On second reading, the news release that arrived by e-mail last week sounded suspiciously like a satire straight from “The Onion,” the wicked, fake newspaper/Web site.

This one, though, lacked a witty sense of irony.

“With the recent president election showing political correctness is offending millions of Americans, the Committee to Save Merry Christmas today announced a national boycott against Macy’s and Federated Department Stores for the 2004 Christmas season,” began the submission, distributed by the Christian Wire Service.

“Macy’s and Federated have ignored several requests that ‘Merry Christmas’ signs be returned and posted in Federated stores and that their advertising both acknowledge and respect the time-honored phrase, ‘Merry Christmas.’ ”

Boycott instigator Manuel Zamorano, who lives near Sacramento, Calif., grumbles that Macy’s and its sibling stores, such as Bloomingdale’s, have “systematically removed references to Merry Christmas” in favor of the more generic “Season’s Greetings” and “Happy Holidays.” This, he growls, “is offensive to the sensibilities of millions of average Americans.”

I’m all for consumers speaking with their pocketbooks. It’s one of those forces that influences markets and holds potential to achieve much good. But this attempt to rejuvenate the meaning of Christmas via department store decorations is so misguided that the only appropriate response is a resounding “Ho-ho-ho.”

Judging from Zamorano’s Web site, it appears that he has been soliciting attention for his quixotic escapade for months, portraying the trend toward more inclusive holiday greetings as bigotry by which merchants deny the existence of Christmas while gleefully counting their change like Ebeneezer Scrooge.

Though it’s unlikely that this harrumphing will nick Federated’s bottom line (more than $15 billion in annual sales), the company did put out a statement noting that it allows its stores to choose their own advertising and that most national retailers prefer more generic greetings because they “are more reflective of the multicultural society in which we live today.”

The idealist would say that the public in general rightly recognizes that not everyone celebrates Christmas and that embracing this reality spreads goodwill rather than diminishing the Christian observance.

The cynic would say that retailers understand the tangible value of appealing to every possible disposable-income constituency, the more the merrier.

The realist would say that restoring “Merry Christmas” to the halls of Macy’s or any other store couldn’t begin to stymie the commercialism that took over the holiday decades ago.

And whether the banners wish you a “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays,” peace on Earth remains a worthwhile but elusive goal.

Weary, forlorn families continue to seek that figurative room at the inn — whether in the form of a home, a job, spiritual comfort or hope for a better life.

Those who want to remember the reason for the season won’t find it at the mall at all.

Try the Gospel of Luke, wherein the angel visits shepherds abiding in the field.

“And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

As Linus would say, “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”

Linda P. Campbell is columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

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