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The Christmas wars have changed focus in the last few years. There are still the reruns of fights over displaying nativity scenes, stars of Bethlehem, and less religious displays like Christmas trees on government-run spaces. Hundreds of lawyers are standing by, waiting for a city council to squelch caroling or a school principal to crush a candy-cane handout.

But since 2005, when the "war on Christmas" reached a fever pitch, some organizations and many individual Christians have put more emphasis on the season's greeting. At the grocery store last year, I was surprised by the indignation of a fellow shopper when the clerk wished her "Happy Holidays." The woman glowered for a moment, then responded, without a hint of merriment, "Merry Christmas."

Apparently she wasn't alone. One organization is selling bumper stickers that read, "This is America! And I'm going to say it: Merry Christmas!" and "Merry Christmas! An American Tradition." (I don't remember the American part of the Christmas story, but I haven't re-read Luke 2 yet this year.) Also for sale: "Just Say Merry Christmas" bracelets. ("They're guaranteed to ward off the evil spirits of the ACLU grinches," says the ad.)

Just say Merry Christmas? To everyone? Regardless of whether they actually celebrate Jesus' birth? To borrow a line from Band Aid (creators of the worst holiday song of all time), "Do they know it's Hanukkah?" For the story of Hanukkah ironically sheds light on the aggressive "Merry Christmas!" trend.

In 167 B.C., the Maccabees rebelled against the Syrian king Antiochus IV, who desecrated the temple in Jerusalem with an altar to Zeus, and tried forcibly to Hellenize the Jews. After years of fighting, Judas Maccabeus and his small band of guerillas drove the ...

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Do They Know It's Hanukkah?
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In the Magazine

December 2007

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