South Mississippians Work To Keep Christ In Christmas

Should Jesus Christ and Christian themes remain part of the Christmas holiday season? The answer to that question is "no", according to several groups like the A.C.L.U., which is pushing for the exclusion of religious themes in public places saying it could offend or violate the rights of non-Christians.

Those sentiments aren't shared by many in South Mississippi.

Everyone who enters Salmugundi's Gifts this time of year hears the same greeting.

"Merry Christmas!" shouts Jennie Stevenson at one her customers.

Stevenson is bothered by talk of secularizing Christmas, or excluding religion from the holiday.

"I think it's a ridiculous debate," said Stevenson. "That's what Christmas is. That's what it's about. Without that, there is no Christmas."

Stevenson also doesn't buy into the theory that non-Christians find the holiday's religious themes offensive.

"I don't know of anyone who's offended by wishing someone a Merry Christmas," says Stevenson. "I have a lot of non-Christian friends and they're always wishing people a Merry Christmas. It's a joyous holiday for everyone."

The people at Coast Community Bank feel the same way. CEO D'Auby Schiel says the bank uses its scrolling marquee outside to remind people of the true reason for the holiday season.

"The reason behind the season is the celebration of Christ," says Schiel. "The debate of whether one should or shouldn't keep Christ in Christmas is absurd because, of course, Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Christ."

He may not have an electric marquee, but people who pass by Billy Witchen's house get the message. Witchen has a nativity displayed with a sign over it which reads: "Whose birthday are you celebrating?"

Witchen says he decided to put up this display while Christmas shopping eight years ago.

"I kept hearing people talking about Santy Claus and telling their kids Santy Claus, Santy Claus, Santy Claus," says Witchen. "I never heard any of them mention this is the birth of Christ. We can go and do what we want to, but when we cast Christ out of the picture, out of our life, we're headed for serious trouble."

Most people say they don't think religion will ever fully be removed from the holiday season, but Witchen and others say whether its putting up a nativity in their yards, store front windows, or simply saying Merry Christmas, they'll do everything they can to keep Christ in Christmas.