A War on Christmas?
Listening to certain pundits, one would think that Christmas was a besieged holiday and that its practitioners were forced to hide in caverns under the shopping malls lest they be cast into the arena to be devoured by liberal, ambiguously gendered lions.
Fox, as always, seems to be making a case for there being such a war. They rush to present evidence of this war and do not even let facts get in the way of their spirited defense. If evidence happens to be wanting, they seem to be willing to accept almost anyone’s word that, for example, a school has banned the use of green and red as part of an assault on Christmas. As I have argued before, professional journalists have an obligation to use at least some minimal effort to verify key facts in a story-even when the story nicely matches a specific ideological narrative.
Naturally, I do understand that journalists are busy folks and that mistakes are always possible. Heck, people point out my mistakes each time I make one (and even when I don’t). I also get that when someone feels really strongly about a matter, they tend to accept claims that fit their feelings even when the claims are not properly supported. I fall into this myself from time to time, even though I know better. However, none of this changes the fact that a professional journalist should always exert at least a minimal amount of effort to at least attempt to verify key facts. Especially when doing so is as easy as making a quick phone call.
But, some might say, while Fox does something overdo things in is zealous defense of all that is holy, there is a clear war on Christmas. After all, there is the push for people to say “happy holidays”, manger scenes are often banned from government buildings, and students get winter breaks now rather than Christmas breaks.
It is true that people say such things. It is true that manger scenes are generally not allowed in government buildings. It is also true that I am now on winter break rather than Christmas break. However, it is not clear that these things are assaults in part of a war on Christmas.
In regards to “happy holidays”, this is actually a holiday season. My Jewish friends do not cry that there is a war on Hanukkah when people say “happy holidays” or “merry Christmas.” And, of course, there is also Three King’s Day and New Year’s Day in this season of holidays. As such, the use of “holidays” does not seem to be anti-Christmas but rather an inclusive term that encompasses the various holidays. This seems consistent with the Christmas ideal of peace on earth and goodwill towards all. Using this term hardly seems to be a war like act.
As far as the manger ban goes, this does bother me. When I was a kid, we had a manger scene as part of our Christmas decorations. To this day, manger scenes bring back warm feelings of childhood Christmases. When I see one, however tacky it might be (one had flamingos) I will pause and look at it, remembering days gone by. So, it should be obvious that I have nothing against them. That said, I do agree that government buildings should not have such scenes-or any religious displays at all. This is because doing so would seem to be state support of a specific religion.
But is this not a war on Christmas? Well, no. Not having the state actively endorse a specific faith is not an attack on that faith. If the state burned manger scenes as part of a public display, then that would be rather war like. Having a general ban on religious displays is not a war on religion but rather a refusal to exalt one faith above any others. That is an important part of allowing freedom of (and from) religion.
It is also important to note that manger scenes are not banned from anywhere else. If you want to turn your entire lawn into a scene, then you are free to do so. If your church wants to put up a massive manger extravaganza, they are free to do just that.
I do admit that it still sounds odd to be on winter break. I still use the term Christmas break because old habits die hard and, for me, I am on Christmas break. However, not everyone who attends state universities is a Christian and state universities are not supposed to endorse any specific faith (private religious schools are another matter). This is, however, not an attack on Christmas anymore than not calling it Kwanzaa break is an assault on Kwanzaa.
As another point when people bemoan that the Christ has been taken out of Christmas because of this war on Christmas, there is the obvious question of just how much Christ has been a part of Christmas. After all, much of the Christmas mythology and trappings are pagan in origin. Also, when you throw in the gross commercialization of the holiday, that would seem to have done a great deal to take the Christ out of Christmas.
As a final point, if there is a war on Christmas, Christmas seems to be winning handily. Christmas trees are displayed openly. People boldly wish others a merry Christmas and are not arrested. Christmas stockings are still hung from the chimney with care, rather than being hidden away in some secret corner. You can test this yourself-boldly go to a store that sells cards and ask for Christmas cards. Approach a police officer and ask her if you can report people for celebrating Christmas. And so on. I suspect you will find no evidence of any war on Christmas.