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War! (On Christmas): What is it Good for?

merry-christmasThe following is nothing new, but the ongoing “War on Christmas” nonsense annoys me anew each year, so to unclog my mind of the following, here’s a quick list:

1.  It is the Holiday Season.  I honestly don’t understand the huge objection to “Happy Holidays” as a greeting insofar if we look at the calendar we see a number of holidays that are fairly central to American culture, regardless of any other factors.  If one wants to be as myopic as possible we have, at a bare minimum, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve/Day.  These are all holidays, as defined as days on the calendar on which certain rituals are observed and for which most people do not have to go to work.  In addition there is also Hanukkah and Kwanza (even that mysterious Boxing Day thing in Canada and across the pond).  There is also the fact that celebrations at the time of the winter solstice have long-standing historical roots.  The end of the year is a time to pause and renew.

Yes, in terms of which religion is dominant, as well as which observance is the main cultural focal point, it is Christmas, but so what?  The whole “war on Christmas” bit is very much the dominant group behaving petulantly that they aren’t even more dominant.  In other words, it isn’t as if Christmas ceases to be the focal point if some folks say “Happy Holidays” or if some stores have “Holiday sales.”

2..  Christmas is a Holiday.  Not to be overly pedantic, but a lot of people seem to want to pretend like “holiday” is some sort of antonym to “Christmas.”  However, given that Christmas Day is, in fact, a holiday, the notion that the word is a negation of Christmas makes no sense.

3.  Commercialization?  One of the things that I find a combination of amusing and annoying about things like worrying about whether Radio Shack uses “Christmas” in their ads or not (it was Target a while a couple of years ago, IIRC) is that groups like AFA area actually actively calling for the commercialization of Christmas.  I thought that Christians were supposed to be upset about the commercialization of Christmas (see, e.g., A Charlie Brown Christmas).   If, as the saying goes, that Jesus is the “reason for the season” then why would Christian organizations want Radio Shack or other retailers use Christmas in their ads?

In all seriousness, there is a legitimate argument for Christians to make that Christmas is too secularized (indeed, Christmas is extremely secularized, and has been for a rather long time, if not from the beginning of the observation of the holiday, to be honest), but if that is the concern, then I would suggest having Radio Shack out of the “Christmas” game is a good thing, yes?

Of course, at the end of the day much of the problem is the fact that if one really wanted a solely religious Christmas one ought to eschew, entirely, the non-religious aspects of the season, which would include the gifts, the food, the parties, and the decorations.  Just ask the Puritans.

Of course, the bottom line of all of this is all about selling books (e.g., Palin), selling ads (e.g., O’Reilly), or fund-raising and free publicity (e.g., the AFA).

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About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor and Chair of Political Science at Troy University. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. He is the author of Voting Amid Violence: Electoral Democracy in Colombia and is currently working on a comparative study of the US to 29 other democracies. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging at PoliBlog since 2003. Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Ron Beasley says:

    Of course, it’s all about throwing red meat to the ignorant rubes to get ears and eyeballs. That’s where the money is.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 25 Thumb down 0

  2. Dave Schuler says:

    The “war on Christmas”, i.e. its transition from a religious feast day to a secular holiday, began at least 190 years ago (“A Visit from St. Nicholas” was written in 1823). Its transmogrification into a secular and commercial holiday isn’t complete but secularism’s victory has been pretty decisive.

    In Japan Christmas is celebrated and there it’s a completely secular and commercial holiday without religious overtones.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 0

  3. Brett says:

    Then there’s this….. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/diana-butler-bass/fox-news-war-on-advent_b_2279277.html

    I just put this to show how utterly ridiculous this is. The outrage over the “War on Christmas” is NOT a defense of religious tradition. It’s simply an embrace of a glitzy, market driven, and MODERN vision of a rather different holiday. To say “Merry Christmas” at all during this season (e.g. before Dec. 25) would shock anyone back in the day who followed the traditions of Christmas.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  4. Ron Beasley says:

    @Dave Schuler:

    In Japan Christmas is celebrated and there it’s a completely secular and commercial holiday without religious overtones.

