War on Christmas? Nein!

grinch 01I hope I’m not jinxing anything by asking this, but do you think we may be witnessing less “War on Christmas” media hype this year? It seemed the story was escalating annually, but I think we may have a reprieve this year.

Not that there haven’t been stories. Some genius Chicago officials created the first major entry into the annual rite, as reported by the Chicago Tribune‘s Emma Graves Fitzsimmons:

A Nativity display has a spot at this year’s holiday celebrations in Daley Plaza. So does an Islamic crescent and a Jewish menorah.

But clips from a film celebrating the birth of baby Jesus are too much for the Christkindlmarket, a Christmas festival held at the plaza for more than 10 years.

The story is fairly representative of how most media outlets are handling the issue. (And thanks to all the readers who passed coverage of this story along.) The facts are being reported in a straightforward manner, with analysis provided by various religious and political representatives.

At first city officials said they banned The Nativity Story from sponsorship because it might offend people who aren’t Christian, but then they completely changed their story. The new version is that they objected to the film because it was too commercial. And that apparently conflicted with the, uh, commercial nature of the marketplace. Fitzsimmons did a good job of following up on the city officials’ latest excuse:

Other sponsors include the Hard Rock Hotel, Mercedes-Benz and Lufthansa airline. But while they, too, are commercial enterprises, their presence at the festival is more muted, city officials said.

The film studio was stunned by the news that the festival didn’t want its $12,000.

“We don’t understand why our sponsorship would be rejected for religious reasons, particularly considering the fact that our film details the story that inspired the holiday season that the Christkindlmarket was created to celebrate,” New Line Cinema spokesman Robert Pini said in a statement.

Just a good and interesting story. In the few minutes since I started writing this post, another Christmas War story came across my screen. I think I really might have jinxed this. The Associated Press reports on a situation out of Vienna:

St. Nick, nein! A ban on St. Nicholas at Vienna’s kindergartens is taking some of the ho-ho-ho out of the holidays for tens of thousands of tots this year. And it’s creating a political ruckus, with opposition parties accusing City Hall of kowtowing to a growing Muslim population by showing Europe’s Santa the kindergarten door.

I love all the information packed into the opening graph. And written in such a lively manner. I can only assume the writer’s jaunty prose is an attempt to make what has now become a mundane story a bit more interesting.

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  • Jerry

    I’m confused. I know that “Santa Claus” is “St Nicholas”, but to most of us “Santa Claus” is a purly secular figure promoting spoiled children and high debt levels as necessary parts of a consumer culture. How does that offend Muslims?

    Even further, the whole situation is crazy. When I was in school many decades ago, we always had Christmas symbols at this time of year along with Jewish ones and no one complained. Today, I’d add a couple more, to be sure. The whole issue is one more example of how out of whack we’ve become with people insisting that extreme positions are the only possible correct ones.

  • Pingback: Dr. Platypus » Blog Archive » Détente in the War on Christmas?

  • Dave Griffey

    If it is a bit cliché to beat the drums about a “war on Christmas”, it seems the vogue response from others is to roll the eyes and say, “Those silly conservative Christians.” Truth is, this is symptomatic of a larger problem: a growing acceptance of cultural (and sometimes legislative) censorship. After all, it wasn’t too long ago that radio stations were accused of Orwellian oppression for refusing to play songs referencing the joys of sex and LSD. Now, for reasons I can only guess, a growing number of our fine citizens see no problem with the courts and government standing alongside private institutions (like radios), and calling for the removal of all Christian symbolism (sometimes all religious symbolism as well). That trend, and our apathy, is perhaps the real story. Are all societies prone to censorship and discrimination? Is it just a matter of who the axe falls on? Inquiring minds want to know.

  • cheryl

    The Chicago thing has just been immensely entertaining to watch, as are the city spokespersons’ attempts to backpedal.

    So they didn’t really MEAN to say the movie promos would offend some people, it’s just that it’s too commercial to sell a movie about the birth of the Christ Child at the CHRISTKINDLMARKET?

    When the market itself is lined, wall to wall, with vendors selling German carved Nativity displays, ornaments, wooden angels, Advent calendars, etc.?

