Scottsdale City Hall receptionist Shirley Lehner does her best to spread Christmas cheer — a job that has become increasingly difficult in recent years.
The government lobby where she works no longer displays a Christmas tree, as in past seasons. Workers no longer paint City Hall windows with Christmas images. And fewer people passing by her desk say "Merry Christmas."
Lehner said Christmas has come under attack, and she feels obligated as a Christian to fight back.
"If anybody wants to say ‘Happy Holidays,’ let them say it," Lehner said. "But I’m saying ‘Merry Christmas.’ "
The Alliance Defense Fund in Scottsdale has also noticed the attack on Christmas and blames the movement on a "small and radical minority" that wants to eliminate religion from public places — even though a 2000 Gallup poll shows 96 percent of Americans celebrate Christmas.
"People are spreading the idea that you’ve got to be ashamed of Christmas," said Alliance Defense Fund staff counsel Dale Schowengerdt. "That’s nonsensical."
Evidence of the movement toward political correctness abounds in the East Valley.
In Gilbert, shoppers can find a 6-foot artificial "winter tree" for just $29.99 at a common chain drug store. The tree would work as a Christmas decoration, but the box never says so.
Guests at McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park in Scottsdale can enjoy more than 100,000 "holiday lights" through Jan. 1 — but not on Christmas or Christmas Eve, as the lights are off those nights because they are city holidays.
Meanwhile, a string of greeting cards on display in the Chandler High School lobby wish visitors "Happy Holidays" and "Season’s Greetings" but not Merry Christmas.
At the post office in downtown Gilbert, shoppers can take advantage of extended "holiday hours" to purchase "holiday stamps" for Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Eid and Christmas. But the federal facility makes no other reference to Christmas.
Many East Valley advertisers also go out of their way to avoid the word "Christmas."
Kohl’s and The Home Depot, for example, both sell "holiday stocking stuffers" and never mention Christmas in their radio ads. Store windows at Radio Shack inside Chandler Fashion Center simply say "Happy Holidays."
Radio commercials for Albertson’s grocers even eliminate Christmas from Charles Dickens’ 1843 classic, "A Christmas Carol." Instead of referring to the Ghost of Christmas Past, Albertson’s tells shoppers about the "Ghost of Holidays Past."
A corporate spokeswoman for Albertson’s in Boise, Idaho, did not return calls last week for comment. Neither did the Arizona chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, which the Alliance Defense Fund identifies as a leader in the movement to eliminate religion from public life.
Rebecca Stenholm, a marketer for Westcor Shopping Centers, said Westcor malls use "Happy Holidays" in their decorations instead of "Merry Christmas" because store managers want to be inclusive of mall guests who come from diverse backgrounds. She pointed out that all Westcor malls still offer photograph opportunities with Santa Claus and display Christmas decorations such as wreaths.
"They want it to be a comfortable environment for anyone," Stenholm said.
But David Land, senior pastor at New Life Assembly of God Church in Mesa, said the attempt to include some groups in society will always result in the exclusion of others. He said people who want to eliminate references to Jesus Christ from public places can only succeed at the expense of people who value open discussion and acknowledgement of religion.
"Why does one group get its rights, but not another," he said. "We have rejected our roots."
Land said the final straw for him came this year when he noticed the "winter trees" on sale at a local drug store. He returned to his church and posted the following message on the marquee at University and Country Club drives: "We are not ashamed to use the word Christmas."
"Without Christmas, there is no holiday," he said. "There is no season’s greetings. Everyone who believes in Christmas needs to make his voice heard."