Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Christmas Wars, or How to Use Christmas as an Excuse to be a Jerk

Nothing like a fine whine at Christmas. It seems to go with the season these days, along with the politicalization of everything.

So here is what got this one started. Rachel Held Evans posted this on her blog...

...and a friend of mine re-posted it on his or her Facebook page…

...and predictably, a commenter decided to disagree:

[Name withheld]: OK, I can agree that someone wishing me Happy Holidays is not persecuting me personally. But since the chart is a slap at anyone concerned about the removal of Christ from the "holidays" I guess I don't see it as such a great chart. Call me crazy, but secularism doesn't need anymore [sic] defenders, IMHO.

...and I chimed in with this link

It went downhill from there.

[Name withheld]:  [T]hat wasn't my point. I was just ruminating on why Christians would be joining in the making sport of people who think secularism has gone too far, or in the case of the Patheos article, that don't believe the govt should be forcing them to enable people to trash their values. I mean, sure, a Christian joining in the ostracizing of "exttremist" [sic] Christians is likely to get a nice article in the NY Times ... but like I sad [sic], secularism doesn't need any help bashing the Truth.

...and later, after I pointed out that this kind of entitled attitude was exactly why articles like this were needed:

Thank you, Tim, for demonstrating WHY Christian views are headed for the minority…

…Your point sounds great when you twist the idea of simply not serving someone who wants to use your service to send a public message attacking your faith into expressing moral outrage about someone who doesn't "share" your values.

I will leave it to my readers to speculate about which specific instance in the Patheos link this commenter was referring. It doesn’t take a genius to figure it out. But the sentiment applies as well to the Christmas Wars™. Not familiar with the Christmas Wars™?

Somewhere along the line, a significant segment of Evangelical Christianity came to the conclusion that saying “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” was a personal affront to their faith - a "slap" if you will, and an example of the supposed war on Christianity and God and all. “Happy Holidays” was an attack on the faith. This was serious. Terrible. How could we let this happen?

Now, I’ll be honest. Christmas these days is ridiculously commercialized. The marketing machine portrays Christmas as little more than a bacchanalia of overconsumption overlaid with a treacle of charitable feeling. And yes, I am sick of hearing Mariah Carey long before Thanksgiving.

So yes, I am sympathetic to the argument that Christmas has travelled far from its spiritual roots as a celebration of the Advent. Much of modern commercial Christmas makes me gag. On the other side, yes, I know Christmas also has borrowed from pagan and secular sources too. ALL holidays tend to do this. They reflect the past and the present in a weird, messy amalgam. It’s how humans work. There is no other way to logically explain fruitcake.

The complaints about the commercialism of Christmas aren’t exactly new, however. The Puritans (during the English Civil War) attempted to outlaw Christmas celebrations for this reason. This act was one of several that soured the populace on the whole Puritan experiment. The Puritans vastly underestimated the popularity of Christmas celebrations, and eventually paid the political price.

And what about one of the most famous Christmas stories of all time? Charles Dickens expressly fought against what he perceived as the corruption of Christmas in his ever popular tale, A Christmas Carol.

This is all nothing new. In fact, one might even say that diatribes against the commercialization of Christmas (often while participating in said commerce) is itself a Christmas tradition.

So anyway, a decade and a half or so ago, this became a "Thing." See that “x-mas”? That is the secularists taking the Christ out of Christmas.

(Actually, this is baloney. The use of “x-mas” dates to the 16th Century, and the use of “X” as an abbreviation for “Christ” dates back even further. The Greek letter “Chi” - our X - is the first letter in the Greek for Christ, and was used as an abbreviation in that language.)

Hear them saying, “Happy Holidays”? That’s because they want to eliminate Christ from the celebration.

Now, it is true that a number of corporations and businesses did consciously decide to use the more inclusive term. After all, the United States, while predominantly Christian, does contain Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Atheists, and others. Why not wish them all happy celebrations? More customers are a good thing, right? But no, this is a deliberate attack on Christians.