    What yo yos. They should really take a stroll through their own city plaza before issuing statements.

  • Filipe

    I fear the Christmas War stories may have crossed the Atlantic.
    The Daily Telegraph recently ran a piece about Muslim leaders asking city officials to leave Christmas alone, as they ended up getting the blame for ridiculously PC moves by cities such as Birmingham (renaming the season Winterval) and Luton (which no longer has christmas lights, it has Luminos).
    Just today I read that in Spain (?!) there were problems because a school had banned christmas celebrations so as not to offend children of other faiths.

  • http://www.ecben.net Will

    Not to mention, of course, that a “Christ Child Market” can not be associated with a film about — the birth of the Christ Child.

  • Larry Rasczak

    Will says “Christ Child Market”..

    Actually I thought that myself, but I checked out the market’s website.

    Get this…

    2006 Highlights

    Grand Opening – Christkindlmarket Chicago
    Friday, Nov. 24 * begins at 4 pm

    Enjoy the City of Chicago’s 93rd Annual City of Chicago Holiday Tree Lighting spectacular with live entertainment, fireworks and the 11th Christkindlmarket Chicago Grand Opening by the Christmas Fairy; a trademark of Christkindlmarket Chicago and its sister-market in Nuremberg, Germany, presenting the “Christmas Prologue” declaring Christkindlmarket open.

    Now, I could have sworn that the last time I visited the site it said “Christkindmarket Fairy” (I don’t think you can trademark “the Christmas Fairy” but you probably can trademark “Christkindlmarket Fairy”, so while I could be wrong, I think this name might just have been changed since the last time I checked.)

    And I will refrain from talking about how this Christmas Fairy could be seen as offensive to the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Community…(do they have Michael Richards working on their staff there or something?)

    In any case it is a FAIRY opening the market with “the Christmas Prolouge” and lighting the “Holiday Tree”!

    Baby Jesus is not on the guest list.

  • Larry Rasczak

    Actually I’m wrong.

    Everthing I found in the press says it was the Christmas Fairy not the Christkindlmarket Fairy.

    When I went to G o o g l e’s cache of http://development1.craftlister.com/e1011959?PHPSESSID=32af5a0ab84e0384e7ed3340c2f5326c as retrieved on May 19, 2006 22:27:18 GMT.
    G o o g l e’s cache is the snapshot that we took of the page as we crawled the web.
    The page may have changed since that time. Click here for the current page without highlighting.
    This cached page may reference images which are no longer available. Click here for the cached text only.
    To link to or bookmark this page, use the following url: http://www.google.com/search?q=cache:mdLf8k3kbLkJ:development1.craftlister.com/e1011959%3FPHPSESSID%

    I found this caption for a photo

    However I found this caption for a photo on the page

    The Christkindl – Our Christmas Fairy

  • http://www.christianitytoday.com/ctmag/ Ted Olsen

    I hope I’m not jinxing anything by asking this, but do you think Mollie should have spent a little more time searching Google News? There are reasons she’s seeing a “reprieve” from “war on Christmas” stories this year.

  • Jennifer Emick

    I really don’t understand how inclusiveness=censorship. For crying out loud, this country is literally wallpapered with churches- I can’t go two blocks without seeing a nativity or another trite “jesus is the reason” sign, yet every attempt from the secular world to acknowledge that Christmas is not the only holiday is met with squawks about persecution.

    When I was a child, Christians complained that stores were absusing the faith by using Jesus’ birth to sell tzotchkes, now they complain that retailers aren’t using Jesus’ name to sell their crap.

    I understand the true issue here is one of cultural dominance, but I think this will turn out one of those “be careful what you wish for” scenarios…pressing for Christian symbols as a cultural paradigm can only backfire. You’re not going to end up with better Christianity, you’re going to get secula christianity- ceremonial, meaningless religion.

    Aside: why is this even the issue du jour? I’d much rather read about Joel Hunter and the Christian Coalition…

  • S.K. Davis

    I love the updated Grinch cover. It’s funny, though–if memory serves, “How The Grinch Stole Christmas” isn’t a religious story, except for the use of “Christmas” in the title.