    I spent a Christmas season in Yokohama and I can certainly attest to that. While there are a few Baptists and Catholics in Japan the vast majority are Buddhist or Shinto.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  5. Rafer Janders says:

    I think the more interesting question is why Big Business and their right-wing and libertarian allies, such as Doug Mataconis, are engaged in a War on Thanksgiving…..

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 2

  6. Boyd says:

    Of course, at the end of the day much of the problem is the fact that if one really wanted a solely religious Christmas one ought to eschew, entirely, the non-religious aspects of the season, which would include the gifts, the food, the parties, and the decorations.

    To be slightly pedantic and to digress from the main point of your post (what else would anyone expect of me?), I would submit that the food is very much a religious aspect of Christmas. Breaking bread together regularly and especially on significant occasions has been a religious aspect of Christianity since its inception.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  7. beth says:

    How stupid. My town has Christmas lights on the light poles and a Christmas tree at town hall. The stores all play Christmas music, sell Christmas gifts and are decorated with Christmas decorations. The only way to get away from Christmas would be to stay in your house from November 1st through January 1st. I don’t know what the Christians are complaining about – if there’s a war on Christmas, they’re winning handily.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0

  8. @Boyd:

    Breaking bread together regularly and especially on significant occasions has been a religious aspect of Christianity since its inception.

    Generically, this is true. But the adoption of feasting to be associated with a Christmas celebration roughly in conjunction with the winter solstice is an appropriation of pagan rituals. It has no specifically Christian origin or meaning.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 20 Thumb down 1

  9. gVOR08 says:

    Of course it is all about the Benjamins. That being so, the War on Christmas is itself a commercialization and exploitation of Christmas. But it feeds on an attitude of the religious right that no opportunity to proselytize can be lost. George Lakoff did a whole book Whose Freedom? on what “freedom” means to conservatives, as opposed to what Funk and Wagnalls thought it meant. They have duties, and freedom means they’re allowed to do their duty. And their duty includes forcing you to to your duty, as they see your duty.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  10. Todd says:

    It’s all a sideshow. Most people don’t care one way or another.

    I think that people and/or businesses that go out of their way to avoid the word Christmas by consciously using terms such as “Happy Holidays” or “Xmas” are kind of silly.

    But on the flip side …

    Anybody who would ever get offended because somebody wished them a “Happy Holidays” is obviously just a sad and angry person in general. I feel sorry for them.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0

  11. george says:

    I’ve always thought a better (more interesting and more entertaining) approach would be to install holidays from other faiths/cultures/philosophies rather than trying to secularize Christmas (ignoring the fact that its mainly a commercial holiday even for most of the people complaining about some sort of war on Christmas).

    Maybe every time a group got larger than some arbitrary percent of the population (festivus?) they could chose a holiday. Hopefully some would be in summer. Of course those holidays would also quickly become commercial endevours, but the variety would be great.

    In fact, I think its a good general principle. For instance, in Canada there’s a debate going on whether Muslim women should be allowed to appear in court/have drivers licenses etc with a full head covering because of religious belief. Wouldn’t it make more sense to just give that same right to everyone? It would get rid of the problem of pitting groups against each other, and the whole idea of special privileges which cause so much resentment. If everyone was allowed to go around completely masked, then no one would have reason to resent Muslim women for doing so.

    Whenever a group asks for an exception, give the exception to everyone. If it doesn’t make sense to give it to everyone, then it probably shouldn’t be given to anyone.

    So lets have a big, colorful (like Christmas) holiday every month. Make life interesting.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  12. JWH says:

    According to my Bible, Jesus drove the moneychangers out of the Temple. Today, some Christians insist the temple must come to the moneychangers.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 0

  13. John Peabody says:

    It may not be a ‘war’, but I’m convinced there’s a “Battle against Arbor Day”!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  14. Pinky says:

    If one wants to be as myopic as possible we have, at a bare minimum, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve/Day.

