffered in class, we were singing to the businessmen at Metropolitan Square. We told them this, and then we basked in the warm glow of their hate.

Most of our repertoire consisted of the classics: Santa songs, like “Up on the Housetop,” “Jolly Old St. Nicholas,” and so forth, and Jesus songs: “Silent Night,” “Away in a Manger.” But Mr. Dellard, to his credit, liked to experiment with new tunes from year to year. “What You Gonna Call Your Pretty Little Baby?” was one of that year’s experiments.

At the time, nothing seemed too strange about the song, though it was obviously different than the rest of our oeuvre. Mr. Dellard called the song a “spiritual,” but that word didn’t mean anything to a gang of third-graders. It was just the song we sang between “Little Drummer Boy” and “Give Love on Christmas Day.” There was nothing more significant about it than that.

Looking back now, almost two decades later, the irony of the scene pains me. For one, being a spiritual, “What You Gonna Call Your Pretty Little Baby?” is tied to the African-American experience. I went to a school whose student body was, by a substantial majority, black, and did not lack talented young vocalists. Yet the solo went to a white child. It’s also pretty obvious that the soloist represents Mary – indeed, most versions of the song address Mary by name, though obviously ours did not. Yet the solo went to a boy.  Finally, the song expresses, as much through its form of call-and-response and its rhythm as through its lyrics, the particular character of African-American Christianity. Yet the solo went to a boy who had never been Christian – not that any of my teachers knew that.

I also had a high, froggy voice. Perhaps Mr. Dellard gave me the part because it didn’t require much of a range.

I sang about Jesus with no reservations – it seemed perfectly normal to me. I had no real conception of religion at that point, and neither did the other children. We were young; we had little notion of the complex world beyond the blacktop of our schoolyard. The first time I ever discussed religion with a boy my own age, I mentioned that there were others kinds of people in the world than Christians, though at the time I didn’t know what they might be. He scoffed, and, in a tone that implied I was an idiot for not knowing better, said, “Man, everybody’s a Christian.” Then he paused, and added, “Except Catholics.”

We didn’t know any better. A questioning nature does not appear fully-formed at the onset of language; it takes training to develop. My classmate could not think of life beyond the Christian world of his birth, except for his first experience of irrational prejudice. I knew, if only to a degree, that I was different, that when my parents and I prayed, we spoke to someone besides Jesus. But I had no words to express those feelings – even the word “Pagan” was absent from my vocabulary.

For lack of any other way to conceive of myself, I went along with the others. When I was asked, I said I was a Christian. I didn’t know that I wasn’t.

But one boy did.

He was another member of the choir. He came to practice one afternoon with a sour look on his face and went to Mr. Dellard before we could start singing. He needed to talk to him about the song “Away in a Manger.” Mr. Dellard told us all to talk among ourselves and ignore him. Naturally, every one of us sat in rapt silence, listening to the whispers between the little boy and the music teacher.

I don’t remember much about the boy. He was a small black child, a year behind me, and consequently completely out of my social circle. We wore uniforms at my school – white polos and blue slacks, intended to prevent envy-inspired fights in the playground – so his clothes weren’t distinctive. But I can still remember everything he said, all those words not meant for my ears.

“Mr. Dellard, my mom doesn’t like me singing these songs,” he said.

“No?” said Mr. Dellard.

“No,” said the boy. “She doesn’t want me to learn it, or Silent Night. Or any of those songs.”

Mr. Dellard frowned. “Well, what are we going to do about that? If you can’t sing them, you can’t be in the choir.”

The ultimatum obviously pained the child. His parents didn’t mind the Santa songs – maybe he could just sing those? But Mr. Dellard said no, he couldn’t have one child standing around by himself for half a concert – Mr. Dellard couldn’t watch him and conduct the choir at the same time. Sing all the songs, or sing none of them; that was how it had to be.

The boy said he’d talk to his mother about it.

He missed the next choir practice. We all thought he had been forced to quit, but he came back the day after. We pounced as soon as he sat down. “What did you mom say? Can you sing the Christmas songs? Do you have to miss the field trip?”

“No,” he said. “I can go on the field trip. She said it was okay. Just as long as I don’t bring it home with me.”

I find myself thinking about that little boy every year at Yuletide. He was the first person outside of my family I ever knew to be something other than Christian. I still have no idea what religion he had been raised in, or the explanation his mother gave for why he couldn’t sing “Little Drummer Boy” like the rest of the kids. But that conversation with Mr. Dellard must have been a frightening, lonely experience for him. It’s hard at any age to be marked as different. It’s worse when you’re so young, when you’re so desperate to fit in.