  • http://www.ecben.net Will

    “Remember, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Solstice, and Grunthar’s Ascendance Are Coming”. — BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER

  • cheryl

    Jennifer,

    You seem to be missing the whole point of this particular news story. That is, government officials exerting pressure on a private organization to yank a sponsor from a private event because they’re selling something with religious images (the movie) that might offend someone. All this when the event itself is laden with vendors selling the same images to a willing public. It’s a bit ironic, to say the least. Then the same officials compound their silly behavior by changing their public story to claim that this sponsor is just too darn commercial (see point about existing vendor merchandise above).

    It’s not a story about inclusiveness = censorship. As others have noted, the public plaza where this all takes place has all the based covered: Nativity scene, menorah and giant Crescent.

    And apparently a Christmas fairy too.

    Then, to compound

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    TED:

    We’ve had most of those stories on GetReligion.

    But we will all be trying to watch for the new variations on the old, old themes.

  • Jennifer Emick

    Cheryl, as far as I’m aware, Daley Plaza is a public space.

  • cheryl

    Jennifer,

    Yes, Daley Plaza is a public space…hosting a privately owned event.

    A private event loaded with commercial vendors selling boatloads of items reflecting the exact same religious imagery as the movie sponsor that was booted, thanks to the city’s pressure.

    Apparently the city has no problem displaying, on this public plaza, a Nativity scene, menorah and Crescent. And they’ve obviously approved the theme of the private event, since it has been taking place on this same plaza for 10 years.

    Yet all of a sudden, some sellers of religiously themed merchandise at the event are OK (the majority of vendors!) and others not OK (the movie sponsor). I find that inconsistent at best and a shining example of PC oppression at worst.

    I don’t understand your comment. No one is “pressing for Christian symbols as a cultural paradigm here.”

  • halflight

    Jennifer:

    I really don’t understand how inclusiveness=censorship.

    It doesn’t. Censorship=censorship. The City of Chicago prohibited the showing of a Christian-themed movie trailer in a forum (Daley Plaza) open to the public for speech (evidenced by the other non-governmental organizations present and free to communicate other messages). Any argument that the movie trailer is irrelevant to the “Christkandl Market” is laughable. There is no argument that there would be imminent danger to public safety if the trailer was shown.

    Thus, there is no constitutionally permissible grounds for the city to interfere with the showing of the movie trailer. Not only is this arguably a violation of the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, but also the Free Speech Clause. Not that New Line Cinema will do anything about it.

    Why didn’t the reporter quote a legal expert on the constitutional questions raised by this situation? Are New Line’s speech rights less protected because it has a pecuniary rather than religious motive? Are the free exercise rights of the attendees of the Christkandl Market violated when the City of Chicago censors the messages presented there for religious content? There’s all sorts of interesting legal issues buried here, and the reporter didn’t address them.

    For crying out loud, this country is literally wallpapered with churches- I can’t go two blocks without seeing a nativity or another trite “jesus is the reason” sign

    What exactly does “inclusive” mean to you? That you shouldn’t be exposed to the fact that the majority of this country’s population is nominally Christian? I have no doubt that I would find the majority of the Christkandl Market tasteless and perhaps offensive; but that doesn’t mean that I (or the City of Chicago) have the right to stop people from exercising their right to free speech. There is no constitutional right to be free from offensive messages, religious or otherwise.

    I understand the true issue here is one of cultural dominance

    Yes. The true issue is whether the liberal (as in John Locke and J.S. Mill liberal) theology of religion as an entirely subjective, personal and private affair will be allowed to push religious expression out of the public forum. The actions of the City of Chicago are guided by this ideology/theology, as was indicated in the first reason the City gave for prohibiting the movie trailer. The interest of the private individual to be free from religiously offensive content was given precedence over a public expression of a religious message.

    There is nothing in the First Amendment that limits the free exercise of religion to private property.

  • dpt

    “because they’re selling something with religious images (the movie) that might offend someone.”

    Ok, it is that time of year when these stories come forth. With respect to Christians, Christmas, etc. I have heard this “might offend someone” argument quite a number of times over many years.