    But the giving of gifts isn’t a Thanksgiving or New Year’s Eve tradition. As far as I know, it’s not a Hanukkah tradition either, although it’s become one. So there’s something disingenuous about having a “holiday sale” for Christmas gifts. Now, I’m generally not someone who gets upset about the “war on Christmas” stuff, but it is a legitimate point that there is an effort to marginalize the word and the religious connotation of the holiday in our society. I can understand why retailers get under people’s skin about this, because they’re clearly exploiting the secular aspect of the holiday while decreasing their mention of its religious name.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 6

  15. rodney dill says:

    …say it again.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  16. Scott F. says:

    It may be about the money for those who are selling the idea of a War on Christmas, but don’t ignore the driver for those who are buying the idea – the need to feel victimized.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  17. Dave Schuler says:

    @Pinky:

    But the giving of gifts isn’t a Thanksgiving or New Year’s Eve tradition.

    Actually, that’s not entirely true. Gift-giving is a component of many New Year’s observances, including in England (and, in particular, in Wales), France, China, and Japan, just to name a few.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  18. rodney dill says:

    @John Peabody: can’t just let the tree-orists win.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  19. Pinky says:

    @Dave Schuler: Fair enough, and as I noted in the earlier thread, gift-giving is also associated with Epiphany. But unless you’re selling turkeys or champagne, if you’re a retailer in this country, the season is Christmas.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  20. Scott says:

    We could go back to the Pre-Dickens Christmas traditions, meaning not celebrating at all. Afterall, Scrooge thought it outrageous that Cratchit wanted the day off. This was the non-tradition from Cromwell until around 1840.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  21. @Pinky: But, of course, not all shopping linked to the holidays is about gifts.

    To be direct: a lot of money is spent on food (not to mention decorations, and other items).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  22. 11B40 says:

    Greetings:

    I think that your analysis short-changes the commercializers. My impression is that this year, due to the incredible “shortness” of what was once the post-Thanksgiving selling season, retailers were forced to come out with advertisements bedecked in all the familiar accoutrements of modern day Christmas without ever mentioning their origin or reference. So, now Christmas rears its…ahem…head between Halloween and Thanksgiving. No doubt, the back-to-school season will be shortly impinged upon. Progess !!! Forward !!!

    Me, I’m just going to send my Islamophilic President a belated Rama-lama-ding-dan greeting card with some of that really cute Religion of Peace calligraphy. Wise people don’t mess with those people’s holidays.

    Poorly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 21

  23. JWH says:

    Why is no one concerned about the war on Saturnalia?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  24. wr says:

    @Boyd: Hey, I just upvoted Boyd! It must be Christmas season.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  25. C. Clavin says:

    zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  26. Rob in CT says:

    Damnit, beaten to a Saturnalia reference.

    Whatever. Most people just do their thing. We celebrate Christmas, despite not being religious at all. We like the tree, the lights, the gift-giving (well, actually, that’s the least-favorite part for us at this point), the food & drink and most importantly the getting together with family.

    Hardly anyone actually cares about this “War on Christmas” bullshit.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  27. mantis says:

    I see Pinky and the brainless have come to explain how the War on Christmas is real. Rubes never know they’re rubes, do they?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  28. Pinky says:

    @mantis: What part of what I said do you disagree with?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  29. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Anything that p!sses off the hard core Christians can’t be all bad.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  30. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Besides, the war of Xmas is being waged against atheists like me every year. It’s not like we can ignore it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  31. grumpy realist says:

    Well, we can always go back to the really Ye Olde Time Englishhe Celebrations….you know, when we stuffed Christians in a effigy made out of wicker and burned them up….

