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A lonely war

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On Halloween, Georgia radio station WYNF-FM switched to an all-Christmas format, the first of more than 300 stations that will do so this holiday season. Early in November, Wal-Mart announced its plans to abandon religiously neutral holiday language this year, it's celebrating the Christ-child's birthday with explicitly merry greetings and full-frontal shots of Christmas trees in its December advertising efforts.

For all the yuletide soldiers who've re-upped for the annual fight against the War on Christmas, all this peace on Earth presents a problem. Two years ago, Jerry Falwell explained how Jesus-hating secularists were scheming to "steal Christmas from America." Fox News' Bill O'Reilly characterized their efforts as an attempt to "destroy religion in the public arena." In his mind, apparently, only a thin line of theologically frank Hallmark cards was keeping us safe from "gay marriage, partial birth abortion, euthanasia, legalized drugs [and] income redistribution through taxation ..."

Secular America's insufficient merriness was such a hit with Fox News' viewers that the network renewed the War on Christmas for 2005. According to MediaMatters.org, it aired 58 segments on the subject during one frantic five-day holiday binge last December.

After this year's election results, the stage seemed set for the bloodiest War on Christmas yet. Democrats were taking over Congress, and Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), a favorite "secularist-progressive" scapegoat of conservative pundits, would soon be sworn in as Speaker of the House. How would she use her power to destroy the sugar plums dancing in Bill O'Reilly's head? Would she ban Secret Santas from the workplace? Force specialty brewers to produce kosher versions of their annual Christmas ales?

Just two days after the election, however, Wal-Mart revealed its decision to come out of the Christmas closet and embrace the holiday with newfound candor. Target followed suit with a plan to sell limited-edition angel ornaments, with the profits going to the Salvation Army. The Democrats have yet to outlaw those pine-tree air fresheners that look like little Christmas trees. Unless someone discovers new weapons of "mas destruction soon, peace and joy could erupt at any moment.

So far, the Catholic League has been most successful in sussing out new dangers. In the spirit of old St. Nick, it's keeping a list and checking it twice via its "Christmas Watch" Web site, where it encourages volunteer elves to snitch on naughty "retailers, schools, websites, towns and municipalities who refuse to acknowledge Christmas as part of the "holiday season.'"

As of this writing, the list features 33 "Grinches," which, given a U.S. population of around 300 million, means we're statistically safer from Christmas attack than Whoville. Still, as the citizens of that country learned from hard experience, even just one hairy green secularist can do tremendous damage, so who knows? Maybe the Florida principal who earned the Catholic League's enmity by nixing a school play called A Penguin Christmas really is capable of destroying America.

For demagogues angling to stoke the War on Christmas fires, however, a pack of censored penguins only burns so long. Santa's mercenaries need more combustible enemies. In theory, Hollywood's the perfect choice. As Catholic League president Bill Donahue famously explained in 2004, it's "controlled by secular Jews who hate Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular." As Bill O'Reilly constantly reminds us, the secular-progressive showbiz crowd detests traditional American values.

And yet Hollywood loves Christmas. In theaters, movies with Christmas themes rarely do big box office. Critics routinely dismiss them as formulaic schmaltz. But even with seemingly little incentive to make them, Hollywood keeps churning them out.

And it doesn't just confine itself to feel-good, Christianity-hating tales about Santa's love life. This year, The Nativity Story, a reverent treatment of Christ's birth, opened on 3,000 screens. The dozens of Christmas movies airing on basic cable routinely break out the faith-based pixie dust. In One Magic Christmas, an angel (Harry Dean Stanton) teaches a family the true meaning of Christmas. In A Season for Miracles, an angel (Patty Duke) teaches a family the true meaning of Christmas. In Unlikely Angel, an angel (Dolly Parton) teaches ... well, you get the point.

Meanwhile, have you ever seen How The Grinch Stole Winterfest playing on the Hallmark Channel? Or It's a Wonderful Lifestyle, the classic holiday tale of a Christian family man who wakes up on Christmas morning only to find that the endless prayer circles and boring Little League games of his usual suburban existence have been replaced by heart-warming drug-fueled orgies with Manhattan's most strapping bachelors? Of course not.

These movies may exist in the sticky-seated multiplex of Bill Donahue's mind, but unfortunately for Santa's occupying forces, who are desperate to prolong their War on Christmas, you can't find them anywhere else.

Greg Beato is a freelance journalist who has written for SPIN, the Washington Post, and many other publications, including his own Web site, soundbitten.com.

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