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'Holiday' Cards Ring Hollow for Some on Bushes' List

"It bothers me that the White House card leaves off any reference to Jesus, while we've got Ramadan celebrations in the White House," Wildmon said. "What's going on there?"

At the Catholic League, Donohue had just announced a boycott of the Lands' End catalogue when he received his White House holiday card. True, he said, the Bushes included a verse from Psalm 28, but Psalms are in the Old Testament and do not mention Jesus' birth.

"They'd better address this, because they're no better than the retailers who have lost the will to say 'Merry Christmas,' " he said.

Donohue said that Wal-Mart, facing a threatened boycott, added a Christmas page to its Web site and fired a customer relations employee who wrote a letter linking Christmas to "Siberian shamanism." He was not mollified by a letter from Lands' End saying it "adopted the 'holiday' terminology as a way to comply with one of the basic freedoms granted to all Americans: freedom of religion."

"Ninety-six percent of Americans celebrate Christmas," Donohue said. "Spare me the diversity lecture."

Diversity has been a hallmark of White House greeting cards for some time, according to Mary Evans Seeley of Tampa, Fla., author of "Season's Greetings From the White House." The last presidential Christmas card that mentioned Christmas was in 1992. It was sent by George H.W. and Barbara Bush, parents of the current president.

Seeley said the first president to send out true Christmas cards, as opposed to signed photographs or handwritten letters, was Franklin D. Roosevelt. "Merry Christmas From the President and Mrs. Roosevelt," said his first annual card, in 1933.

Like many modern touches, the generic New Year's card was introduced to the White House by John and Jacqueline Kennedy. In 1962, they had Hallmark print 2,000 cards, of which 1,800 cards said "The President and Mrs. Kennedy Wish You a Blessed Christmas" and 200 said "With Best Wishes for a Happy New Year."

Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson continued that tradition for a couple of years, but it required keeping track of Christian and non-Christian recipients. Beginning in 1966, they wished everyone a "Joyous Christmas," and no president has attempted the two-card trick since.

Seeley dates the politicization of the White House Christmas card to Richard M. Nixon, who increased the number of recipients tenfold, to 40,000, in his first year. The numbers since have snowballed, hitting 125,000 under Jimmy Carter, topping 400,000 under Bill Clinton and rising to more than a million under the current Bushes, with each president's political party paying the bill.

The wording, meanwhile, has often flip-flopped. Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter put "Merry Christmas" in their 1977 card and then switched to "Holiday Season" for the next three years. Ronald and Nancy Reagan, similarly, began with a "Joyous Christmas" in 1981 and 1982 but doled out generic holiday wishes from 1983 to 1988. The elder President Bush stayed in the "Merry Christmas" spirit all four years, and the Clintons opted for inclusive greetings for all of their eight years.

The current Bush has straddled the divide, offering generic greetings along with an Old Testament verse. To some religious conservatives, that makes all the difference.

"There's a verse from Scripture in it. I don't mind that at all, as long as we don't try to pretend we're not a nation under God," said the Rev. Jerry Falwell.


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