Andrew Gumbel in Los Angeles ACROSS America, the tinsel and the illuminated reindeer are already festooned across mall entrances and pedestrian shopping streets.
Nativity scenes are going up in front yards in every neighbourhood across the land, and carolers will soon be going door to door to offer harmonic cheer to their fellow men.
And yet, to believe a growing band of Christian conservatives, Christmas is far from alive and well in the land of the free. In fact, they say, it is in grave peril. Secular liberals, in the view of this noisy minority, have declared a "war on Christmas" and won't stop until baby Jesus has been thoroughly stomped and eliminated from the holiday season altogether.
Even the White House, which has sent out its annual Christmas card wishing a happy "holiday season", has not been spared the slings and arrows. Laura Bush, the First Lady, was overheard saying "Happy Holidays" the other day.
President George Bush "claims to be a born-again, evangelical Christian. But he sure doesn't act like one," said Joseph Farah, editor of the conservative Web site WorldNetDaily.com. "I threw out my White House card as soon as I got it."
So far, 600,000 people have signed a boycott petition sponsored by the American Family Association against the Target chain, because the discount department store insists on writing "Happy Holidays" rather than "Happy Christmas" in its advertising copy.
John Gibson, of Fox News, even has a book out on the subject - 'The War On Christmas: How The Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday is Worse Than You Thought.'
One might be forgiven for seeing a touch of paranoia here. American government officials, schools and retail outlets have been using non-specific terms for the Christmas season for years, the rationale not being to offend anyone's religious sensibilities, but rather, in a country where almost one-quarter of the citizens are non-Christians, the precise opposite.
Until very recently, nobody objected to this. The Bush Christmas card has traditionally included best wishes for a holiday season, rather than Christmas wishes, "because they are sent to people of all faiths", said a spokeswoman. (© Independent News Service)