NEW YORK (Reuters) - Ebenezer Scrooge would enjoy Christmas in America this year. Drowning out the sounds of sleigh bells ringing and children singing are the sounds of arguing. At issue is how to greet people, how to decorate main street and how to sell gifts -- all without offending someone. Religious conservatives are threatening lawsuits and boycotts to insist that store clerks and advertisements say "Merry Christmas." Countering are those who argue they are being inclusive and inoffensive with the secular "Happy Holidays." In the middle seem to be most Americans, who not only aren't offended but find the whole spat rather ridiculous. "You'd think there might be some Christmas spirit around Christmas time around the issue of Christmas," said Paul Cantor, a popular culture expert and professor at the University of Virginia. "It's one time you really wish people really could live and let live." Alas, that's not what this Christmas is all about. Sparks flew when U.S. President George W. Bush sent out cards referring to the "holiday season," a leading Republican declared the decorated tree on the Capitol lawn a "Christmas Tree" and not a "Holiday Tree" and the logger who cut down the tree for the Boston Common was so upset when officials called it a "Holiday Tree" that he said he'd rather see it fed into a wood chipper. "HANGING OF THE GREENS" Conservative groups have marshaled the forces of lawyers volunteering to help anyone fighting for Christmas displays and launched boycotts of retailers whose advertisements fail to say "Merry Christmas." A school system in Texas found itself in court after teachers asked children to bring white -- rather than red and green -- napkins to a party, while Annapolis, Maryland raised hackles by calling its evergreen boughs and ribbons on public buildings the "Hanging of the Greens" rather than "Christmas decorations." Fanning the flames are conservative talk show personalities bemoaning the secularization of Christmas. Fox News anchor John Gibson chimed in with a book "The War on Christmas: How the Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday is Worse than You Thought." "'Happy Holidays' and 'Season's Greetings' are not a substitute for 'Merry Christmas,'" said Manuel Zamorano, head of the Sacramento, California-based Committee to Save Merry Christmas, which organizes store boycotts over holiday advertising. "Christmas is the holiday and 'Merry Christmas' is what we want to hear," he said. "It's political correctness gone amok." BLAME POLITICS Bah humbug, said radio talk show host Bill Press, author of "How the Republicans Stole Christmas." "People have been saying 'Happy Holidays' for a hundred years at least," he said. "This is nothing new. It just celebrates the diversity of America." He blames politics. "It is all by design," he said. "The more people are talking about who's saying 'Happy Holidays' and who's saying 'Merry Christmas,' the less people are talking about Karl Rove, torture, Tom DeLay, the war in Iraq and other hot issues. "And the more they stir up their evangelical Christian base over this issue, the more likely they are to get out and vote Republican in 2006," he said. The debate has become comic grist. "Every time you say 'Happy Holidays,' an angel gets AIDS," warned television comedian Jon Stewart. The satirical newspaper The Onion wrote a spoof about a judge who declared Christmas unconstitutional, with a photograph purporting to be workers dismantling the famed tree at Rockefeller Center to comply with the judge's ruling. Making the rounds on the Internet is a series of mock memos from a fake company inviting employees to a Christmas Party, complete with open bar, gift exchange and tree lighting. By the last of the memos, the increasingly beleaguered company is forced to apologize to its Jewish employees, the office alcoholics, Muslims, dieters, pregnant women, gays and lesbians, union" members, management, cross-dressers, diabetics and vegetarians. In the end, the party is canceled. RETAILERS IN THE MIDDLE Stuck in the middle of the debate are retailers, whose seasonal selling campaigns seem to raise particular wrath. "When someone says 'Happy Holidays,' they're saying something very nice to you. There's no ill intent behind any of this," said Dan Butler of the National Retail Federation. "When you're dealing with the public you'll get positive comments and negative comments about everything in the world." Perhaps, added Peter Steinfels of the Center on Religion and Culture at Fordham University, there isn't a war on Christmas after all but a more sensitive religious right. Conservatives are using the super-fast Internet and e-mail to publicize what they see as extreme examples of "super politically correct conduct," he said. "It gives the impression that there's a great deal of political correctness ... when in fact it may not really be so different from the way it's always been."