It was the snowflake that broke the reindeer's back. When her children's school forbade the wearing of Halloween costumes, Lisa Lowry was mum. When her children said they were discouraged from saying "Merry Christmas" lest they offend someone who doesn't observe the holiday, she was frustrated. But when her flute-playing daughter came home with music for the middle school December band concert and it included a medley of Hanukkah music--but the only nod to Christmas was "Let it Snow" and "Winter Wonderland," Lisa Lowry knew she had to do something.

"It was political correctness to the point of ridiculousness," Lowry, a mother of three, said. "I was just getting tired of it." Apparently, other parents in her town of Scarborough, Maine, were tired of it, too.

"For me, it is not about religion," said Doreen Duval-Flaherty, another mother who joined Lowry to help bring Christmas back to Scarborough public schools. Duval-Flaherty describes herself as spiritual but not religious and says she doesn't even attend church except to see friends' children in Christmas pageants. "It's a free speech and fairness issue. If you live in fear of offending the kid sitting next to you, you will never get to know them or understand them and you won't be able to celebrate their culture as well as yours."

When Lowry, Duval-Flaherty, and several others took their concerns to school administrators, they received support from a spectrum of local parents, including those who are not Christian, or even religious. After several meetings during the fall, the parents are happy with the results. A rabbi and a minister were invited to an assembly about the December holidays, children now read Christmas as well as Hanukkah and Kwanzaa books, and Christmas trees are now welcome additions to school decorations that have long included a menorah and a Kwanzaa symbols.

Lowry and other Scarborough parents have since received supportive calls and letters from parents as far away as Texas, California and Australia. Their website,, has received more than 4,500 hits. Many supporters have described themselves as secular or religious--but not Christian. One Jewish man from New Jersey wrote to say, "God bless you all."

Keeping Christmas in the classroom has long been a crusade among conservative Christians, and every year outraged Religious Right leaders jump up and down over real and perceived Christmas slights. (Jerry Falwell, for example, this year dubbed the situation the "The impending death of Christmas" and dumped the blame on "the left" and other "spiritual Grinches of our nation," including the American Civil Liberties Union.)

But the ACLU says it isn't hatching a plot to stamp out Christmas. In 1995, the group endorsed a joint statement on religion in the public schools that was signed by Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and Sikh groups. Last year, they filed a lawsuit on behalf of a Christian student punished for distributing candy canes with religious messages. "That makes it all the more ironic that some conservative Christian groups are trying to paint the picture that the ACLU is trying to steal Christmas," says Paul Silva, an ACLU spokesman.

But this year the effort to keep "Christmas-ey" Christmas in the schools is being pushed by a new crop of people, and not just conservative Christians-perhaps because the country has reached the Christmas Tipping Point. It seems that some school districts, in an effort to survive December - a month that includes Christmas, Hanukkah, Bodhi Day, Winter Solstice, Kwanzaa, and occasionally Ramadan - have gone so far toward political correctness that Christmas has been stripped of the J-word (that would be Jesus) and turned into a consumer gala of candy canes and toys. As a result, even parents who are not Christian or in any way religiously observant have noticed how strange this is, and joined their Christian counterparts to say "enough:"

  • In suburban Chicago, parents who said they seldom attend church, joined with devout Christian parents to fight (and win) a ban on radio stations with Christmas music in school buses.

  • In Kirkland, Wash. the cancellation of a performance of "A Christmas Carol," the Charles Dickens classic, partly out of concern it would offend non-Christmas students, was protested by a spectrum of parents. They pointed out that the play's only religious reference was Tiny Tim's "God bless us, everyone." The controversy then drew the ridicule of a Seattle Times columnist who describes himself as agnostic. Another agnostic wrote the paper to say, "[p]ut on a religious play for cripes sake! The children will be better for it."
  • In Denver, church members weren't allowed to sing Christmas carols and hymns during the city's annual parade. As a result, they got phone calls and letters of support from thousands of people, including secular folks who seldom see the inside of a church.
  • In Bradenton, Fla., a school did away with all the usual December music-no "Joy to the World" or "Little Town of Bethlehem," not even "Frosty the Snowman"--and instead had the children sing patriotic songs. Parents--from various religions-objected, but the concert went forward with no holiday references.
  • In Maplewood, N.J., Christian, Jewish, and secular parents united to protest a ban on religious Christmas music from high school band and choir concerts.
    Even instrumental versions of Christmas carols and hymns were cut, drawing rage from parents of various faiths and levels of religiosity who say they aren't about to allow Bach and Handel struck from their children's musical repertoire.