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McDonald's window Nativity scene: Salvo in the 'Christmas wars'?

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Glen Stubbe/Star Tribune/AP

(Read caption) A man and a dog walk by a nativity scene in an empty storefront in Wadena, Minn., Dec. 10. Several private window Nativity scenes around the country have been well-received this year.

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Over the past several years, Nativity displays in various communities around the country have been the subject of controversy and court proceedings. However, one creche display on a Tennessee business has generated some good cheer.

A Nativity window painting at a McDonald's restaurant in Spring Hill received a social media round of applause after a woman snapped a photo and posted it on Facebook. The restaurant's owners, Gina and Tony Wolfe, said Nativity scenes have decorated the windows since Gina Wolfe's father asked a local art student to paint the window 40 years ago, WZTV reported. The owners have similar decorations on the other store locations they own.

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"My husband and I have been owners for 28 years and we’ve done this or something similar during Christmas each year," Ms. Wolfe told WZTV. "I guess with social media, it’s taken off."

It is safe to say the Wolfe's McDonalds Christmas decor, which has also included nods to the "Charlie Brown Christmas Special" and "Frozen" during certain years, was no effort to make the family-owned burger franchise a battleground for what some call a "War on Christmas." They seemed surprised by the media attention.

Other businesses have made a stir with December decorations, for better or worse. Starbucks' plain, un-decorated red coffee cup, released for the 2015 holiday season, ignited controversy with suggestions of boycotts and accusations of a "War on Christmas" from social media users and even political figures.

The company's intentions, according to a Starbucks news statement, were not quite so warlike.

"Creating a culture of belonging, inclusion and diversity is one of the core values of Starbucks, and each year during the holidays the company aims to bring customers an experience that inspires the spirit of the season," according to the Starbucks statement regarding the holiday cups.

The statement says the inspiration for a plain red cup was that customers had enjoyed doodling their own designs on Starbucks cups in the past, and the company thought they might encourage holiday creativity by providing "a red cup that mimics a blank canvas."

Enthusiastic Christmas displays and marketing are good business for many stores. 

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The primary caution for most businesses is to avoid going too far with Christmas decorations. The Huffington Post, for example, suggested Christmas inflatables be installed with care.

"The inflatable lawn decoration already has an air of tackiness to it, but add a hot tub, surf board or race car to the tableau and it goes to a whole other level," wrote the Huffington Post.

Likewise, complaints that Wal-Mart breaks out the holly just after Halloween are nearly as frequent as worries about a "war on Christmas."

If, however, private businesses want to take up the slack they see on Christmas cheer, they can, and many do. In the town of Wadena, Minn., private businesses and citizens alike covered the town of 4,000 people with roughly a thousand Nativity scenes after a town-owned Nativity set was pulled, Jennifer Brooks reported for the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Whether in the window of McDonald's or some other business, such private displays demonstrate the American tradition of religious freedom, Bruce Remak of Minneapolis wrote to the Star Tribune after reading about the Nativity sets in Minnesota:

I hope that the residents in Wadena, Minn., who feel they are displaying Nativity scenes on their private properties in an act of defiance to the removal of the public park nativity scene can realize, in a more reflective moment, that they are actually acting in compliance with this country’s founding principles of religious freedom. One of the fundamental protections of our government is to ensure the rights of religious expression for all citizens, yet give preference to none.