    (Best thing that can be done with missionaries.)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  32. C. Clavin says:

    @mantis:

    “…Rubes never know they’re rubes, do they?…”

    Winner.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  33. C. Clavin says:

    I paid pretty close attention in Physics…and nothing ever explained a fat man and a bunch of elk hitched to a flying sleigh being able to visit every home on the Planet Earth in 24 hours.
    That said…I have been on board an American Airlines charter that took off with the entire Dallas Cowboys football team…including Nate Newton…so anything is possible.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  34. MM2 says:

    @Pinky:

    But the giving of gifts isn’t a Thanksgiving or New Year’s Eve tradition. As far as I know, it’s not a Hanukkah tradition either, although it’s become one. So there’s something disingenuous about having a “holiday sale” for Christmas gifts.

    Because retailers will use any excuse for a holiday sale, whether or not its a holiday associated with gifts or whether or not it’s even a major holiday. I’ve seen holiday sales centered around Presidents’ Day, MLK Day, Labor Day, Independence Day, and if you believe internet memes, ham sales for Hanukkah. I don’t recall any traditions where Americans once gave each other mattresses for George Washington’s birthday.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  35. Pinky says:

    @MM2: Yet I’ve never seen a retailer call a Presidents’ Day sale a “holiday” sale. If a chain had a “Third Monday in January” sale, it’d be weird that they didn’t mention MLK.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  36. mantis says:

    @Pinky:

    What part of what I said do you disagree with?

    Every word of it. To wit:

    But the giving of gifts isn’t a Thanksgiving or New Year’s Eve tradition.

    First problem: assuming stores hold sales based solely on tradition, instead of as an excuse to sell stuff. Second, ignoring that a lot of people do give New Years gifts. Third, pretending there aren’t lots of non-gift things to buy for winter holidays.

    As far as I know, it’s not a Hanukkah tradition either, although it’s become one.

    Same goes for Christmas. As others have pointed out, Christmas today does not remotely resemble the holiday in the past. Should retailers specifically exclude Jews because their holiday became consumption-focused later than that of Christians?

    So there’s something disingenuous about having a “holiday sale” for Christmas gifts.

    It’s not disingenuous at all. People buy things and give gifts in winter for many non-Christmas-related reasons. You can pretend they don’t, but they do. Retailers are interested in sales, not adhering to the ever-shifting demands of zealots. Also, how is a flat screen TV or a laptop specifically a “Christmas gift?” If I bought one for myself over the weekend, should I return it because it was a “disingenuous” purchase?

    but it is a legitimate point that there is an effort to marginalize the word and the religious connotation of the holiday in our society.

    False. There is an effort to sell more shit to more people. That’s all the so-called “War on Christmas” is, the War for More Customers. Some Christians believe no one should practice other religions in this country and that the entirety of winter should be focused exclusively on their holiday, so we all have to put up with nonsense from the likes of you.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  37. MM2 says:

    @Pinky: Well if you’ve never seen it it must not be true.

    http://www.skihood.com/Events-and-Teams/Calendar/2010/01/15/MLK-Holiday-Sale-at-Sport-Shops?duration=Monthly&year=2010&month=1&day=10&category=&c=130305882634840000

    I’d include more links but I’d get eaten by the spam filter. However it’s relatively easy to find evidence of sales material that just says “Holiday Sale” in red white and blue for July 4th or even “Summer Sale starting July 2nd”. I’m sure with a few minutes I could find more for Labor Day and Memorial Day, but it’s not my job to prove whether or not anything you ether have never seen, or pretend-on-the-internet to have never seen really exists.

    I will admit that I couldn’t find a goalpost moving sale flyer however.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  38. DrDaveT says:

    The whole “war on Christmas” bit is very much the dominant group behaving petulantly that they aren’t even more dominant.

    Oh, the best is yet to come. It’s pretty likely (maybe even in my lifetime) that eventually enough people will notice that exactly one of our official federal holidays is explicitly the religious feast of a minority of Americans. At that point, turning it into a generic Winter Holiday is probably the least painful option. THEN you’ll see some petulance, you betcha.