Now, I think one can interpret things a few different ways. Obviously, there is the “they’re trying to eliminate the Christian origin of the holiday” approach.

There is another one that comes to mind for me:

Perhaps “they” are trying to commercialize the other holidays just like Christmas.

A little irony perhaps? If Christmas can drive consumption, why not Hanukkah? Why not Ramadan? Why not the Winter Solstice?

Does anyone else find it a little inconsistent to rail against the commercialization of Christmas and yet complain that the commercialization isn’t exclusively Christian?

Shamelessly stolen from’s delightfully apropos 2005 screed by the late Christopher Hitchens, who gets right to the heart of the insecurity underlying the Christmas Wars.

So, what does one do about these evil merchants, trying to destroy the faith? Boycott, of course!

Or, as I would describe it, “How to use Christmas and your faith to act like an asshole.”

(Just to be clear, this does not represent all of Evangelical Christianity. Conservative Christian weekly World Magazine’s Jeanie Cheaney called out the AFA for this.)

Because really, this looks like a toddler tantrum.

“It’s MY holiday. MINE! MINE! MINE! This is about ME! My religion! YOU can’t share the happiness of this season! Bad, bad secularists!”

If other people want to broaden the good will, or - horrors - fail to remind people that this is all about Jesus, then we must fight them. We must give grief to stressed retail clerks who are trying to do their jobs. We must use our economic power to force them to Jesusify (is that a word?) everything again. Because this is OUR holiday. Mine! Mine! Mine!

The entitlement is just appalling to me. I guess we Christians have been so used to being the dominant force in culture that we can’t really handle losing influence. The thought of our “values” being ignored is just too terrible to contemplate. So we end up doing silly things to try to regain our dominance.

And we do look rather silly. It’s embarrassing. It makes us seem insecure in the extreme.

One wonders if one could even function as a minority in a society with this attitude? We only do business with people who agree with us? That only works if your customer base is really big. I suspect that Christians in those places where they are a minority can’t really afford to to be officious assholes to their customers.

And really, would it change anything that matters if corporate clerks were to say “Merry Christmas” exclusively, or if advertisements were to hawk “Christmas” sales rather than “Holiday” sales? Is someone really going to say, “Gosh darn, I always thought December was just another holiday season, but now that I heard someone say Merry Christmas, I’m going to become a Christian!”?

Or maybe this is just about extending the middle finger to everyone else, and then complaining that we are being “persecuted.” Complaining that the malevolent forces of “secularism” have destroyed our nice little Christian nation. I guess it is easier than examining why a once ubiquitous faith has failed to capture the hearts and minds of succeeding generations. It’s easier to play the victim and blame those of us who aren’t out there fighting the Christmas Wars™ for causing the decline. To say that those of us who find this attitude to be whiny and entitled are somehow “compromising” with the secularists. As if things would have been better if more of us had been Assholes for Christ.

I suspect most people (if not all) know the Christian origin of Christmas. In fact, since a majority of the population in our country self-identify as Christians, they probably are celebrating it in part as a religious holiday.

Others may not believe in the religious component, but celebrate because it is a fun holiday. (Sort of like why my family wears green on Saint Patrick’s Day, despite being neither Irish nor Catholic.)

And there will be others who celebrate other holidays at this time. And a few poor souls who choose to celebrate nothing.

And you know what? I wish them all happiness as well.

“Happy Holidays” isn’t an insult to me or my faith. Some will repeat it by rote, but I suspect most people are trying to be nice. They may even sincerely wish that I have a happy holiday.

A few times, I have been wished a Happy Hanukkah. I have been wished a happy Winter Solstice once, I believe. (No Ramadan yet…)

I did not find it to be an insult. The Winter Solstice may or may not have been a statement, but I would rather hope that December 21st is a good day for me. In fact, I plan to mention the day to my kids. Not because I am a pagan, but because it fits with their current astronomy studies. And really, we flagrantly stole some pretty fun ideas from the Winter Solstice and made them Christmas traditions. Bwahaha!

