In the United States, strange things are happening during the holiday season. A jolly “Merry Christmas” is met with offense, nativity scenes illicit anger, and people are fighting over tradition! People have named this “The War on Christmas”, which is a tad dramatic, but there is a ridiculous amount of unnecessary conflict surrounding the holiday season. These conflicts primarily began to arise in the 1950s, due to a growing diversity in the United States. For example, during that time Minnesota dealt with a series of church-state controversies in public schools, including the question of student involvement in Christmas activities in school (Dierenfield). However, it was also in the 1950s that people began using the phrase “Happy Holidays” specifically to include the growing diversity in the U.S. Today, however, it is distastefully seen as politically correct, as shown in the image below.
It is differences in opinions like this as well as a still-growing range of traditions that fuel these conflicts. A large portion of these conflicts are based on the controversy surrounding the display of Christmas decorations. There are people who believe in the separation of state and church and therefore oppose the public display of Christmas decorations. However, many Christmas decorations aren’t even religious and those that are religious are legally allowed to be publically displayed. In addition to these reasons, the display of Christmas decorations should be accepted or at least tolerated for because the fact of the matter is, most people in the United States celebrate Christmas. Even non-Christians celebrate Christmas because for many people the holidays is time to spend time with family, and so people should just have respect for one another instead of arguing over things as trivial as Christmas decorations.
Many people are offended by Christmas decorations because of their religious nature when, in fact, many aspects of Christmas have nothing to do with the Christian religion. As stated by Edward Grinnan, “Let’s not forget that many of the beloved trappings of Christmas are frankly pagan in origin and were folded into the Christian holy day by shrewd and pragmatic Roman politicians trying to market the new religion to the peoples of their far-flung and tottering empire” (Grinnan 422). What the author is saying is that the roots of Christmas are actually pagan and the holiday itself was placed on the 25th of December to replace a pagan holiday.
The way this ties in with Christmas decorations is that many symbols that we use as Christmas decorations today actually don’t have roots with Christianity. For example, the use of holly and mistletoe can be traced back to pagan traditions (“Christmas is Tradition”). Arguably the most prominent Christmas symbol today, the Christmas tree, dates back to the use of the evergreen tree, which has been used in many traditions in different parts of the world and has no direct connection to the Christian religion (“Christmas is Tradition”). Santa Clause, which derived from the story of Saint Nicholas, had been so commercialized that today he is a symbol who holds little, if any, association with Christianity. Need I even mention reindeer? Therefore, in many cases Christmas decorations are unnecessarily found offensive even if they hold no religious significance.
Although separationists advocate for “separation of church and state”, putting up Christmas decorations is completely in line with the Establishment Clause. Separationists believe “separation of state of church” means there needs to be censorship on religious expression on public property. However, the Establishment Clause does not require censorship, rather it calls for neutrality. This means citizens are allowed to put up religious symbols on public forum as long as other aspects of the holiday season are equally represented (Sekulow). On the other hand, a religious display is also allowed if it is accompanied by a sign informing the public that the display is sponsored by private citizens and not the government (Sekulow). Forms of public forum on which such decorations can be represented include streets, parks, community centers, and state owned facilities.
However, religious displays are also allowed on government property, the constitutionality of which was addressed by two cases, County of Allegheny v. ACLU (1989) and Lynch v. Donnelly (1984). Similar to the rights regarding Christmas decorations on public forum, the two cases established that “religious displays on government property that is not a public forum may nevertheless be constitutional if they are accompanied by other secular symbols relating to the holiday” (Sekulow). The First Amendment guarantees freedom of expression and the freedom to practice religion. Therefore, banning Christmas decorations is completely unnecessary in terms of legal rights.
While people hold the legal right to put up Christmas decorations, they should also hold the ethical right to do so. The best way to approach the “war on Christmas” would be to have respect and tolerance for other people’s traditions. A large majority of U.S. residents are Christian, so obviously there is a prominent representation of their traditions in the United States. This is fine, and people need to realize that this is to be expected. However, Christians also should not think this makes them superior, and they too need to be equally tolerant and respectful of others.
Cathy Young shares the same view, stating, “Those Americans who don’t celebrate Christmas obviously have to be tolerant of the vast majority who do; but they also have a right ro a public square which does not loudly tell them they don’t belong” (Young 417). Religious expression should be acceptable as long it isn’t being disrespectful toward others and isn’t being used to impose their beliefs on others. Therefore the display of religious Christmas decorations should be ethically accepted because it is doing no harm and is often only a form of private religious expression in order to show devotion to one’s religious beliefs.
In conclusion, people should be allowed to display their holiday decorations, whether they be religious or not. Firstly, many of those decorations are not even religious. More importantly, however, people reserve the legal right to display their Christmas decorations and deserve the ethical right to display them. After all, the decorations are representative of people’s religious beliefs, and being told that they cannot display those beliefs is not morally just, especially in a diverse country that promises everyone religious freedom. It is the individual’s responsibility to have respect and tolerance for one another, and the holiday season should be especially representative of respect and love for another.
“Christmas Is Tradition.” The Science News Letter, Vol. 66, No. 24 (11 Dec. 1954): 378-379. JSTOR. Web. 13 Oct. 2012. . Dierenfield, Bruce J. “Rooting out Religion: Church-State Controversies in Minnesota Public Schools since 1950.” Minnesota History 1993: 294-311. JSTOR. Web. 17 Oct. 2012. . Grinnan, Edward. “End the “War on Christmas”” Dialogues. 7th ed. N.p.: Longman, 2011. 421-22. Print. Sekulow, Jay Alan. “Legalities of Christmas Displays.” DefendChristmas.com. Defend Christmas, 29 Sept. 2007. Web. 15 Oct. 2012. . Young, Cathy. “What Happy Holidays?” Dialogues. 7th ed. N.p.: Longman, 2011. 416-417.