Thanks to the calendar and retailer panic, the Christmas season came early this year. But not as early as the seasonal debate over public Christmas celebrations. The "December dilemma" is now stretching back into October.

It's become a tradition of sorts: government workers muzzled from wishing people "Merry Christmas," carols squelched in city holiday parades, candy canes confiscated from public school classrooms. The First Amendment doesn't prohibit any of these, but fear of offense (and of "theocracy") has kept such bans going. Similar fears have led to a separation of church and store, as businesses denude their "holiday" promotions of any reference to what the said "holiday" might be.

If we lived in Whoville, we might respond each and all with singing and joy, and without any gall. But this isn't Whoville, and we'd rather brawl.

Or so it seems. On the punditry front, The War on Christmas, by Fox News's John Gibson (not a churchgoer), is duking it out with How the Republicans Stole Christmas, by MSNBC's Bill Press. "The war on Christmas really is a war on Christians," Gibson told Focus on the Family. "And they've gotten away with it."

Focus and others are determined to make sure "they" don't get away with it any more. A press release for the Alliance Defense Fund's Christmas Project warns of "more than 800 attorneys available nationwide to combat any improper attempts to censor the celebration of Christmas in schools and on public property." The Christmas Project is joined by other efforts, such as the Liberty Counsel's Friend or Foe Christmas Campaign. Other Christian organizations are boycotting companies that wish "Happy Holidays" rather than "Merry Christmas," and they have seen some success.

Such efforts may be perceived as brash or combative, but they work. The lawsuits may be particularly well timed this year, as retiring Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's rule on government Christmas displays (frequently summarized as allowing crèches if they're accompanied by a suitable number of plastic reindeer) has left a confusing mess.

Lawsuits and boycotts may be helpful and necessary. But the focus must be on upholding principles, not demonizing perceived enemies. There is true common ground: The ACLU, National Association of Evangelicals, National Council of Churches, Christian Legal Society, Jewish and Muslim groups, and the country's largest teachers' unions have agreed on an extensive set of guidelines for religious holidays in the public schools.

This is not the first "war" over the day. In the mid-1600s, British Parliament and the Massachusetts Bay Colony outlawed Christmas celebrations. The enemies of Christmas were the forerunners of modern evangelicals: the English Puritans. Not only was Christmas based in paganism, they argued, but much seasonal revelry remained so. "The generality of Christmas-keepers observe that festival after such a manner as is highly dishonorable to the name of Christ," wrote Increase Mather, the Boston Puritan. Historian Stephen Nissenbaum, in The Battle for Christmas, says the day "involved behavior that most of us would find offensive and even shocking today." As Puritans and their neighbors worked together to combat drunkenness and other riotous behavior associated with the day, Christmas returned, Nissenbaum writes, "embraced by different groups with different cultural agendas."

That's worth remembering before we fight for Christmas in the name of cultural heritage. Our priority is not to make Christmas recognized in our society, but to make it religiously significant for the people who celebrate it. It's not the crèche on the lawn that's important. It's whether we're encouraging people to make room for the Christ child in their hearts.

Related Elsewhere:

The War on Christmas, How the Republicans Stole Christmas and The Battle for Christmas are available from and other book retailers.

Weblog has been compiling the hundreds of Christmas war articles from news sources around the world.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.