WASHINGTON, Dec. 7, 2005 — -- Every year around this time, the president and first lady send out cards to a million and a half of their closest friends and supporters. But this year, instead of spreading holiday cheer, the cards have opened up a political rift.
"For over two millennia, Christmas has carried the message that God is with us," President Bush said at the tree-lighting ceremony.
He is the most popular president among conservative Christians, but the greeting card he sent out this year was not Christian -- or Christmasy -- enough for some.
The card -- with a photo of the family pets, a gold seal, and scripture from the Old Testament -- reads "Best Wishes for the Holiday Season" and not "Merry Christmas."
That infuriated William Donahue of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights.
"At a time when a lot of Christians today are very upset about the way our society is dumbing down Christmas," he said, "they certainly don't want to see the president of the United States chiming in. We know he is a man of courage, so why is he giving in to the forces of political correctness?"
It's that secular "Happy Holidays" phrase Donohue's and other groups can't stand. They also can't stand its generic twin "Seasons Greetings." In recent years they've organized boycotts of stores like Macy's and Target for failing to mention Christmas by name.
"Prior to Clinton," Donahue said, "none of the presidents had a problem saying Christmas at Christmas time. Now Bush is pulling a Clinton. I expected more from this guy."
Well that's not quite right. Both Presidents Carter and Reagan sometimes sent cards that never said Christmas. In short, President Bush is not alone.
By the way -- a devout Christian he may be -- but we checked and President Bush almost never explicitly says the words "Jesus" or "Christ" out loud in public. A rare exception: When asked in a political debate to name his favorite philosopher.
His answer: "Christ -- because he changed my heart."
Conservatives like Donohue obviously would like to see more of that. In fact, when asked if a Jewish president should send out cards saying "Merry Christmas" every year, Donohue said, "Absolutely."
But not this president. It's not just this year that he's sent out what Donohue derisively calls "a generic" card. It's been every year. Since becoming president of all the people, George Bush has been a "Happy Holidays" kind of guy.
ABC News' John Donvan filed this report for "World News Tonight."