When I read David O’Reilly’s Inquirer article, “Across the region, difference on the meaning of Christmas,” on the debacle over whether or not to keep the word Christmas in the sign for the vendor fair on the concourse outside City Hall, I was taken aback by one particular assertion – that removing the word Christmas from the sign was symbolic of political correctness gone awry.
The saturation of Christmas in December is inescapable and as a Jewish American it is an annual reminder of one’s standing in the minority. At this point in my life, if the inequity in how our society publicly celebrates the holidays is anything other than a long ago accepted fact, it is an annoyance – most people I know dislike Christmas music, so hopefully no one will be offended when I say I don’t listen to it and don’t really want to listen to it, even if I am at the mall in December.
The larger issue O’Reilly addressed is the lingering cultural battle over inclusivity and our collective identity. In the piece, Sarah Mullen, associate director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania points out that people feel “very strongly” about allowing religious names and images on public property.”
Throughout the country, the Tea Party movement has managed to create an entire political platform from the singular notion that they are going to restore the United States to the way of right – a Christian, conservative version of the good old U.S.A. – to these people Christmas is under attack.
I can ignore the Tea Party – as with Christmas, I leave it to those for whom it has meaning. What struck me in the argument about the City Hall sign was not that even in Philadelphia, which is considered by most political experts to have a hyper Democratic majority (the party of inclusion, right?), people were outraged by the removal of the word “Christmas” from a public event; it was not the word “Christmas” itself, which excludes my faith that got me; and it was not even the fact that some amount of tax payer dollars was spent to fund a non-secular event (last time I checked the Constitution that was clearly prohibited – I know it’s all up to interpretation).
What bothers me most is the idea that the removal of Christmas from public events is a sign that political correctness has gone too far. I am not usually a fan of political correctness. I accept it in mild forms as a replacement for Emily Post in a society that is increasingly uncivilized. I reject it outright as a means of herding the vitriol and bigotry that pervades too many corners of our country.
But, it is not politically correct to understand the implications of the separation of church and state. It is not politically correct to choose inclusivity over indulgence. If the City Hall sign didn’t say “Christmas” would anyone, anywhere not celebrate it. To place the rights of individuals to celebrate their chosen religion on a par with seeing the word “Christmas” in lights on City Hall is to denigrate our most basic values. And to further pollute our intellectual faith with the idea that it’s just not cool to hold ourselves to the standards of tolerance and inclusivity, is about as contrary to the holiday spirit as anything I could think of.
– Jennifer Katz