Video: The Christmas culture wars

By Mike Taibbi Correspondent
NBC News
updated 12/13/2005 7:51:55 PM ET 2005-12-14T00:51:55

Guide Sybil Groff at Rockefeller Center is careful to label her December tour "Gothamtide," but says visitors from every religion come here for one reason. 

"Because they feel that this is the capital of Christmas culture," she says. “Christmas” culture, not the culture of "Seasons Greetings" or "Happy Holidays" — the kind of all-inclusive neutral language that even emanates from the Bush White House.

But this year there are more retailers again trumpeting Christmas sales and more public Christmas celebrations, despite what the official programs say. That’s because, as Encinitas, Calif., Mayor Dan Dalager says, pointing to a childhood photo in his family lawnmower shop, he never marched in a "holiday" parade.

"People say, ‘Well, how dare you change it,’ Dalager says, “”I keep telling them, ‘I didn't change it, I changed it back.’”

Christian groups and their lawyers have made it plain they're ready to file suit or call for boycotts against anyone they feel is trying to take the “Christ" out of Christmas.

"We are, for the first time, on offense,” says Christian televangelist Jerry Falwell, “and we're kicking their butt out of the arena."

But those like Barry Lynn, of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, who say your tax dollars shouldn't be used to celebrate Christmas alone, have not backed off.

"If you have to go to city hall to get spiritual in this season,” Lynn says, “you need to find a different church to go to."

If the debate this year seems edgier — angrier — some observers on both sides suggest it's because the broader cultural war, beyond that debate, is more heated than ever.

"There are people on both sides of these fights," says Charles Haynes of the First Amendment Center, "that have a stake in keeping the culture war going. They raise money, they raise emotion."

So, laugh if you will, but Charlie Brown's annual Christmas special's question, "Isn't there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?" still doesn't have an answer that satisfies everyone.

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