Another item from the GetReligion assignment desk: I've said it before, religious conflicts are by far the most interesting ones. We'll get to my specific suggestion in a minute, but first, a news story.
It appeared in the December 3, 2001, issue of the Baltimore Sun under the title "Town is aswarm in Santas." Reporter Michael Scarcella reported on the annual Christmas tree lighting from the small Maryland town of Kensington.
In response to the complaints of a few families (probably Jewish, though the details the story provides are extremely sketchy), the mayor and town council members had voted to have an entirely secular lighting ceremony. They claimed that they wanted to focus on honoring firefighters, police officers, and other uniformed "heroes" in the wake of September 11.
The problem was, they ruled that Santa Claus was a not a secular figure. St. Nick would normally turn the lights on to bring in the Christmas season, but he was to be barred from this ceremony. Kensington residents did not take this lying down.
The firefighters told the town council that they would be sending their own Santa on a fire truck, resolution or no. About 50 people showed up at the lighting ceremony in Santa suits. Protesters chanted "No Santa, No Peace!," carried signs announcing the Grinch's candidacy for mayor, and inveighed against "Mean Spirited Arrogant Santa Hating Liberals."
Some less jolly protesters briefly held a banner that read, "If Jews can ban Santa, why can't we ban Jews?" But one Santa ripped it down, which drew cheers from a crowd that, presumably, didn't want its message to be tinged with anti-Semitism.
This ruckus was only the latest in a long line of skirmishes all over the country between those who want Christmas to be a very public celebration and those (like Maureen Dowd) who are at least vaguely put off by the whole experience. Before you had red states and blue states, you had Season's Greetings or Happy Holidays vs. Merry Christmas.
And there, my fellow reporters, should you choose to accept it, is your assignment: Chronicle the cultural conflicts that this blessed time of year sets off. Here are a few leads for this go-round:
1) The mayor of Denver has decided to change the city's greetings from "Merry Christmas" to "Happy Holidays" and ban a church group from marching and singing carols in the annual "Holiday of Lights" parade. Syndicated columnist Michelle Malkin has started a lump of coal campaign to try to embarrass him into reversing the decision.
2) The Committee to Save Merry Christmas is calling for a boycott of all Federated Department Stores over the chain's decision to move toward the "Happy Holidays" usage. (Some discretion is being allowed to individual stores but the chain does encourage those members to err in a multicultural direction.) The chain includes Bloomingdale's and Macy's.
I'm hopeful that good religion reporting will find a few gems this Christmas season. For sheer pith and vinegar, it would be hard to top the Baltimore Sun's "Mean Spirited Arrogant Santa Hating Liberals," but they don't call it the most wonderful time of the year for nothing.