I wish that I had been able to express any of this at the time. I probably had more in common with that child, whatever his family believed, than I did with anyone else at my school. But I faded into the crowd of other children, not even realizing how alike we were.

Memory: I can think of no other puzzle like it, one which grows more complicated the more effort we put into it. At times, I find myself humming along with a tune at Yuletide, and then recognize the song as one I sang as a child. My memories remain fond ones; I did love to sing, especially at Christmas time. But now I can’t help but think of the implications. It seems like a trivial thing to worry about, yes, but – but why were we singing about Jesus at a public school? Why was nobody bothered by the intertwining of Christian myths and public education but one little boy’s mother?

The lessons we receive in youth stay with us forever; while I am no developmental psychologist, I expect they inform the person we eventually turn out to be on a fundamental level. Those snowy days, standing inside of Union Station, singing our praises to the newborn king – they taught me, without anyone saying a word explicitly, that to be Christian was to be normal, that to be anything else was strange. That stayed with me, as much as the melodies and the lyrics.

How could a child help but take that home with him?

We in the West live in a world that is dominated and shaped by Christianity. That dominance may be fading in places, particularly in Europe, but few can deny that Christians continue to occupy a place of cultural and political privilege. This is especially true in the United States, where an unofficial religion test of our political candidates for national office is enforced by various pressure groups, religious leaders, and our own (theoretically secular) media.

As America’s favorite satirist put it:

“Yes, the long war on Christianity. I pray that one day we may live in an America where Christians can worship freely! In broad daylight! Openly wearing the symbols of their religion… perhaps around their necks? And maybe — dare I dream it? — maybe one day there can be an openly Christian President. Or, perhaps, 43 of them. Consecutively.”

The simple fact is that Christianity remains the world’s largest religion, and nearly 37% of the world’s Christians make their home in the Americas. Despite this dominance, or perhaps because of it, many Western Christians feel uneasy about the future, thinking that some secular/pagan/Islamic overthrow is just around the bend. This fear is often exploited by politicians to win votes, framing any limitation on Christianity or Christian institutions as a stalking horse for persecutions.

“You don’t want the gay liberation movement to morph into something like the Ku Klux Klan, demonstrating in the streets against Catholicism.”Cardinal Francis George, Archbishop of Chicago

I think few realize how limited the discussion of religion really is in our media, often limited to debates between liberals and conservatives (or progressives and traditionalists) within Christianity, sometimes with a token Jewish or secular voice thrown in. Any deviance from this pattern is seen either as satire or scandal. Coming out of the Christmas holiday, where a yearly fabricated “war” over Christian celebrations continues to garner press, it can be easy to forget the millions of individuals who fall outside the Christian paradigm, and how we exist, worship, and compromise in a culture that alternately enforces a Christian culture while claiming that culture in under constant threat. For example, CNN looks at how “other faiths” celebrate Christmas (aka December 25th for anyone who isn’t a Christian).

“Sometimes in the West these days there’s a kind of tendency to clump all the religions together and say, ‘We’re all climbing the same mountain,’ and I think the intention there is nice. There’s a harmonious intention there. But I think it’s much nicer to say, ‘Let’s respect the differences and love and appreciate the differences of the other faiths,” [Buddhist monk Ajhan] Yatiko said.

Meanwhile, at RealClearReligion, columnist Jeffrey Weiss bemoans the “Xmas Borg” and discusses just how difficult it is to avoid wall-to-wall expressions of Christianity for two to three months out of every year.

“I defy Bill O’Reilly and his compadres to locate the smallest corner of our nation immune from the months-long drumbeat of Christmas stuff. For us, the holiday seems closer to Star Trek’s Borg Collective (“Resistance is futile!”) than anything I can find in the Christian scriptures. To be Jewish (or Hindu, Bahai or Brama Kumari) in America requires some effort to wall out the overwhelming pressure of our national majority faith.”

The tendency to bundle non-Christian Winter holidays together and treat them like cultural add-ons to the Christmas juggernaut has started to find some dissenters, but most of us rationalize celebrating the holiday in the secular-religious hybrid that has now become the norm (particularly since most of us have Christian relatives and friends). Pagans perhaps have the best excuse, as many traditions and observances have their genesis with our religious ancestors, but we still exist in a culture where those elements: trees, gift-giving, various decorations and customs, are understood by most as function of a nominally Christian holiday, not some syncretic hybrid.

So long as Christianity remains the dominant religious force in our lives minority religions will have to hope that secular separations of church and state hold (or in the case of Mexico, progress), and that Christians of good conscience start to understand how their power works, and how that affects those who aren’t Christian.