I do not feel that this is a “compromise” with secularism. Rather, I feel that it is keeping with the true spirit of the original Christmas.

The people who walk in darkness
           Will see a great light;
           Those who live in a dark land,
           The light will shine on them.  
    You shall multiply the nation,
           You shall increase their gladness;
           They will be glad in Your presence
           As with the gladness of harvest,
           As men rejoice when they divide the spoil.
         For You shall break the yoke of their burden and the staff on their shoulders,
           The rod of their oppressor, as at the battle of Midian.
         For every boot of the booted warrior in the battle tumult,
           And cloak rolled in blood, will be for burning, fuel for the fire.
         For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us;
           And the government will rest on His shoulders;
           And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
           Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
         There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace,
           On the throne of David and over his kingdom,
           To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness
           From then on and forevermore.
           The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this.

A light to the darkness. The yoke and the rod of the oppressor broken. The implements of war burned for fuel. Justice and righteousness - and above all peace.

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, and good will toward men.”

This spirit is reflected in the greatest stories we tell of Christmas time.

Saint Nicholas, one of the signatories of the Nicene Creed, who gave gifts to the poor and fought against oppression.

Ebeneezer Scrooge, who hoped the poor would die quickly and decrease the surplus population; but was transformed by his encounter with his past, present, and future and the spirits of Christmas, so that he thereafter “kept Christmas well.”

The Grinch, a modern take on Scrooge, who finds that taking away the trappings of Christmas is ineffective at taking its heart.

And the greatest story of them all, of the God who gave up all the trappings of His glory, came to earth as a human, to a world that rejected and murdered Him, and gave the greatest gift to those who didn’t appreciate it: eternal life.

And thus, I find the Christmas Wars™ to be so contrary to the spirit of Christmas - and indeed to the spirit of my faith.

I don’t see a celebration of the greatest gift and the greatest love as a reason to complain about a lack of cultural dominance. I don’t see it as an opportunity to marginalize the celebrations of other faiths - even if I don’t agree with those creeds. I don’t see holiday greetings as an opening for a verbal war.

And I certainly don’t take “Happy Holidays” as a hostile act.

If you wish me “Happy Holidays,” I will say “Thank you,” and express my wish that your holidays be happy as well. I may just wish you a Merry Christmas as well, because I hope that your Christmas may be merry, whether you celebrate it or not.

I’ll steal from the Irish, again, because I love this one:

The light of the Christmas star to you
The warmth of home and hearth to you
The cheer and good will of friends to you
The hope of a childlike heart to you
The joy of a thousand angels to you
The love of the Son and God's peace to you

And also, since I am no fan of the materialism and commercialism that accompanies Christmas, I will be subversive in my own way, by linking to an article by a man who has been a great influence on my life since my youth through his writing. Ladies and gentlemen, I present:

And finally, a bit of music from Handel on the text above, one of my favorite bits of music ever written. 

Quick note:

The commenter I have quoted above demonstrated his philosophy in his comments rather clearly (including in some additional comments I have omitted). There are multiple “buzz words” that reference Dominionist and Reconstructionist ideas. This might be an interesting future post - how the rise of Reconstructionism colors, and in some cases drives, the culture wars.

Quick note on the late Christopher Hitchens:

I disagree with Hitchens on many things, the most central of which is the existence of God, obviously. On the other hand, I have always appreciated the way he stood up for freedom of speech in the face of threats from radical Islam. I also appreciate the way he can cut through religious hypocrisy. I wish more Christians would get their heads out of their own echo chambers and actually listen to how we sound to others.  Reading Hitchens once in a while would be a good start. 

