Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Here are the opening sentences of Mark Steyn's latest column -- the 6,738th right-wing article published this month (give or take a couple thousand) on the subject of the alleged liberal anti-Christmas jihad:

One December a few years back, I was in Santa Claus, Indiana, and went to the Post Office - a popular destination thanks to its seasonal postmark.

"Merry Christmas!" I said provocatively.

But Postmistress Sandy Colyon was ready for me. "A week ago," she said, "I'd have had to say 'Happy Holidays', but we've been given a special dispensation from the Postmaster-General allowing us to say 'Merry Christmas'. So Merry Christmas!" That's "Christmas" at the dawn of the third millennium - a word you have to get a special memo from head office authorising the use thereof....

That was "a few years back" -- Steyn doesn't say when, but it's clear that Christianity was hanging by a thread in America. Odd, then, that in 2000 -- during the dark reign of William Jefferson Satan -- AP reported this about the town of Santa Claus:

SANTA CLAUS, Ind. -- Nonbelievers, beware: That whole Santa-Claus-is-a-myth theory doesn't fly in this town where elves have answered Christmas letters for nearly a century.

Dozens of town scribes, from the veterans of the American Legion to the women of the garden club, pen replies in red ink to believers young and old. Bilingual monks and nuns from local monasteries answer letters from foreign lands.

The letter writers, who see themselves as Santa's elves, follow two rules: "We never promise anything to kids and we keep the spiritual part of Christmas in it," says the head elf, Patricia Koch.

Emphasis mine. (The article also points out that the postmistress's surname is spelled "Collignon," as does a 2004 article you'll find here if you scroll down -- Steyn, I gather, believes in faith-based fact-checking. But I digress.)

Please note that the letters continue to get answered -- with religious messages. Both articles mention that letters in foreign languages go to monks. Note that Collignon hasn't been sent to a reeducation camp, nor have the Legionnaires, nor have the monks. Nor, by the way, have the folks at Abbey Press, who, apparently on their own, will send you a letter postmarked in Santa Claus that includes this text:

Dear [Personalized],

Ho, Ho, Hello from the North Pole!

Christmas is coming -- and you know what that means! It means colored lights and shiny ornaments, Christmas carols and cookies with sprinkles, secret surprises and lots of excitement. But do you know what Christmas really means?

Christmas is Jesus' birthday! Remember the story of how Baby Jesus was born in a stable in Bethlehem? God the Father sent His Son, Jesus, from heaven to show how much He loved us. Jesus was the very first Christmas Gift! When Jesus grew up, He taught everyone how to love each other and live in peace....

And I imagine quite a few letters with a Santa Claus postmark bear this stamp.

Liberals aren't objecting to these letters -- and liberals won't. The letter-writers all seem to be volunteers. Nobody's trying to stop anyone from engaging in purely voluntary religious acts.

The stamps are cool, too, because the Postal Service commemorates all kinds of holidays. (Get yourself a USPS Kwanzaa pen.)

But shouldn't a true lefty object to the rest of what goes on in Santa Claus -- the Christmas in Santa Claus Parade, the live nativity scene, the town name itself?

The fact is, this isn't a big fight on the left. Go read some of the stories about Christmas carols being de-Christed and town squares being de-nativitied: In most cases, no liberal is actually demanding the changes -- they're just happening, in anticipation of what the good burghers of the town think we're demanding.

Go to Google News and search christmas aclu -- you'll see a lot of articles about what people think the ACLU demands, and virtually nothing about actual anti-Christmas activity by the actual ACLU. Christmas doesn't even make the title screen at aclu.org, or the religious liberty page, or even the government-funded religion page or religion in schools page.

Of course, when we're attacked as the bringers of evil pluralism, we get our backs up. We rally around the secularizing towns. But we've got too many other things to worry about, from torture to Social Security privatization to creationism -- nativity scenes are not that high on our agenda.

In my ideal America, public Christmas celebrations would be under the aegis of private organizations. There could easily be as many as there are now; they could be in the town square, more or less like street fairs here in New York City, and there could even be a hell of a lot of overlap between the leadership of the private organizations and civic officialdom, but there'd be some separation. And there'd have to be equal opportunity for all faiths, and no faith, in such a system.

But this isn't my top priority, and it's not the top priority of most people on the left.

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