“The most searching way to discover, recover, or practice one’s faith is to be a member of a religious minority–to live on a small island of Otherness in an archipelago of bigger religions or in the lake of a theocracy. The situation can be agreeable or dangerous. This is a truism for religious minorities, but it may surprise many in “Christian America.” Not everyone belts out Christmas carols.

Being a minority tests the temper of a faith, its resilience and fiber [...] Being a member of a minority entails the ability to bend and to negotiate. This, in turn, demands a deep understanding of the majority and local conditions, deeper than the majority may have about the minority; respect for them whenever possible; diplomacy; patience; and the building of relationships, infinitesimal gesture after infinitesimal gesture.”

The author of that piece, Professor Catharine Stimpson, was writing about being a Christian in the Islam-dominated United Arab Emirates, and how that perspective has shifted the way she sees all religious minorities. I think that her experience is important, and her testimony much-needed. Christianity has a historical and theological persecution narrative, which can unfortunately become something of a complex that distorts reality,  instead of calling its adherents towards a witness of tolerance and coexistence for all. All persecution narratives, even and especially our own, run the risk of becoming a toxic method of making people of different faiths or perspectives an inhuman “other.” Faceless villains who sport labels instead of human qualities, who become distorted monsters not to be trusted. The challenge for the formerly persecuted is to rise above their own persecution narratives, to build a future where none are persecuted, while it is the challenge of minorities to avoid enshrining them in the first place.

I hope that as this holiday season winds down we’ll all take a moment to consider the perspectives of others, and to critically think about the narratives we are participating in.

Due to family obligations I won’t be blogging today, but I’ll be back tomorrow with my regular daily dose of modern Pagan-related news and commentary. In the meantime I wish a very happy holiday season to you all, and a very happy birthday to Jesus of NazarethMithrasCarlos CastenadaSol InvictusRobert Ripley, and Annie Lennox among many others.

Leaf disc dedicated to Sol Invictus.

Leaf disc dedicated to Sol Invictus.

Happy Holidays! Back tomorrow.

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up. This week, I unleash the special yuletide holiday hounds (they’re like the regular hounds, but with festive accessories) and bring you a collection of links that leans towards matters seasonal.

That’s all I have for now, I hope all my readers have had/will have a festive holiday season, whatever your faith or tradition.

Due to family obligations I won’t be blogging today, but I’ll be back tomorrow with my regular daily dose of modern Pagan-related news and commentary. In the meantime I wish a very happy holiday season to you all, and a very happy birthday to Jesus of NazarethMithrasCarlos CastenadaSol InvictusRobert Ripley, and Annie Lennox among many others.

Leaf disc dedicated to Sol Invictus.

Leaf disc dedicated to Sol Invictus.

Happy Holidays! Back tomorrow.

The always-incisive T. Thorn Coyle, inspired by latest response at the Washington Post’s On Faith site, provides a counter-argument that Christians should take back Christmas, and Pagans should just leave it alone.

“Many people are likely to argue with me on this next point, and that is fine, but I say to anyone who is not a Christian and who celebrates Christmas: what exactly do you think you are doing? Why are you contributing to this beast, this monster, this creature that not only feeds on the sweat of poor people around the world but simultaneously takes more and more money to just maintain its caloric requirements? Why have you – atheist, Pagan, Christian, or Jew – been taken in?

Yes, Pagans have celebrated their Winter holidays for millenia, and with good reason. Yes, evergreen trees and special cakes were part of this. Yes, the birth of a baby God enters into some versions of the celebratory rituals. So separate it out again. Throw a party for your friends to ward off the cold. Honor Yule, or Winternights, or Solstice. Make gifts if you wish to. Cook food and kindle lights. But leave Christmas alone. Perhaps if enough of us cease to feed the monster, it will lose power, and Christmas can return to being a small celebration by a sect who believes that the Child of Promise so many Pagans speak of – the Bright One born from the cold – was named Jesus and came to work the magic of healing the sick and feeding the poor.”

I encourage you to read the whole thing and add your thoughts. You may also want to read her yearly solstice poem. If you have any other links to thoughts on this season, and our place within it, please share them in the comments.

My latest response at the Washington Post’s On Faith site is now up.

Here’s this week’s panel question:

“Keep Christ in Christmas!” is the familiar refrain of Christians who fear the secularization of the holy day celebrating the birth of Jesus, their savior. But in America, non-Christians often celebrate Christmas. According to a recent poll by the Christian group LifeWay Research, “A majority of agnostics or those claiming no preference (89 percent), individuals claiming other religions (62 percent), and even atheists (55 percent) celebrate Christmas along with 97 percent of Christians.” Do you need to be Christian to celebrate Christmas? What is Christmas all about?

