Column One

It's the Christmas-Hanukkah season, but you wouldn't know it from the newspaper ads and polite conversation.

"Happy Holidays," they say, so no one will be offended. Not being offensive seems to be the new cultural norm. So, rather than acknowledge anybody's special event -- if it even hints of religion -- we acknowledge none of them.

Many Americans who don't necessarily feel close to God have felt a lot closer since Sept. 11. But some groups and individuals apparently think we should feel less religious, not more and that's playing out in how we celebrate our most cherished holidays.

Public displays of the Nativity scene, for instance, are all but forbidden in some places. And to those who see him only as a religious icon, even Santa Claus is persona non grata.

A school in New Jersey cancelled a field trip to see the classic Charles Dickens play, A Christmas Carol, because one parent complained of its, "Christian theme." Excuse me, but the last time I saw the play, it had three ghosts, not one of whom was holy.

So what did the school substitute for A Christmas Carol? A play called The Great Railroad Race. The story of a Chinese immigrant, an Irish immigrant and a runaway slave who helped build the Trans-Continental Railroad. In other words, "diversity." Get it?  Of course, if I were an Italian immigrant I might feel left out.

I wonder if the immigrants and runaway slave celebrated Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa.

We'll never know. It might offend somebody if we even asked.