It has become an annual tradition as predictable as Black Friday discounts, and nearly as profitable.

Every year, conservative talk show hosts work themselves into a frenzy and authors hit the road with books about a “war on Christmas,” where government Grinches hide under beds in an attempt to end religious freedom in ’Merica.

The war on that war visited the Mall of America Friday in the guise of Sarah Palin, whose new book, “Good Tidings and Great Joy: Protecting the Heart of Christmas,” works that familiar terrain harder than an elf on the Furby production line.

Palin’s theme (besides “show me the money”) might be something like this: “The war on Christmas is the tip of the spear in a larger battle to secularize our culture and make true religious freedom a thing of the past.”

Really? Someone is killing Christmas? I decided to investigate.

I wasn’t 10 feet into the mall when I noticed something I hadn’t seen last time: four shiny trees framing the hallway. They looked suspiciously like something we used to call “Christmas trees.” I decided to press on.

I stopped next at Great American Cookies and asked if they had any Christmas cookies. They did not.

“Might as well call it Great American Atheist Cookies,” I grumbled.

Speaking of atheists, one of my favorite lines from Palin’s book is: “An angry atheist with a lawyer is one of the most powerful persons in America.” It’s a concept I find ludicrous, unless, of course, the lawyer is Joe Friedberg.

Another favorite book quote: “Atheism’s track record makes the Spanish Inquisition look like Disneyland by comparison,” Palin wrote.

I guess I missed the Disney ride It’s a Small, Brutal, Bloody World.

Anyway, down the hall I spotted Love From Minnesota, and my heart lifted. Prominently displayed in the entry were piles of sweaters. Christmas sweaters. They actually used the feared word on their sign. Love indeed.

More hope came from Caribou Coffee, which featured something called a Ho Ho Mint Mocha. Well, at least it’s Christmas-like.

Down the way a woman at Ragstock was decorating the place in colors that suggested they might be celebrating something. A huge sign said: “Ugly Christmas Sweaters.” The place was jammed with red-and-white doodads. I told the woman Palin was warning against the death of Christmas.

She laughed. “Not exactly a shortage of tinsel in here,” she said. “Ridiculous.”

As I approached the rotunda, where perhaps 30 people had lined up early to get Palin’s book signed, I couldn’t help but notice two trees that soared three stories above the stage. Several security guards stood nearby. A line from Palin’s book came to me: “You don’t have to be intimidated by the political correctness police.”

These must be the PC cops, I thought. I decided to take a chance, certain they would throw me to the ground and cuff me for using the forbidden word.

“How long have the Christmas trees been up?” I asked.

“Oh, about two weeks,” said a guard.

Determined to find this war on Christmas, I went to the line where people waited for Palin, who suggests in the book that we need to return to the “traditions and true meaning” of the holiday.

There was a long list of “guidelines” for her visit. No “personalized” signatures. No blankets or chairs. No tampering with wristbands. No leaving the line. No photos.

The only pictures allowed would be the ones taken by Palin’s photographer, which people could then buy for $15.99 and $29.99, you know, in the true spirit of the season.

Then I turned around and saw it. A store perhaps 20 feet away. In the window was a sign that said Callister’s Christmas.

The store was packed with Christmas angels and Christmas wreaths and Christmas stars and Christmas crosses and even a manger, complete with Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus.

Someone had obviously forgotten to tell the PC police to close this place down. Looking out from Callister’s to the rotunda, you could see the line growing of the gullible to buy a cynical book that tries to scare people into thinking Christmas is being stolen from them.

Just then Santa walked by on a break from his chair down the hall. I asked him if he thought Christmas would ever go away.

“I hope not,” said Santa. “Too many good kids.”

I told him about Palin’s allegations of a war on Christmas, and then pointed to Callister’s.

“Talk about irony,” said Santa as he walked away.

I felt suddenly filled with the spirit. Not only was Christmas permeating every corner of the mall, I had found a Santa who understood irony.

As I left the mall, a Salvation Army bell ringer was changing kettles because her first one was full. Shoppers were giving eagerly to people they didn’t know, people who needed a helping hand, the kind of people mocked by Palin.

As I passed, the bell ringer looked me square in the eye. “Merry Christmas,” she said.


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