Maggie Gallagher

Swinging past Law Park en route to downtown Briarcliff Manor, N.Y., this morning, the corner was bare. The tall pine, formerly decorated with lights, was dark. The menorah? Also gone, after a federal judge's ruling: Either let a local resident add a Christmas creche, or take the whole thing down. The disgruntled town officials chose the latter.

I don't actually live in Briarcliff Manor anymore, but most mornings find me in the village diner, sipping coffee and reading the New York Post. This is the year, in other words, the Christmas wars came home.

In Seattle, it was not baby Jesus but the threat of a menorah that prompted harried airport managers to pull down all Christmas decorations. After a raft of negative publicity, the holiday trees came back (with a promise of a menorah next year).

In Warwick, N.J., after one parent objected, the local school district hastily changed "Breakfast With Santa" to "Winter Wonderland Breakfast." (The mom is still not happy, though, because Santa was allowed to attend, along with Frosty and the Gingerbread Man). In Yorktown, N.Y., the local school board issued guidelines welcoming Santa and other "secular" symbols, including menorahs, so long as the menorahs are not actually lighted. Apparently a light bulb is all that separates an innocuous secular symbol from a radioactive religious one. This exquisite line-drawing prompted a dissatisfied local resident to suggest schools display a creche with baby Jesus absent: Would that be the legal equivalent of an unlighted menorah? Coming soon to a federal courthouse near you.

Why all the fuss? In the spirit of the season, let us let Scrooge speak for himself:

In Seattle, according to AP, "Airport managers believed that if they allowed the addition of an 8-foot-tall menorah to the display ... they would also have to display symbols of other religions and cultures. Airport workers didn't have time to do that during the busy travel season."

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.