The holiday season is in full swing, and I've heard some interesting news. Can you think of a better time for an "all-out war" over semantics than this, the season of joy and peace? I know I can't!

I read the other day that a Christian group is fighting to put the "Christ" back in Christmas. They've even hired an army of mercenary-lawyers to aid their cause. Essentially, it seems they object to the phrase "Happy Holidays" (instead of "Merry Christmas") as used in greeting cards and store advertisements. Also, they are offended by the notion of "holiday trees" replacing Christmas trees.

They argue that this holiday season is really about Christmas, not any other holidays. As such, they believe that all retailers should use "Merry Christmas" advertising, and for people who do not celebrate Christmas, a spokesman said "Tough luck. This is a primarily Christian country, and we celebrate Christmas." I can tell he's just oozing tolerance and love for mankind, there.

I think it's great that people celebrate Christmas. And Hanukkah. And Kwanzaa. And Ramadan, when it happens to be in December. (I'd never fast for a month, but hey, if they want to, I'm happy for them!)

I think that the Christians who are concerned about the "Happy Holidays" trend have every right in the world to send "Merry Christmas" Christmas cards, have giant "Merry Christmas" nativity scenes in their front yards, and decorate Christmas trees while singing "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas". I do not think they have a right to threaten legal action against stores and local governments for using "Happy Holidays" advertising and erecting "Holiday trees".

Another thing about the trees....

The spokesman for the Christian group mentioned that Chirstmas trees are just that - a Christmas-only tradition. Therefore, he argued, calling one a "holiday tree" is ridiculous, as conifers are not used in celebrations of other holidays. I beg to differ with him on this point.

It is my understanding that the whole tree idea is, in fact, a pagan one. Evergreen plants have historically been seen as symbols of the sun and everlasting life, and were reputed to ward against witches, ghosts, evil spirits, and illness. Naturally, such handy plants were kept around, draped over doorways and otherwise prominently displayed during the cold, dark, and illness-ridden winter months. It seems that many non-European cultures decked the halls in winter, including the Romans and the Egyptians.

While the Germans were the first to jump on the Christmas-tree bandwagon in the 16th century, Americans used to be considerably more restrained in their Christmas celebrations. In 1659, the General Court of Massachusetts enacted a law making any observance of December 25 (other than a church service) a penal offense; people were fined for hanging decorations. This no doubt stemmed from Oliver Cromwell's preachings against "the heathen traditions" of Christmas carols, decorated trees, and any joyful expression that desecrated "that sacred event". (Yes, Oliver Cromwell was British. Americans weren't the only ones who were uptight about Christmas.) But, back to the trees, as late as the 1840s Christmas trees were seen as pagan symbols and not accepted by most Americans. It was only the "bad influence" of German and Irish settlers that finally lightened the holiday mood this side of the pond.

So, if you have a tree, a wooden pyramid with pine branches on it, or just a couple of palm fronds, display it proudly, and call it whatever you want!

*Most of the information in this post was ripped directly from The History Channel.