Another one December 2017:


  1. Thanks for the link to the article by Andrew Corey on "Real vs. Fake Christian Persecution"! Good stuff. The whole issue of "the cake" has bothered me. I know that business owners "should" have the right to refuse service based on personal preferences ("no shoes, no shirt, no service"), but things aren't what they used to be. If you don't want to make wedding cakes for a certain demographic, then don't sell wedding cakes. Seems kind of simple somehow.

    As per the war for Christmas, well, we are among those non-observers. Obviously I wouldn't agree with some of your views, but I found this article helpful in realizing why we are so "naughty" according to some for not participating. We are not just choosing not to regard the day (Rom. 14), we are failing to help force Christmas on an evil world, and so we have joined "the enemy." (I actually had one friend bluntly say to me that she didn't know how I could say I loved the Lord when I didn't celebrate Jesus' birthday. Sort of like another friend implied that I couldn't be a good Christian if I didn't vote against abortion. I get tired of that old rag - do as we do or you "don't love God." "Can we get a little fear over here? We've got a Christian here who isn't performing to our expectations!")

    Also, in thinking about it, I remember in the '80s that we used to see "Season's Greetings" prominently displayed in various businesses. You know I don't recall hearing Christians then getting all up in arms about that, implying that it was a form of persecution or "forsaking God." Of course, I suppose it could have been the thing that set off the "He's the reason for the Season" thing, but I never heard that.

    I also liked your point about the entitlement of Christians thinking it's their right to have the final say on what our culture does. My personal take is that this comes from mixing American "rights" with Christian practice for so long. I sometimes feel like a lot of them can't see the difference between the two.

    Love this --> Is someone really going to say, “Gosh darn, I always thought December was just another holiday season, but now that I heard someone say Merry Christmas, I’m going to become a Christian!”?

    Thanks for the laugh! I'll drink a toast to that out of a red cup with a two tailed green mermaid on it that "should" have "Merry Christmas" emblazoned across it. :-) (Really. They wanted "Christ honored" in the company of a two-tailed mermaid. It would be hilarious if it wasn't so pathetic. I think I'll laugh anyway.)

    1. I remember some of the Christmas War silliness in the 1980s too. Maybe it was just the circles that we ran in.

      "Can we get a little fear over here? We've got a Christian here who isn't performing to our expectations!"

      That's a great line.

      This year, we actually had to deprogram our older daughters after a church event where some older folks (who are really decent people otherwise) tried to tell them the whole "X-mas is a secular conspiracy" thing, despite the ample evidence of X (or the Greek Chi before that) used as an abbreviation for "Christ" dating back 2000 years. Sigh. So much excess time for outrage, I guess.

      "My personal take is that this comes from mixing American "rights" with Christian practice for so long. I sometimes feel like a lot of them can't see the difference between the two." Thoroughly agree. American Christianity is often just a civic religion, bound up with patriotism and idolization of certain economic theories, with a healthy dose of 1950s white culture.

      I'll raise a glass of eggnog and join that toast. :)

    2. Sorry to hear you had to deal with that with your daughters. Some of the most annoying things done in the church are done by "well-meaning" people and/or those who think they are doing their "Christian duty." I've been there and done that myself and seen others do it. It makes me sick to think about it.

      One of these days I want to do a series on idols of the American Church. Patriotism and "American rights" will certainly qualify.

    3. Those two would be on my list as well.
      Other items on my list:
      1. Middle class privilege
      2. Idolatry of the past
      3. Cult of Domesticity (I fully intend to blog this one.)

    4. I'll be interested to read your article on the Cult of Domesticity. I'll check back for that.

      If you're interested, I wrote on "Spiritual Abuse and Those Who Crave It" this month. I see it as a form of spiritual BDSM where in some cases both parties get a sordid "pleasure" from the pain inflicted.

    5. Here is a direct link to the article. I'm giving it separately so that you don't have to include it if you don't want to.

    6. I found this simple explanation from Merriam Webster about "Xmas" today and remembered your comment here. I think I'm going to use this somewhere myself.