Emboldened by Election Day successes, some Christian conservatives around the country are trying to put more Christ into Christmas this season. In Terrebonne Parish, La., an organization is petitioning...

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Emboldened by Election Day successes, some Christian conservatives around the country are trying to put more Christ into Christmas this season.

In Terrebonne Parish, La., an organization is petitioning to add “Merry Christmas” to the red-lighted “Season’s Greetings” sign on the main government building and is selling yard signs that read: “We believe in God. Merry Christmas.”

A Raleigh, N.C., church recently paid $7,600 for a full-page newspaper ad urging Christians to spend their money only with merchants who include the greeting “Merry Christmas” in ads and displays.

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“There is a revival taking place in our nation that is causing Christian and right-minded people to say, ‘Wait a minute. We’ve gone too far,’ ” says the Rev. Patrick Wooden Sr., pastor of the Raleigh church.

“We’re not going to allow the country to continue this downward spiral to the left.”

In California, a group called the Committee to Save Merry Christmas is boycotting Macy’s and its corporate parent, Federated Department Stores, accusing them of replacing “Merry Christmas” signs with ones wishing shoppers “Season’s Greetings” or “Happy Holidays.”

The organization cites “the recent presidential election showing political correctness is offending millions of Americans.”

Federated says that it has no ban on such greetings, that its store divisions can advertise as they see fit and that store clerks are free to wish any customer “Merry Christmas.” Macy’s says its ads commonly use the phrase.

The push from the religious right troubles the Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

“This mixing of secular and religious symbols ought to be seen as a bad thing, not a good thing, for Christian believers,” he says. “Unfortunately, some of the Christian pressure groups seem to have it backward.”

He adds: “I think it’s fair to say it’s a mistaken notion that they have a mandate to put more Nativity scenes up because George Bush was elected.”

For years, public schools across the country organized carol sings and “Secret Santa” gift exchanges, sometimes to the dismay of Jewish or Muslim students. City halls did not shy away from “decking their halls” as Dec. 25 inched closer.

But after years of lawsuits that caused schools and local governments to pull back from such celebration, critics say the result has been a commercialization of the holiday season that overshadows faith and culture.

Many agree Christmas has become synonymous with the cash register instead of the crèche. In 2000, the last time the question was posed by the Gallup Organization, 75 percent of Americans polled said there is not enough emphasis on the religious basis of Christmas. Eight-five percent said the holiday was too commercialized.

The “keep the Christ in Christmas” contingent is particularly agitated this year over what its members see as a troubling trend on Main Street: Target stores banning Salvation Army bell ringers; UPS drivers complaining to a free-speech group that they have been told not to wish people a “Merry Christmas” (an accusation UPS denies as “silly on its face and just not true”); and major corporations barring religious music from cubicles and renaming the office Christmas bash the “end of the year” party.

“I think it is part of a growing movement of people with more traditional values, which make up the majority of people in this country, saying enough is enough,” says Greg Scott, a spokesman for the Arizona-based Alliance Defense Fund.

Amid stories of schools banning the singing of carols on buses, Scott’s group has distributed to more than 5,000 schools a seven-point legal primer citing 40 years of case law that says it is OK to mention Christmas in public places. And the group has about 800 lawyers waiting in the wings in case that notion needs to be reinforced.

To that same end, the Virginia-based Rutherford Institute, which says it received the UPS driver complaints, has reissued its “12 Rules of Christmas,” guidelines for allowing the religious significance of Christmas to be celebrated and taught.

“I think the businesses and the schools have just gone too far; this is the final straw,” says John Whitehead, president of the institute. “It’s supposed to be a time of, what?, peace and freedom and fun. And they’ve kind of made it into a secular … kind of gray day.”

Lynn Mistretta of Scarborough, Maine, whose 9-year-old son told her he felt uncomfortable wishing his classmates a “Merry Christmas,” says the dispute is about cultural diversity and tolerance.

“Our children are feeling really repressed, they are intimidated about saying ‘Merry Christmas,’ ” says Mistretta, co-founder of the Web site www.bringbackchristmas.org.

“Whether you love it, hate it, or ignore it, it is,” she says. “Do I want my children to hear in school that Christians celebrate Christmas as the birth of Christ? Yes. Do I also accept that non-Christians don’t believe that? Yes. But to sweep it under the rug breeds shame and disrespect.”

Change can’t come soon enough for Jim Finnegan, an activist with the God Squad, which has erected a life-size Nativity scene in Chicago’s Daley Center Plaza for nearly 20 years despite outcries from the American Civil Liberties Union and others.

“The Christians seem to stay silent on this,” he says. “But people are beginning to wake up.”