Ah, the annual “War on Christmas.”
When a small group of Christians squabble endlessly about their right to celebrate Christmas the way they see fit without people intentionally spoiling their joy by saying shit like “Happy Holidays.” (The horror!)
It can be exhausting.
Luckily, most Christians aren’t bothered by seeing “Happy Holidays” scrawled across their friends’ beautiful Christmas cards; they’re just grateful to get them at all. And, likewise, most atheists aren’t bothered when their relatives thank Jesus for their Christmas feasts or put up nativity scenes in their front yards; just keep the eggnog coming, yeah?
So what is this “War on Christmas” anyway? And does it hold any validity at all? By my read, the yuletide rancor has two main components, or assumptions.
1. Christmas is becoming a secular holiday.
2. People are forcing Christmas into secularization by killing off all mention of Christ.
I’d say that’s half-true.
It’s definitely true that Christmas is becoming a secular holiday. Not for everyone, of course. But for some. Maybe even for many. Definitely for me. I love Christmas — the trees, the lights, the gift giving, all of it — but I took the Christ out of my Christmas a long time ago. Other than telling my daughter about the legend of Jesus’ birth in a stable in Bethlehem, my version of Christmas is a season of entirely nonreligious traditions and celebrations. Sure, those celebrations are rooted in my Christian heritage, but do I attach some deeper personal meaning to Christmas? No, not at all. You could say I am a secular Christian in the same way some of my friends are secular Jews or secular Hindus. They’ll probably always celebrate Hanukkah and Diwali, but that doesn’t mean they actually believe in God, or Brahman, or Ganesh.
So, yes, Fox News, I’ll give you No. 1. But you lose me at No. 2.
Apart from some civic-minded folks trying to make their public spaces more inclusive of other cultures in our increasingly multi-cultural society, or loud-and-proud atheists using Christmas to get their do-good-for-goodness’-sake message across, no one is forcing Christmas into secularization.
Yes, mentions of Christ are dropping like flies. But that’s not because of injuries sustained in an ugly battle. It’s because more and more Americans — more than 20 percent of us — are nonreligious. Christmas is becoming more secular because we are becoming more secular.
The holiday isn’t dying. It’s evolving.
And, dammit, people, that’s a good thing — for everyone.
Would Fox News or Sarah Palin or your conservative uncle rather secularists stopped celebrating Christmas altogether? How would Palin would feel if a quarter of her family and friends stopped showing up to her annual Christmas party? I wonder how all those corporations and business owners and stock brokers would feel if we stopped spending millions of our dollars on colored lights, blow-up Santas and gifts for our loved ones every year?
No, I won’t be putting the Christ back into my Christmas. Ever.
But if my family and friends will support me, I’ll continue to lug home pine trees from the local Christmas tree lot and obscure all but the scent of those trees with a heinous number of Christmas ornaments. I’ll hang the gorgeous, envy-inducing Christmas stockings my mother knitted for each member of my family. I’ll listen to the Christmas carols my grandmother used to play on the piano when I was a child. With my husband, daughter, parents, in-laws, siblings, nieces, nephews and friends always on my mind, I’ll wrap Christmas presents and watch Christmas movies and read Christmas books and bake Christmas cookies and attend Christmas parties. I’ll do it all. And in doing so, I will indeed “protect the heart of Christmas” — which, for most Cultural Christians at least, is love, family and as much merriment as is feasible.
It won’t be everyone’s version of Christmas, of course. But it will be Christmas just the same.
A version of this post first appeared on Dec. 5, 2014.