"Jingle Bell Rock" apparently is safe, and "White Christmas" no doubt will prevail, but according to Jerry Falwell and the crowd he's whipped into a frenzy, all mentions of the Christ child, including the word "Christmas," are endangered and under siege.
In the caf where I have breakfast every morning, a perfect capsule of middle America, Christmas songs ring from the radio, tuned into a local FM station. Nine out of 10 conversations are about Christmas shopping, as in, "Have you finished your Christmas shopping yet?" or "Are you ready for Christmas?" or "What are you wearing to the Christmas party?" No "holiday" shopping talk here, or anywhere else I've been in the past two weeks.
But that's not good enough for Falwell and the gang, who insist that checkout clerks at huge department stores should be forced to forget their manners and say "Merry Christmas" instead of "Happy Holidays" to all their customers as they sweep their Visa cards. The logic: It's our holiday. We're the ones spending money at Christmastime in the name of our Lord. Do it our way, or we're not going to play.
I've racked my mind searching for memories of Christ in Christmas in my Southern Baptist upbringing. He certainly could be found at church, where special offerings were collected for the poor and children dressed in bathrobes portraying Mary, Joseph, the wise men and the shepherds, around a makeshift manger scene and a swaddled baby doll. His name rang through the carols we sang at church and, at home, around the piano.
But the commercial part, the toy part, the shopping part, never had and still doesn't have anything to do with Christ's birth, and Jerry Falwell should be ashamed for insisting that it does.
This is the Christmas memory stuck in my head this year: I am 10 years old, and we are spending Christmas Eve at my grandparents' house out in the country, where my grandmother is near death. We've been allowed to open one gift. Mine is the Barbie board game. My sisters and I stretch out on the bumpy linoleum floor of our grandparents' house and roll the dice.
We are all pink and Barbie as we sweep around the board, through high school and college, getting a job, renting an apartment, shopping for a party dress. Then comes the boyfriend area of the board, where a roll of the dice can land you on Ken, Bob or Tom -- all hunks in different ways -- or on Poindexter, a pimply guy with a crew cut, goofy glasses and a pocket protector. I land on Poindexter and my sisters go nuts.
"You love Poindexter!" they shriek, and I stomp off, quitting the game. It's my game, I insist, and if I can't have the boyfriend I want, then nobody can play.
If Jerry Falwell and his clan want to keep Christ in Christmas, maybe they should choose a different battlefield, beyond the department store. Or maybe they should just hang out in church.
A few nights ago, I sat with hundreds of friends and strangers in a beautiful, century-old chapel where the gospel story of Christ's birth was read in six languages. We sang carols and listened as a beautiful young girl with the voice of an angel sang: "I wonder as I wander out under the sky / How Jesus the savior did come to die / for poor lowly people like you and like I." We raised our candles and silently toasted light in the darkness.
It was a holly, jolly Christmas. The best time of the year.