Maggie Gallagher
This first Sunday in Advent, the time when we Christians wait in joyful hope for the birth of Christ, the priest at my local Tarrytown (N.Y.) church had a special message for us: "When you buy Christmas cards, don't get that snowman junk. Get a nice Renaissance painting of the birth of Christ. Add a few angels to the Santas and reindeers on the Christmas tree. And oh yes, each year the government issues a religious stamp at Christmas. Be sure to ask for those. If they don't sell them, they won't make any more."

At times like these, you gotta love being Catholic. I mean, here is a guy who has given up sex, money and personal autonomy for Christ's sake, and all he asks me to do is march down to the post office and demand the Madonna stamp? Yeah. I can handle that.

I had already bought a nice Bouguereau "Madonna and Child," surrounded by choruses of blindingly white angels, so I was covered on the Christmas card front. And as a backup, I armed myself with a second, guerrilla Christmas card set: "Merry Whatever," the card says, while underneath a paper doll cutout of a jolly bearded guy boasts an interchangeable set of looks: a Santa suit, a blue Hanukkah rabbi and a drunken New Year's reveler.

As the mere existence of a card like that suggests, the priest had a serious point to make. Christmas, like other erstwhile holy days, is in grave danger of being sanitized of all outward religious meaning, especially in the public square. And I don't mean crushed by materialism -- the tinsel, the lights, the gaudy decorations, the greedy festival of gift-giving which (in the humble, totally lay opinion of yours truly) is not an entirely unfitting way to celebrate the day God materialized anyway.

No, the problem is what The Becket Fund's Kevin Hasson calls secular fundamentalism: the aggressive belief by certain people (of many different faiths or none at all) that they are entitled to feel especially aggrieved by the religious displays of others. Oddly, this particular form of bigotry often masquerades as a form of tolerance.

So the Kensington, Md., town council recently voted to ban Santa Claus from the town's annual tree-lighting ceremony. Yes, Virginia. How could this have happened?


Maggie Gallagher

Maggie Gallagher is a nationally syndicated columnist, a leading voice in the new marriage movement and co-author of The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially.