Christmas trees are going up all over America, except in some places where shadowy and mysterious forces seem to be fighting it.

Seriously. Take for example the Coca-Cola Santa. For 74 years he has been a fixture of Coca-Cola advertising during the weeks just before Christmas.

The Coke Santa is a classic. But as of 2005 he is no more on Coca-Cola packaging.

That means Santa has been evicted from cans, glass bottles and two liter plastic bottles. And he's been replaced by polar bears.

The polar bear has always been a Coke favorite, in conjunction with Santa. But now the bear is carrying on the Christmas tradition alone.

Now some of you may remember that I brought this up a week or so ago and reported that Coke corporate told me, "No, no way. Santa is still there."

But Monday I called one of those customer service hotlines posing as a plain old customer and the person there told me Santa is not on the 2005 packages, but he might return in 2006 on what would be his 75th anniversary with Coke.

In the meantime, Santa's only 2005 Christmas season appearance on behalf of Coke will be on point of sale signs and banners. But he's gone from the can or bottle.

So what is the real deal here?

It certainly does smell like Santa is being banished.

We're going to pursue this with Coke and see why Santa wasn't on cans or bottles.

But I suspect I know.

As I have written about in my book "The War on Christmas," Santa is being declared a religious symbol by a lot of secularists who are trying to push Christmas out of public displays or trying to suppress Christmas.

Santa has been banned in schools, libraries, public parks and city halls all across the country by people who say he symbolizes a Christian holiday — Christmas — therefore he is a Christian symbol and offends some non-Christians.

This will come as a surprise to most Christians who do not view Santa as a symbol of their religion. And to many Christians it is an example of how any hint of Christmas, a Christian holiday, has become forbidden in some places.

Evidently, one of those places might be a can of Coke.

That's My Word.

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