Who’s Winning the War on Christmas?

December 23, 2008
By

Peter Brimelow, a British journalist, is credited with coining the term “War on Christmas” in 1999 to describe the politically correct movement in English-speaking countries to neutralize public references to Christmas out of deference to non-Christians.  This term has been popularized, especially by right-winger Bill O’Reilly and folks over 65 who like to forward outraged spam emails about how the world is going to hell in a handbasket.  So, who’s winning the War on Christmas?

First of all, what is the War on Christmas?  Here are six of the skirmishes:

  1. Governments, retailers, employers and public schools avoid, censor or neutralize all references to Christmas.  In some cases, this is an effort to maintain separation of church and state (for government run institutions), and in other cases, it is an effort toward inclusion (for employers, retailers and individuals).
    • Rather than referencing Christmas, verbiage has been changed to things like “holiday tree,” “winter break,” “end-of-year bonus,” and “holiday season.”
    • Glenn Beck, in a silly mood, suggested the term “RamaHanaKwanMass” as an amalgam holiday covering all the major bases.
    • On Seinfeld, George’s father creates his own holiday “Festivus.”  Festivus is the holiday for “the rest of us.”  They decorate the silver festivus pole while screeching “serenity now” at each other.
  2. Traditionalists (who also happen to be Christians in this case), not content to sit on the porch and shake their canes at the world as it goes by, have fought to re-include the word Christmas in public settings and protested its exclusion in various ways:
    • attempting to change the official state tree name in CA from “State Holiday Tree” to the “California State Christmas Tree.”  The measure failed, although Gov. Schwarzenegger still called it a “Christmas tree.”
    • Sears and Kmart ran deliberate campaigns in 2005 and 2006 to re-popularize the use of Christmas in the signage in their stores.
    • Responding to threats of a boycott, Wal-Mart relented on its policy of neutrality and changed its “holiday shop” to a “Christmas shop” in 2006.
  3. The focus has begun to shift away from neutrality toward inclusion and diversity.
    • After receiving a signed petition of almost a million shoppers, Target relaxed its policy of using the term “holiday” and began including references to both Christmas and Hanukkah in its store signage stating that the use of the word holiday was a “mistake.”
    • Schools study holiday traditions around the world and across religious boundaries; however, non-religious greetings are still encouraged:  as my 6 year old daughter proudly proclaimed:  “Best wintry wishes!”
  4. Many point out the fact that Christmas was not really a Christian holiday anyway, but was in fact an effort to recast Pagan elements with newly acquired Christian themes in order to win converts and de-emphasize immoral but fun practices.
    • Christmas trees, yule logs, candles, holly and mistletoe all have pagan origins that were later re-imagined as Christian symbols.
    • Originally, young men would go to houses demanding alcohol and food rather than a focus on making children happy (or making them behave).  Parties and debauchery were the rule (before it became commercialism).
    • Obviously, Christ wasn’t even born on December 25 anyway, unless those shepherds were wearing Gortex parkas (slight exaggeration) as they watched their flocks by night.
  5. Stripping away the religious elements of Christmas leaves just the commercial elements, opening the door for some very well-founded criticism of the holiday.
    • Without religion, you’ve basically got a retailer’s and bank’s holiday that instills greed in children and adults alike.
    • Some have even gone so far as to suggest that Santa Claus was introduced by competing religions to deliberately draw focus away from Christ.  Some people also think the moon launch was faked.
  6. Abbreviating the name “Christmas” to “Xmas” has been alternately rejected and embraced by Christians.
    • Some view the “X” as a way of taking Christ out of the holiday.
    • Others view the “X” as a symbol of Christ, essentially the cross.

My own view on these 6 battles is:  1) separating church & state feels important to me; also I liked the Festivus episode, 2) I wouldn’t sign the petition, but I don’t care if they say Christmas along with other holidays, 3) I’m all for more holidays, not fewer, 4) I have to work hard to see Christmas as a Christian holiday, 5) see #4, and 6) I use Cmas to abbreviate, but then we don’t focus on the cross as a symbol of Christianity.

So, where do you fall out on each of these battles?  Until then:  “Best wintry wishes!”

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  • http://mormonmd.wordpress.com Doc

    Personally, I think it is wrongheaded to discouraged the use of the word Christmas in the name of religious freedom. Talk about irony, I guess religious expression is protected unless you are in the majority. It emphasizes everything goofy about our secular public culture.
    That said, escalations in the Christmas wars like this make me embarassed to be a Christian. This is just plain ugliness. I do feel for those who don’t celebrate the holiday. They are left out, I just don’t really see any perfect remedy.
    At the same time I can’t imagine that I could be that upset over Ramadan living in a Muslim country, or Hannukah, living in Israel. I wrote more on this when I admitted to the world that I am in fact a Christmas junkie.

