No room at the White House

grinchReporters and editors have been deluging viewers and readers with Christmas culture war stories. And who can blame them? Stories abound throughout the country of public school principals secularizing lyrics to Christmas carols, retail outlets forbidding employees from wishing Christmas shoppers a Merry Christmas, and members of Congress having to fight over what to call Christmas trees. And then on the other side you have folks who see nothing wrong with cancelling church on Christmas Sunday vilifying those on the other side.

Washington Post religion writer Alan Cooperman capitalizes on the Christmas Wars meme with his indepth story on presidential greeting cards:

What’s missing from the White House Christmas card? Christmas.

This month, as in every December since he took office, President Bush sent out cards with a generic end-of-the-year message, wishing 1.4 million of his close friends and supporters a happy “holiday season.”

Cooperman quotes, as he says, the “generals” on the pro-Christmas side reacting to the banal greeting card.

“This clearly demonstrates that the Bush administration has suffered a loss of will and that they have capitulated to the worst elements in our culture,” said William A. Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights.

Bush “claims to be a born-again, evangelical Christian. But he sure doesn’t act like one,” said Joseph Farah, editor of the conservative Web site “I threw out my White House card as soon as I got it.”

What’s interesting about Cooperman’s angle on the imbroglio the Bush White House finds itself in — this year at least — is that the story has not been pushed by the groups cited in the article but, rather, Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Here’s how their Nov. 30 press release begins:

The Rev. Jerry Falwell and his Religious Right cohorts have been complaining for weeks now about government agencies and store clerks saying “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” but it looks like Falwell forgot to tell President George W. Bush, First Lady Laura Bush and the Republican National Committee about the preferred religiously correct greeting.

The White House’s 2005 holiday card is just out, and it doesn’t mention the word “Christmas” once.

A Boston Globe reporter mentioned the watered down White House greeting in a Dec. 4 piece, giving proper credit to Americans United. I’m not sure why Cooperman doesn’t but either way, he does a great job of providing historical context for Presidential greeting cards:

Like many modern touches, the generic New Year’s card was introduced to the White House by John and Jacqueline Kennedy. In 1962, they had Hallmark print 2,000 cards, of which 1,800 cards said “The President and Mrs. Kennedy Wish You a Blessed Christmas” and 200 said “With Best Wishes for a Happy New Year.”

Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson continued that tradition for a couple of years, but it required keeping track of Christian and non-Christian recipients. Beginning in 1966, they wished everyone a “Joyous Christmas,” and no president has attempted the two-card trick since.

Cooperman writes that the White House and retailers use the same explanation for why they don’t mention Christmas (a desire not to offend non-Christians). And that is undoubtedly true. In this article, the context Cooperman provides is historical perspective on Presidential greeting cards. Perhaps he or another reporter should now dig deeper into why the White House, whose massive card distribution is funded and managed by the Republican National Committee as part of its fundraising strategy, shares its motivations with retailers, who are driven by profit.

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  • Maureen

    Kathryn Jean Lopez reports:
    “Tim, as I write this post, I have in my hands a White House Christmas card. I open the card. There is a presidential seal. Below the seal is:

    Psalm 28:7
    The Lord is my strength and my shield;
    In him my heart trusts;
    So I am helped, and my heart exults,
    And with my song I give thanks to him

    The card then says: “With best wishes for a holiday season of hope and happiness. 2005″ And is signed by the president and First Lady.

    Now that’s not exactly a secular card. And any tempest complaining about it seems quite silly.”

  • TK

    In response to the comment by Maureen, Kathryn Jean Lopez seems to be missing the bigger picture -using scripture that doesn’t refer to Christ and is accepted by at least one other world religion. While I do believe that any scripture points to Christ, it would make more sense to use scripture describing the birth or person of Christ to proclaim a Christmas message. An even bigger picture is dangerous trend in America of blending religions to make everyone happy and not recognizing the loss of specific denominations or faiths.

  • tmatt


    How does the content of this controversy relate to your upcoming book? Plug. Plug.

  • Ken Myers

    Has anyone noticed that the Postal Service did not issue a “religious” Christmas stamp this year? Is this a first? Do we know why?

  • Mollie


    I believe the USPS said it didn’t issue a Madonna/Child stamp this year because they have leftovers from last year and they are going to have a rate change in a few weeks.

    Not sure if it’s a first but they did just announce their plans for next year’s Madonna/Child stamp.

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