Tuesday, October 21st, 2014

Fact-checks of Christmases past

The official White House Christmas tree for 2012 stands in the Blue Room. (AP photo)
The official White House Christmas tree for 2012 stands in the Blue Room. (AP photo)

Here’s a roundup of our favorite Christmas fact-checks of holidays past. Pass the eggnog!

Christmas trees are grown in all 50 States. (True) Here’s a festive fact that turned up in a 2011 resolution for  "National Christmas Tree Week." Our fact-checking colleagues in Oregon — the No. 1 producer of firs, pines and spruce — wondered if it were true that every state produces them. Tropical Hawaii? Sunny New Mexico? It turns out every state grows trees, even if they don’t all have tree farms. Get out your chain saw!

The Obama White House is renaming Christmas trees "holiday trees." (Pants on Fire) A chain email said that the Obama White House was renaming Christmas trees "holiday trees" as part of a "war against Christmas." The evidence? A letter that didn’t exist — oh, and wasn’t remotely accurate. "There will be no name changes," a spokeswoman told us. So all this chain email deserved was a lump of coal.

Our "kids can’t openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school." (False) Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s presidential primary run included a TV ad claiming that President Barack Obama was (you guessed it!) waging war on religion. So, can kids pray and openly celebrate Christmas in school? Absolutely. Public school officials are barred from advancing a religion or making children pray or celebrate solely the Christian aspects of Christmas — very different from whether kids themselves are allowed to pray and celebrate.

Says the Texas State Board of Education is considering eliminating references to Christmas and the Constitution in textbooks. (Pants on Fire) The Texas State Board of Education’s 2010 discussion of how history, government and economics in are taught in Texas schools attracted the attention of  "Fox & Friends" co-anchor Gretchen Carlson.  She sounded scandalized by what the network dubbed the "Texas Textbook Wars." One of the proposed changes, she said, was "actually to start history class in the year 1877, which would be a big problem for a lot of people, would it not? And eliminate references to certain holidays, Founding Fathers, the Constitution! I mean, no surprise that Christmas, they want to get rid of that because they've been doing that for the last couple of years, but c'mon, the Constitution?" But the board was hammering out changes to state curriculum standards, not textbooks. It wasn’t considering removing Christmas from a list of various religious holidays. And it never considered removing the Constitution from history textbooks or the state's curriculum. Whoops.

"No federal official at any level is currently allowed to say ‘Merry Christmas.’" (Pants on Fire) Newt Gingrich fired up his presidential primary supporters in Iowa, saying "no federal official at any level is currently allowed to say ‘Merry Christmas.’" But guidelines in force for more than 15 years give substantial freedom for personal religious expression in the federal workplace, and neither those guidelines nor federal law includes anything like an outright ban on a federal official saying, "Merry Christmas." And rules don’t not abridge the right of any member of Congress or congressional employee to speak the words. Indeed, we found examples where they did.

"When the country was founded, Congress had exactly the same attitude about the sanctity of Christmas celebrations that a 7-Eleven does today: 'Yeah, we're open.'" (Pants on Fire) Jon Stewart, ridiculing Fox News' coverage last year of the "War on Christmas," repeated a claim by the History channel that Congress met nearly every Christmas Day from 1789 to 1856. The ACLU made the same claim, based on a magazine article. But daily records showed the complete opposite, with just one exception each for the House and Senate. So the assertion that Congress met virtually every Christmas during that period is completely false. The idea that members would do so when there's a 1 in 7 chance that Dec. 25 would fall on a Sunday made this idea ridiculous.

And it’s warm enough to toast some chestnuts. Cheers!