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com TT

    Hawkgrrrl,
    This is a excellent summary! I love your posts.
    Just one minor clarification. The abbreviation Xmas doesn’t come from a symbol of the cross, but from the Greek letter chi (X), which is the first letter of the word Christ. The objections to this abbreviation are done out of ignorance since this is not a crossing out of Christ nor some esoteric symbol, but the first letter of his name.

  • http://www.californiaresortlife.com/palmsprings/ Palm Springs LDS

    Lately my attention has focused on the several radio stations (at least 4) in my area that switched to an all Christmas format for the season. For the most part they all play the same old ‘Santa Claus’ type music.

    I get excited when they play something new and different as I really like variety.

    I think it would be a could idea to give them a Christmas present of more upbeat religious Mor Tab Choir CD’s to improve their playlist.

    It would seem that the station with the most exciting playlist should draw the most listeners.

  • CarlosJC

    I hope the anti-Christmas mob win outright soon. Means the end of the world is nearer! :(

    In the mean time “Best summery wishes!” (It was like 90 here today)

  • http://www.rickgrunder.com Rick Grunder

    When I was a first-grader in 1954-55 Boise, Idaho (the western part of the state, not predominantly Mormon), we children were required to recite grace in unison over our exquisite hot lunches (served on tasteful Melmac compartmentalized plates): “God is great, God is good, let us thank Him for our food. Amen.”

    As a sixth-generation Mormon boy, this prayer made me feel bad. First, I knew better than to say “God” so often. Second, I knew that for a prayer to be any good, it had to end with the special phrase, “Inthenameofjesuschristamen.”

    For the rest of my life, I have tried to remember those early feelings whenever anyone of any faith or non-faith is tread upon in any region. I don’t want to be like the early Puritans who, feeling persecuted, came to America to persecute others. When people disparage the notion of “P[olitical] C[orrectness],” or of being considerate of others’ feelings, I ask myself if they are really Christian at all.

    Amen. Er, I mean . . .

  • John Nilsson

    Do my eyes deceive me, or are your kids fully decked out with an AK-47, an AR-15, and an M-16? With scopes even? That’s sweet Christmas love!

    One of the best kept secrets at the University of Utah is the staff’s Festivus. I just came back to my office from it, having stuffed my gizzard with catered sandwiches, tarts, cream puffs, and heavily whip-creamed cocoa, of course. There is even a whiteboard for airing your grievances, a Festivus pole and feats of strength.

    Come to Zion, come to Zion…

  • http://ethesis.blogspot.com/ Stephen M (Ethesis)

    John, I didn’t know you taught at the UofU.

  • Pingback: Christmas « Irresistible (Dis)Grace

  • N.

    On Seinfeld, George’s father creates his own holiday “Festivus.” Festivus is the holiday for “the rest of us.” They decorate the silver festivus pole while screeching “serenity now” at each other.

    “Serentiy now” isn’t one of the traditional activities of Festivus, it’s a New Age add-on. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Festivus
    Traditionally Festivus has, besides a plain aluminum pole, (1) Dinner; including Pepperidge Farm products (2) Airing of Grievances (3) Feats of Strength. (4) OPTIONAL: Festivus miracles.
    If I could get invited to more Festivus parties in addition to or instead of Christmas celebrations, I’d be a much happier person.

  • http://mormonmd.wordpress.com Doc

    My comment was eaten by moderation or spam filter or something. I would be eternally grateful if someone were to rescue it for me. I promise never to link two things ever again. ;)

  • http://thingsofmysoul.blogspot.com Ray

    Doc, it’s done. We now will hold you to your promise. *grin*

  • Left Field

    I don’t get the thing about people taking offense at being wished “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” When I was a kid 40+ years ago (and I assume for quite awhile before that), “Happy Holidays,” “Seasons Greetings,” and “Merry Christmas” were basically interchangeable. There was no significance whatsoever to which one happened to appear on your Christmas Card. That the first two are also general enough to also apply to your Jewish friends made them useful in certain circumstances, but that hardly diminishes the sentiment for those who happen to celebrate Christmas as their holiday of choice. In some situations, a more inclusive greeting is most appropriate. What could be wrong with that? What the heck could be so wrong about wishing someone a happy holiday, anyway.

    However, I will say that the term “holiday tree” is kind of silly. A decorated tree is a Christmas custom, not part of any of the other midwinter holidays. If we were to refer to a “holiday menorah,” it wouldn’t fool anybody into thinking that the menorah is a symbol of Christmas, Kwanzaa, and Festivus.

