SANTA CLAUS, Ind. -- As he does each year, Gerald Wilhite used his ocean-fishing rod to cast strands of lights over the limbs of his front yard's towering oak and maple trees.
He untangled coils of green wire and dangling bulbs, then nimbly wrapped them around evergreens and stretched them out to line each side of the driveway.
But the bulbs that flickered on when all were plugged in weren't the usual multi-colored variety, not the type that typically light up this town built on Christmas.
The colors were simple: red, white and blue.
"In some sense," Wilhite said, "it doesn't feel quite right being all jolly and full of Christmas this year."
So he, and everyone in his subdivision, adopted a patriotic theme in honor of Americans fighting overseas and the thousands who lost their lives on Sept. 11.
From Wilhite's street in middle America to the 81-foot spruce in New York City's Rockefeller Center, on homes along both coasts and on the boughs of indoor scotch pines in between, the red and green of Christmas have been joined this year by white and blue.
"People are wrapping their presents in it, decorating their homes," said Deidre Parkes, spokeswoman for Hallmark Cards Inc. "You're just going to see a lot of red, white and blue this holiday season."
Parkes said the five best-selling cards on Hallmark's Web site now are holiday cards with patriotic themes.
Retailers snapped up patriotic ornaments -- including a snowman waving an American flag, which the company produced after the terrorist attacks, she said. "We sold out of it in three days."
Visitors to the nation's largest shopping center -- the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn. -- are greeted by 50-foot-tall Christmas trees at each entrance, draped in red, white and blue ribbons and lights. Holiday banners inside the mall hang alongside American flags that had been hung after Sept. 11.
Patriotism all the rage
"We wanted to keep our American flags up," said mall spokeswoman Maureen Cahill. "It seemed like the right decision to make, because we could incorporate it with our holiday decor. I think people really appreciate it."
Bonnie Scott of Amarillo, Texas, says patriotic craft patterns have been all the rage this season on her craft-oriented Web site, www.NorthPoleChristmas.com.
In Nova Scotia, Sandy Hellard and Patsy Gallagher are whittling away to keep up with American customers who want their hand-carved, red, white and blue Santa figurines.
"We have certainly produced more of them this year," Hellard said. "There's been quite a demand."
But amid these displays of national pride, which have given some living rooms the look of Independence Day rather than the Yuletide, there's concern that the so-called "reason for the season" is more clouded than ever.
"Unfortunately, it makes sense," said the Rev. Michael J. Baxter, a professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame. "There's no reason why, if we've merged Christmas with crass commercialism for years, we shouldn't merge it now with this kind of patriotism. It's already become such an amorphous cultural celebration so far removed from what the church understands and observes in Christmas."