Tuesday, December 25, 2012

We won the War on Christmas

Every year at this time I hear the same dismissals of the "War on Christmas" that is promoted by people like Bill O'Reilly. I hear more criticism of the concept than actual examples of the War on Christmas.

Clearly, calling it a war at this time is wrong. But things were very different in 2005 when political correctness lead to major retailers like Wal-Mart and Target keeping the word Christmas out of their stores and ads and the city of Boston calling its large Christmas tree a "holiday" tree. There were tons of little tales of individual school districts changing the words in Christmas songs to be unspecific about the

A lot of this was an overreaching attempt to avoid offending people, but in a glorious display some of the people who do celebrate Christmas got offended and fought back. They used public speech and a few boycott threats to convince companies to use the term again, and it worked.

The reason Christmas in 2012 is not obscured with vague wording is the legacy of those pro-Christmas campaigns. The search to find new examples continues. There is no War on Christmas in 2012, but that's only because people opposed to public mentions of Christmas were defeated.

One red herring in this issue is the labeling of Christmas as a religious holiday. Some people celebrate it from a religious perspective, but the holiday itself can be celebrated from an entirely secular perspective and it often is. While nearly 80 percent of Americans identify themselves as Christians, 95 percent of them celebrate Christmas.

While I don't support having nativity scenes on government property as they are clearly religious, the same can't be said for Santa. The holiday itself is a major and easily-recognizable part of American culture. There is no such thing as a "holiday tree" and any attempt to use that term is pure legerdemain. We can live in a secular society without hiding parts of our culture because it might offend some people who were determined to find something that will upset them anyways.


  1. I disagree about the nativity scenes. I don't see permitting such things as any more of a government endorsement or establishment than allowing political signs on public property during an election.

    Even more than that, while nativity scenes have religious significance to me, and none to you, the only reason the holiday is a part of our culture, secular or otherwise, is because of it's status as a major christian holiday.

    My Jewish neighbor has a giant inflatable nativity on his lawn, he's where I got my rationale. He says that he gets the day off from work because 2000 years ago, yadda yadda, the least he can do is commemorate the reason for that.

  2. I agree with you that there's a sort of bait and switch. When Jon Stewart complains that Christmas is everywhere, he uses "Christmas" to refer to the secularized aspects of the holiday, then concludes from that, that the religious part of the holiday is alive and healthy. But for the same reason, I'm leery of what I take to be your argument that it's fine to promote the secular holiday, if what that really amounts to is promoting the religious part.

    I try to tolerate Christian belief and I don't think it's absurd, but when I wish people a merry Christmas I don't want to be taken to mean that I'm celebrating the birth of Jesus as Christ. I don't. And likewise when other people wish me a merry Christmas.

    When in Rome, of course, do as the Romans. I think we should try to accommodate the customs of the culture we live in. (I heard of an atheist who attended a shabbat dinner and got offended when he was asked to participate in prayers -- but what did he expect was going to happen?)

    But that culture should also have a certain respect for the fact that its guests are being polite. Of course, Christianity, and the Israelite base, don't do this -- it seems like the history has been refusing to take part in the idolatrous customs of the surrounding nations and likewise trying to get them by force if necessary to adopt your beliefs and customs.

    So to the extent that these religions are not going to accommodate me (and why should they if they think it would be immoral and lacking in compassion for my soul?) I don't want to accommodate them -- but to the extent that they will, I do.

  3. So BTW I said "I try to tolerate Christian belief" -- but I meant the non-evangelical practitioners. It's clear from the second half of my comment that I don't have a great deal of patience for the evangelical practitioners. Basically, I tolerate the people who are going to tolerate me.

  4. "Of course, Christianity, and the Israelite base, don't do this -- it seems like the history has been refusing to take part in the idolatrous customs of the surrounding nations and likewise trying to get them by force if necessary to adopt your beliefs and customs."

    Alex, that's exactly what I fear Americans are forcing themselves to do - cover up their own culture while trying to make as a big a space possible for other cultures.

    America has an eclectic culture that borrows heavily from others, and we change time and time again to accept new features. We did it with pizza and we're doing it again with quesadillas. This is a positive thing and I wish for it to continue.

    Yes, Christmas has a Christian foundation. But does that matter? Does is matter that "Thursday" has a religious tradition, being named for the god Thor? Eventually that foundation washes away as the idea is normalized. Christmas is normalized and secularized to a great degree. You can see the cracks are there when someone says "Keep the Christ in Christmas."

    1. All I really have to add is that people who say things like "Keep Christ in Christmas" irritate me, but it's not a huge thing to me. I could really care less about whether Nativity scenes are displayed on public property (as long as they're not purchased with government funds and as long as a Menorrah can also be displayed) or whether Christmas songs are performed in school or whatever (again, as long as Hebrew holiday songs can be performed as well).

      It's mostly just people who need to open their eyes and realize that "Christ" is already gone from Christmas to many people, and getting defensive or angry about it or displaying Nativity scenes in public isn't going to change society's increasingly secular trajectory. And I include many nominally "Christian" people who are really just apathetic as to what they believe.