  • http://thingsofmysoul.blogspot.com Ray

    Left Field, I feel the exact same way about the cards. I have no problem whatsoever with “Happy Holidays” and “Season’s Greetings”. I think the card should reflect the feelings of the sender, and I see the militant reaction to these cards largely as a manifestation of the intolerance and arrogance of a certain segment of our society – to a degree within the membership of the Church, but much more prevalently in the extreme wing of Protestantism. I certainly heard it most profusely when I lived in the Deep South.

    I also have no problem whatsoever with “end-of-year bonus”. For companies that don’t want to tie bonuses to Christmas, especially those that employ people of all religious beliefs (including atheists), “Christmas bonus” just doesn’t make sense to me.

    Again, the terminology people use should reflect the perspectives of those people. It’s a pretty simple issue to me.

  • http://backandthen.wordpress.com Gwennaëlle

    How about instead of “Christmas” using “Noël”? It is shorter and this would include all the french descendant Americans who may feel left aside because of the outpouring of english language in their daily life.
    No, seriously, there is always a good reason to complain or to feel offended and I don’t get how we came to this kind of mess.
    In France we don’t have this kind of word battle and I suspect that we won’t ever just because Christmas mean tones of food and chocolate and alcohol and there is no way we are going to focus on a word and skip a good occasion to damage our arteries.
    Then there is New year’s Eve when we just do it all over because we want to have a “christmas like feast” with people we did not spend Christmas with. Theeeeeeeeeeeeen, on the first sunday after Christmas (which may be before or after the New Year) we eat this very “heavy” cake loaded with fat to make us regret we are french and that we are supposed to handle any kind of food.

    No seriously, between the longing for the mean to be sick and the sickness itself we have no time for all this vocabulary war.

    You should do it too. Just get sick. All of a sudden the word in the name of which you got sick won’t have that much importance anymore.

  • http://thingsofmysoul.blogspot.com Ray

    #13 – Just get sick and don’t fight about the words.

    Awesome (or, as my teenagers would say, “beast”).

    In that spirit, happy holiday seasons Christmas!

  • hawkgrrrl

    Interestingly, we just got back from London where people pretty unabashedly use “Merry Christmas.” Perhaps in a more secular country with fewer outspoken evangelicals clamoring for attention, they feel less apologetic about this religion business.

  • PeaJay

    Most everything has been said, but as to “Xmas” vs “Christmas.” First, #2 makes a great point. Second, I used to see it as eliding the Savior from the holiday but then realized it was more akin to using “Melchizedek” for refering to the “Holy Priesthood, after the Order of the Son of G-d.” It “avoid[s] the too frequent repetition of his name.” Similar to when my Jewish friends do as I did above and omit one of the letters when writing about the deity. FWIW.

  • John

    I remember when I was in school and we celebrated Christmas with trees, decorations and carols. I doubt that anyone gave a thought to those who were Jewish or otherwise not Christian. They didn’t count. That was clearly wrong, but we’re also clearly swinging the other way now. I complained when our local library announced it was closing on Dec. 25 for “the winter holiday.” Our county board of supervisors said they were rethinking that. My main argument was not religious, but political. I pointed out that both Congress and our state legislature declared Dec. 25 as a holiday identified as Christmas and no local entity should be trying to undo what Congress and the legislature had done. I think Christians of all stripes should fight back and demand that Christmas be referred to as Christmas. On the other hand, I do not believe this is being done in any kind of war context. The war on christmas was fought a long time ago….and the merchants won. If we really want to protect Christmas, we will scale back our lavish giving and focus on what is really important. We might rethink going skiing on Christmas Day or attending pro basketball games while we’re at it.

  • James

    Interest thoughts!

    I live in the UK and have wondered about cultural views and Christmas. Inner London in the schools their could be neighbourhoods/ communities which may almost be completely ethnic Asian, Moslem , Jewish etc. One basic requirement they are pushing and hoping for is that people learn and speak English, but should they have to learn about Jesus and Christmas? And how does that effect those that are the minority Christians in that community before it was taken over by an ethnic group its roots and schools were Christian mainly Church of England. Its a tough dilemma!

  • JG

    Christmas is pagan and of the devil. It celebrates the birthday of an antichrist, Nimrod.

    Am I surprised that mormons love christmas? Not!

    Let the mormons celebrate christmas all they want.

    But christians should not celebrate christmas!

    http://www.israelite.net/christmas.htm

  • pszymeczek

    Merry Happy Christmahannukwanyulsticefest!