    Of course, it’s possible that Christmas by that time will be entirely sapped of its religious content (in much the way Halloween has been), which will avoid the problem in a way that would not please the Warriors for Christmas.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  39. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @MM2:

    I will admit that I couldn’t find a goalpost moving sale flyer however.

    Heh.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  40. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @DrDaveT: I’m gonna get a t-shirt made that says, “If we have freedom of religion, why can’t I ignore Christmas?”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  41. Kylopod says:

    I honestly don’t understand the huge objection to “Happy Holidays” as a greeting insofar if we look at the calendar we see a number of holidays that are fairly central to American culture, regardless of any other factors.

    Oh, I understand the objection, all right. I understand what’s really going on, what they’re really complaining about.

    While “Happy Holidays” is an old expression (it’s the name of one of the numbers in the 1942 Christmas musical Holiday Inn), many Americans use it today as a way of acknowledging that some in their audience may not be Christian and may celebrate holidays from other religious or cultural traditions. That’s really what this whole phony “War on Christmas” meme is about: it’s yet another attempt by conservatives to make themselves sound like the victims on account of their own inability to tolerate an increasingly diverse society.

    As a Jew, I have no problem at all with wishing someone a “Merry Christmas” if that’s what they celebrate. But when addressing a mixed audience, there’s no reason to use a greeting that specific when there’s already one available that’s more inclusive of different traditions: “Happy Holidays.” Most importantly, it’s a choice: nobody’s forcing anyone to use one or the other. But in the topsy-turvy world of O’Reilly and company, making that choice amounts to oppressing them, because they can’t stand living in a country in which diversity is acknowledged, in which their own preferred religion isn’t necessarily treated as the only legitimate path. And as silly as it is to let “Christmas” be a stand-in for “Christianity,” that’s what’s really behind this trope.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  42. JWH says:

    @Pinky: Seriously, Pinky, when will you lay off your war on Saturnalia?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  43. mantis says:

    @Kylopod:

    because they can’t stand living in a country in which diversity is acknowledged, in which their own preferred religion isn’t necessarily treated as the only legitimate path.

    Indeed. Quite anti-American of them, really.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  44. @Pinky:

    the giving of gifts isn’t a Thanksgiving or New Year’s Eve tradition. As far as I know, it’s not a Hanukkah tradition either, although it’s become one

    As I understand it, gifts are given each night of Hanukkah, although not typically as extravagantly as the typical Christmas. I am no expert on the practice, but know that it has existed for at least thirty years+ as I remember it being the case for a Jewish friend of mine back when I was in 6th grade.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  45. Pinky says:

    Fair enough objections. I think that in general, in people’s lifetimes, there has been a diminishment in the way Christmas has been treated as a religious holiday. I mean, let’s be honest, none of us remembers a culture that celebrated Saturnalia. If we did, and it had declined, then I would expect the practitioners to feel a sense of disappointment or resentment. As for the Jewish attention to gift-giving for Hanukkah, I think that’s really increased during my lifetime as well. And as for the non-Independence Day July 4th sales, I am surprised. It just seems like bad marketing.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  46. anjin-san says:

    Christmas has been treated as a religious holiday

    I’m 54. Christmas has always been about stuff. It’s lots of money wrapped in a thin veneer of religion.

    That’s not to say that I don’t have some wonderful memories of Christmas, I do. Where I grew up, pretty much everyone had money. But let’s not pretend it’s all about Jesus. If it was, we would skip the shopping and give the money to people who are cold, sick, and hungry.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  47. anjin-san says:

    Hallelujah

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  48. J-Dub says:

    The War on Christmas is being waged by Santa Claus (or as I call him, Satan’s Claws). I see very little mention of Jesus or his Marxists views during the holidays. It’s all about the profit margin.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0