The War on Christmas: Here We Go Again

In a post earlier this week, I wrote about how retailers and advertisers play on the sentiments associated with the holiday season as a way to make money, and how the religious right is actually, unbelievably, accelerating this trend by demanding the commercialization of their most sacred symbols. However, I failed to note at that time that the religious right is not stopping at encouraging others to commercialize Christmas. On the contrary, they are actively taking part in it themselves. As reported by The Wall of Separation:

As the Religion News Service recently reported, perpetuating the “war” has become a lucrative business. In 2005, the “Christmas Project” groups brought in a combined $188 million. There’s no way to tell exactly how much of that revenue comes from making the mall safe for Santa Claus, but every group has produced special holiday materials designed to suck in the bucks.

Alliance Defense Fund boasts it has sold 20,000 “Christmas Packs” (suggested donation: $29.) That’s over a half million dollars for a three-page legal memo and two lapel pins. The Mississippi-based American Family Association has sold more than 500,000 buttons and 125,000 bumper stickers emblazoned with a stylized Mary and Jesus and the slogan: “Merry Christmas: It’s Worth Saying.”

If anyone had ever wondered about the true motivations behind the claims of a “war on Christmas”, look no further. In a nation that is 85% Christian, with churches on every street corner and nativity scenes on nearly every lawn, with decorated trees in every home, Santa Clauses in every shopping mall and carols playing non-stop on the radio, and Christmas a federally recognized holiday that has now grown to consume virtually the entire last three months of the year, it should be beyond dispute that Christmas has never been less threatened than it is in our country right now. But admitting this would not serve the religious right’s primary purpose, which is to make profit and gain power by whipping its followers into a frenzy of unreason over imaginary threats (see also: gay marriage). The “war on Christmas” is, in reality, just another fictitious story of persecution the leaders of the religious right have drummed up to scare their flock into opening their wallets wide.

A recent editorial, written by a Christian no less (there are still good ones), makes this point effectively with humor (via Americablog):

I remember a time when people of faith bemoaned the over-commercialization of Christmas.

Now some are shouting persecution because sales clerks at some stores are wishing customers “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” or because the tree behind the City Market building was called a holiday tree in press releases instead of a Christmas tree last year.

When it comes to persecution, Christians have come a long way from being fed to the lions, my friends.

I especially laughed at this line:

[Bill O'Reilly] and Sean Hannity teamed up to try to browbeat Macy’s, Target, Wal-Mart and other retailers into shouting, “Christmas! Christmas! Christmas!” at their customers until everyone feels the love of Jesus deep in their eardrums.

Yet though the religious right has profited handsomely from scaring its followers with invocations of ACLU boogeymen, I think money is not their primary motivation. Certainly, they are obsessed with making it through fair means or foul, but I think most of them care about it as a way to achieve a deeper goal: bolstering their smug sense of self-righteous superiority over others.

Just consider – why would they care about store greeters saying “happy holidays”? Clearly, that statement includes Christmas. It is the major end-of-year holiday, it is the reason this time of year is even called the “holiday season” at all. No one is going to mistake what that statement refers to. No, as far as the religious right is concerned, the problem is not that Christmas is not getting recognition, but that it is not getting sole recognition. They want their holiday, and their holiday alone, to be commemorated and recognized, and they want all other cultures, traditions and beliefs treated as if they did not exist.

If anything endangers Christmas, it is the religious bigots who want to turn it into a divisive and exclusionary event in honor of themselves, rather than the largely secularized and inclusive event it has become. When Christmas is a holiday everyone can enjoy, merchants will not be concerned about using it in their advertising, but if it is a day identified primarily with the regressive and widely despised agenda of the religious right, businesses would be likely to think twice. If the religious right were actually to achieve its goal of re-coopting Christmas in the service of their beliefs, they, more than anyone else, would largely bear responsibility for the dramatic decrease in Christmas-themed media events that would be very likely to occur as a result.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Queen Qaab

    Yep, you’re right. Besides, most of the trappings of “Christmas” preceded the “virgin birth of the Christ-child.” Indeed, this isn’t the first “god” who mythologically appeared through parthenogenesis.

    Nevertheless, I’m an atheist who likes the Christmas holiday season. Any excuse for a happy family gathering, a feast, sweet delicacies, and surprises is good in my book. Seeing the dark and cold winter nights all lit up with beautiful and varied decorations also pleases me, and the fancy trees and the telling of family stories.

    I prefer to not spoil it all with religious anomosity. To me, it’s just a grand old wintertime celebration of sparkle and bling in preparation for Spring.

    Merry Kwanzanukamas!

  • Lori

    I don’t get it. People have been saying “Happy Holidays” since I was a kid.(There’s even a song by that name.) Why are they making such a big stink about it now?

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    An excellent point, Lori: the tradition of saying “Happy Holidays” is not new, but the outrage is. It’s not that the phrase has suddenly become more offensive. It’s just that reactionary Christians have become increasingly powerful and vocal, and they’re now demanding that their beliefs be given special, privileged status.

  • andrea

    “[Bill O'Reilly] and Sean Hannity teamed up to try to browbeat Macy’s, Target, Wal-Mart and other retailers into shouting, “Christmas! Christmas! Christmas!” at their customers until everyone feels the love of Jesus deep in their eardrums. ”

    It’s always amusing to see that some Christians think that converting “by the sword” or in this case “by the loudspeaker” will work. Pure idiocy. What poor belief that they have when they think that forcing people to believe will work. Pure religious fascism.

  • Doug Purdie

    It would not be as much fun dumping on Bill O’Reilly if you could not mis-characterize his view.

    For those who have never seen O’Reilly’s show, he only has a problem with companies that prohibit their workers from using a particular greeting. Macy’s, Target and Walmart deserve a browbeating for not allowing their employees to utter the words “Christmas”, the word for the holiday that over 90% of their customers celebrate (Yes, even Jews and atheists celebrate Christmas). He never advocated forcing anybody to say anything. Perhaps you are confusing the two concepts “prohibition” and “complusion”. He’s fighting the former, not advocating the latter.

    I don’t suppose any readers at this site would be pissed if their company forbid them from saying the word “Solstice” in the presence of a customer?

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    For those who have never seen O’Reilly’s show, he only has a problem with companies that prohibit their workers from using a particular greeting.

    That is not true. Last year, O’Reilly said it was “insulting to Christian America” when retailers do not specifically mention Christmas, that saying “happy holidays” or some other inclusive greeting “offends millions of Christians”, and that “secular progressives” want to eliminate all mention of Christmas because “that stands in the way of gay marriage, legalized drugs, euthanasia, all of the greatest hits on the secular progressive play card”. (What would we do without Media Matters?)

    I don’t suppose any readers at this site would be pissed if their company forbid them from saying the word “Solstice” in the presence of a customer?

    No, I would not be. If I was a store greeter, it would be my job to convey whatever message to customers the management deemed most appropriate. It would not be my job to decide for myself which tradition everyone should be following and treat customers accordingly.

  • Will E.

    –It would not be my job to decide for myself which tradition everyone should be following and treat customers accordingly.–

    Well said. Same goes for the pharmacists!


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