By Andrew L. Seidel
Director of Strategic Response
Freedom From Religion Foundation
President Trump declared victory in the “War on Christmas” two years ago: “We’re starting to say merry Christmas again.” Sure, it was May and yes, it was the kind of pandering we’ve come to expect from the farce that is the National Day of Prayer. But Trump was wrong. The War on Christmas is not over. Far from it.
Perhaps you think I mean the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s recent victory in Pratt, Kan., halting its public school’s partnership with a Christian ministry sponsored by Samaritan’s Purse. called Operation Christmas Child. The purpose of this “shoebox ministry” is to convert children in the developing world to Christianity. That isn’t charity, but predation: “a powerful tool for evangelism and discipleship — transforming the lives of children and their families around the world through the Good News of Jesus Christ!”
Oh, and the vice principal was abusing his position of power to impose his conservative Christianity on other people’s children. He was leading students in prayer and using the morning announcements to read bible verses and preach, including saying that “we need to remember to give all the glory to God, whether others agree with it or not, and I don’t care if I offend anyone by saying that.” In other words, he knew that what he was doing was wrong, but he didn’t care. FFRF Attorney Chris Line wrote a letter to stop this abuse, and the superintendent stepped in to fix things.
The fear-mongering around this victory is dripping with exaggerated drama. One headline proclaimed, “Atheist Group Goes Full Grinch, Steals Christmas From Hundreds Of Poor Kids Around The World.” Brace yourselves: this story left out all the preaching, proselytizing and bible reading from its coverage. Shocking, I know. But how else will they manufacture the War on Christmas? What do you expect them to do? Rely on facts?
The problem is that facts never support their narrative. This year in particular. Because this year, like all the best scary stories, the War on Christmas is coming from inside the house — Trump’s own White House.
Melania Trump fired the first shots in the War on Christmas earlier this year when an aide leaked audio of her slinging profanities alongside complaints about her onerous Christmas duties. Melania seemed more than miffed about her role as First Lady of Christmas and Christian Nationalism, complaining to a top aide:
“I put — I’m working like a ass — my ass off at Christmas stuff that, you know, who gives a fuck about Christmas stuff and decoration, but I need to do it right? Correct?”
That audio was recorded in July 2018, about the time she tweeted that “Planning is underway for this year’s #Christmas at the @WhiteHouse!” It’s not uncommon for Melania to begin planning for Christmas five months early. She tweeted about it in July 2019, too. The War on Christmas commences earlier each year.
While we mock the War on Christmas because it doesn’t really exist in the sense that Fox News reports, we do wage a war on Christian privilege year-round here at FFRF. But Melania’s comments are not all that funny because of what she said next:
“And OK. And then I do it. And I said I’m working on Christmas planning for the Christmas. And they said, oh, what about the children, that they were separated. Give me a fucking break.”
It’s hard to overstate the ruthless callousness of this comment. As I write this, there have been more than 5,400 children forcibly and needlessly separated from their parents at the border, 545 of which may never see their parents again because the Trump administration lost track of them. I don’t know how any parent could be so brutal and inhuman.
In the kinder, gentler strains of modern Christianity, the Christmas story begins as a tale of refugees. A wandering family seeking shelter and a mother about to give birth, who is turned away. Melania Trump may have been “planning for the Christmas” but apparently that didn’t include taking in that message. That’s unsurprising. Much of American Christianity rejects these liberal interpretations and certainly Trump’s die hard supporters, most of them Christian Nationalists, seem more inclined to build walls and cage refugees, than to welcome the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free.
For Trump and Fox News, Christmas doesn’t mean welcoming outsiders, it means war. Back in October, Fox News television personality and frequent SNL target Jeanine Pirro made this clear when she told a crowd in Waco, Texas, “I say, ‘Merry Christmas’ and I say it a decibel louder now. And I stare them down — and so should you.”
They can scream and stare all they want, but it won’t make the War on Christmas any more real. If they’re looking for a battle to fight, for a wrong to right, they should start trying to unite the children they ripped from their parents’ arms. That would take a Christmas miracle and we know there’s no such thing. It’s up to us to undo that damage. And it’s up to us to undo the other damage Trump has done — to our courts, to our institutions, and to the wall of separation between state and church. As always, FFRF is there. We are the watchers on that wall. Please, this War on Christmas, join us.