    What does it mean that someone is offended by a Christian symbol or activity? Should we try to accomodate the “offended” individual? Is being offended by someone or their actions simple bigotry? Some are offended if a white woman dates a black man, and I think most of us agree that it bigoted believe such.

    Yes, the ‘war on Christmas’ stories tend to get overplayed, though there are those who do use the “offended” by Christ symbols as a basis to criticize Christians. Those persons should be rightly identified as bigots.

  • http://www.geocities.com/hohjohn John L. Hoh, Jr.

    And it’s creating a political ruckus, with opposition parties accusing City Hall of kowtowing to a growing Muslim population by showing Europe’s Santa the kindergarten door.

    Is he actually called “Santa” in Europe? I thought they still had him down as Saint Nick. Speaking of whom, the Saint Nicolas we associate with the Christmas tradition of giving gifts was a bishop in Asia Minor. We know it as the nation of Turkey today. Turkey is currently in the news because of Pope Benedict’s visit with the Patriarch. I wonder if the pope will visit Nick’s birthplace or where he was bishop? Turkey, in case you missed it in the media, is a Muslim nation with only a nominal Christian presence.

  • cheryl

    “…I have no doubt that I would find the majority of the Christkindl Market tasteless and perhaps offensive….”

    Actually, I’m probably posting so much on this topic because I would dearly love to go back to the Christkindlmarket Chicago. It is absolutely wonderful. The items are beautiful, the food delicious (mulled wine! German beer! Potato pancakes! Chocolate and strudel!)

    I’s probably as close to a European-style market as you are going to find in the US.

    Nuthin’ tacky about it, believe me…

  • http://altreligion.about.com/ Jennifer Emick

    “Is he actually called “Santa” in Europe? ”

    ‘Santa’ is American, not European. In Europe he is Father Christmas or St Nicholas, when he appears at all. Other countries have elves, gnomes, fairies, witches, even devils,(and the Christ child, who is sometimes, for some reason, a female fairy- the Kristkindl) that fulfil the gift-bringing duties.

    “What exactly does “inclusive” mean to you? That you shouldn’t be exposed to the fact that the majority of this country’s population is nominally Christian?”

    Hardly- but the “we’re the majority, we should own the public square” argumen t is just as stupid. The public square is not the place to force symbolism- there are more than enough religious venues for that. If an overtly evangelical message is too much for Daley Plaza, it doesn’t mean anyone is trying to silence that message- they are free to shout it from any pulpit or street corner, but they do not have the right to force a public entity to be tacit party to any message they wish to express, as is the case with the Market. The city owns the space, and has the right and responsibility not to endorse any overtly religious message.

  • halflight

    Hardly- but the “we’re the majority, we should own the public square” argumen t is just as stupid.

    That stupid argument is your strawman. I would imagine that the City of Chicago has a policy about private parties using Daley Plaza. That policy should be followed for every group, regardless of the content of its speech, or its religious beliefs: Christian, Wiccan, Green Peacers, communists, gay rights activists, whatever.

    The public square is not the place to force symbolism- there are more than enough religious venues for that.

    The First Amendment is a guarantee of free speech and free exercise of religion, as well as a prohibition of establishment of a state religion. The state has no business restricting communication on public property based upon the content of that communication. Any restriction should be content neutral.

    That’s why the City cobbled up the phony excuse about the trailer being “too commercial”. Its lawyers undoubtedly concluded that censoring speech in a public place because it was “religiously offensive” was a loser argument; the federal case law is less skeptical of restrictions on commercial speech.

    The fact that private venues are available is not relevant. Unless the City of Chicago has a compelling reason, such as issues of immediate public safety, it can not censor religious speech in a public place.

    If an overtly evangelical message is too much for Daley Plaza, it doesn’t mean anyone is trying to silence that message

    Nonsense. That’s exactly what it means.

    The city owns the space, and has the right and responsibility not to endorse any overtly religious message.

    Again, nonsense. The Supreme Court has held that the state can not overtly endorse any one religious belief. If a private party wishes to express a religious message in a public place, he or she has the right to do so on the same terms as any other citizen’s self-expression, religious or not.


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