Here’s an excerpt from my response:

“I won’t get into the debate over whether early Christians appropriated December 25th from pre-Christian faiths, or came by that date honestly, but few can argue that much of what we now culturally consider “Christmassy” came from non-Christian/Pagan sources. Decorating with greenery, decorating trees, the exchanging of gifts, feasting, even the special seasonal attention towards the poor and less fortunate can be found in several Western pre-Christian Winter-time holidays. In addition, many cultures had their own narratives/traditions about the (re)birth of the sun/son, promising a return of life and light in a time of cold and darkness. I don’t say this to diminish Christianity, but only to point out that these Winter celebrations are a deep part of us, and whether we identify as Christian, Pagan, agnostic, or atheist, there is a draw towards the light and fellowship that has become an integral part of this time through the centuries.”

I hope you’ll head over to the site and read my full response, and the other panelist responses, and share your thoughts.

It looks like holiday display battle season has officially begun. The Chester County, Pennsylvania board of commissioners have voted to change their holiday display policy at the historic county courthouse in West Chester. Once open to all comers, displays will now be handled solely by the county.

The new policy would revoke previously adopted policies that allowed private organizations, such as the Freethought Society, the Pennsylvania Pastor’s Network, the Chabad of Chester County, and the Greater West Chester Chamber of Commerce, to erect displays on the front and south side lawns of the county’s 1846 courthouse facing High and Market streets. The resolution adopted calls for the county to “erect and maintain its own seasonal holiday displays to celebrate the traditions of the holidays” to support the troops, celebrate peace, and promote commerce. The displays, it stated, would conform to “constitutionally permitted … applicable law.”

No one is sure what will happen yet, but the Freethought Society of Greater Philadelphia is donating its news-making “Tree of Knowledge” to the county in hopes it will continued to be used.

“The Tree of Knowledge has become a beacon of enlightenment and has drawn visitors to Chester Count y from around the country,” society President Margaret Downey said in the letter. As a gesture of goodwill, FS will donate the Tree of Knowledge and its ornaments to Chester County for use in official holiday displays. However, should the Commissioners reject these donations, we request that the explanation for denying the nontheist community representation be sent to us, in writing, at your earliest opportunity,” she wrote. “The eyes of the nation are on Chester County this holiday season as you decide whether or not the nontheist community will be allowed equal participation on the public grounds of a government building.”

Supporters are pointing out that this move is just the latest in a series of maneuvers designed to eliminate the troublesome “Tree of Knowledge” from the holiday displays.

“This would have been the fourth year in which the Tree of Knowledge shared the lawn of the Chester County Courthouse with the Christmas Tree, the Jesus Crèche, and a large Menorah. Each year has been a fight for the Freethought Society to get around the Commissioners ever changing procedures designed to block them from participating in the winter festivities. Last year, the county even created “zones” in which holiday displays could be placed, but after a few days all the displays were moved to a more prominent location not in the zoned area except the Tree of Knowledge…”

While the commissioners say this wasn’t a religiously-oriented decision, claiming it was about supporting the troops, even the local press seems somewhat skeptical of that assertion. Meaning we’ll most likely be seeing a  lawsuit, or at least the threat of one, very soon. While there isn’t a Pagan angle to this particular story, the deliberate closing of a public space to a single minority religion or philosophy can create a chilling effect for us all. If atheists aren’t welcome in the public square, I can’t imagine modern Pagans are either. Over the last couple of years Pagan involvement in Winter public holiday displays haven’t always gone over very well, and now it seems like the “War on Christmas” is being won by the self-proclaimed “Christmas” partisans.

“This season, merry Christmas — not happy holidays or season’s greetings — will dominate retailer’s marketing messages. There will be Christmas sales and Christmas trees and Christmas carols galore. That has the American Family Association, arguably one of the loudest voices advocating the use of Christmas in retailer’s marketing messages over the past few years, predicting that its crusade could conclude in the next year or two.”

The public square should reflect the diversity of the public, especially when it comes to religion, lest it be seen as establishing or endorsing a religious preference for the government. A nativity scene, a menorah, and Santa Claus isn’t diversity, it’s a subtle endorsement of Judeo-Christian cultural norms. Further, this time is special for many different religions, and to browbeat government officials and retail companies into “putting the Christ back in Christmas” isn’t “defending” Christmas, or protecting tradition, its silencing inconvenient voices.