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December Holiday Season Starts Annual Controversy

It is holiday season again -- what is jokingly called "Christmakwanzuka" -- because Christmas, Kwanzaa and Hanukkah are all celebrated in December. It is a festive time of year in the U.S., filled with decorations, including the one of the holiday's main symbols -- the Christmas tree -- as well as shopping, gift giving and parties.

But in a country where the constitution mandates the separation of church and state, efforts have been made in recent years to make sure non-Christians are not offended by the open celebration of a Christian holiday. Now, many things associated with Christmas are often referred to as "holiday." As Amy Katz reports, there is controversy about the issue.

Capitol Hill -- the home of the U.S. Congress -- where in recent years, a tree has been called the holiday tree. But this year, the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives asked that it be called the Christmas tree.

On the streets of Washington, some people agree with his decision and others don't. This man provided his thoughts on the matter, "Christmas represents Christ and this country was actually built on the religion of Christianity."

A woman countered, "I think that it's inappropriate that the name was changed to Christmas tree."

In the northwestern state of Oregon, students are rehearsing for their holiday -- not Christmas -- concert. Joel Karn, their choir director, says it was his choice.

"We haven't been told to call it that. I just like to stay safe, I guess. You know, especially in public school, like I say, I don't want anyone to be offended."

Stores have taken similar precautions -- banning any reference to Christmas. But Christian conservatives -- like Don Wildmon -- are not pleased. He says, "Tough luck. This is an overwhelmingly Christian country."

A number of national retailers have responded -- once again calling Christmas trees just that -- and instead of wishing people "Happy Holidays," they are wishing them a "Merry Christmas."

In Oregon, that's good news for James Autry, who runs a Christian radio station.

"I want to go up to everybody and say, "Hey, Merry Christmas."

One we asked one woman on the streets of Oregon, she agrees, "I think that we should all be happy with our religious heritage and not about offending people of other religions."

However, a man added, "We tend to forget that it is the birth of Christ that a lot people are trying to celebrate around Christmas and it seems that we're trying to hide the baby."

Charles Schiffman, who is with an Oregon Jewish organization, says understanding is what is important.

"I celebrate all people who want to make their religion meaningful to them, and I think that is what we should do with this holiday season. And I am not offended by the celebration of Christmas, and I would hope that my neighbors would not be offended by the fact that I celebrate other holidays."

For some that may mean singing seasonal songs, chosen not offend. And for others that may mean -- calling a Christmas tree, a Christmas tree.