Where is the Real War on Christmas?

Where is the Real War on Christmas? December 14, 2023

Living room with Christmas tree
Photo Credit: Matthew Benoit

It’s begun again.

Every year, we hear whining from the Christian Right complaining that there is a “war on Christmas.” How the godless liberals hate the baby Jesus and are trying to sneakily act the part of the big bad wolf dressed up like grandma, ready to gobble up the holiday. Like the woodcutter in the story, the Christian Right sees themselves as the ones tasked with bursting through the door and literally saving the day—Christmas—from the ravenous liberal wolf.

Naughty or Nice?

An example: conservative evangelical religious organizations like this one literally make an annual “Naughty List” of store chains that instruct employees to say “Happy Holidays.” The ones who instruct employees to say “Merry Christmas” are then put on the “Nice List,” and those who see the lists are encouraged to buy their Christmas presents accordingly.

Show Me the Money

However, a retailer using a greeting of “Merry Christmas” isn’t usually taking a stand or remembering the reason for the season. Most of the time, their accountants have determined that doing so is better for their financial bottom line than not doing so. It’s simple economics, plus they get to do some virtue-signaling to their core constituency in the process. After all, those who don’t want to hear “Merry Christmas” tend to have resigned themselves to the fact that they’re going to hear it often enough during December anyway, so they might as well shop wherever works best. They’re not going to organize a boycott.

I suspect the vast majority of shoppers don’t really care either way. They enjoy receiving a pleasant greeting, no matter what form it may take. So, if you’re the retailer, who do you cater to? The ones who will actively boycott you if you don’t do what they want. And all you have to do in order to comply is tell your employees to use two simple words.

There probably are some exceptions, but it’s still safe to say that the majority of major retailers that use “Merry Christmas” as a greeting do so to make more money.

It’s really no different than major corporations that put out ads or special merchandise every June for Pride Month. Same thing. They get to cater to the group that they have determined will make them the most money, all while looking like daring activists. The bottom line is the bottom line, no matter on which side of the social spectrum one may be.

The Real War is Here

But back to Christmas. The thing is, while they may not realize it, conservative evangelicals who force the hand of big box retailers are actually the ones waging the real war on Christmas. They’re using Jesus to make these corporations do what will make them the most money. The love of the Christ Child is not central, but rather the love of money. Which, as Jesus later tells us, is the root of all kinds of evil.

And that’s what the rest of the world sees: a fight over vocabulary at the center of what’s supposed to be a holy day celebrating the one who lived and preached a way of peace. For them, it’s yet another way Christian priorities are all messed up, and they’re absolutely right.

The battles you choose to wage say a lot about what your priorities are.

Picking the Right Battles

The Holy Family was temporarily homeless in Bethlehem, with nowhere to go. Where’s the “reason for the season” outrage at the number of unsheltered people in a country with more than enough resources to functionally end homelessness?

After hearing that a king had been born, Herod had every child in Bethlehem under the age of two killed. They and their families were innocent victims in Herod’s need to stay in power. While there is (rightfully) outrage at Hamas’s murder of innocent Israelis, where is the “reason for the season” outrage at the killing of exponentially more of the innocent in Gaza?

After Herod’s order about children in Bethlehem, Mary and Joseph had to flee to Egypt. Where’s the “reason for the season” outrage at our treatment of refugees fleeing war, violence, and persecution?

The magi (wise men) who brought gifts were of a completely different religion. Where’s the “reason for the season” outrage at the treatment of other faiths, especially Islam?

At the time of Jesus’s birth, Bethlehem was under occupation by the Romans. Where’s the “reason for the season” outrage at the current occupation of Palestine by the state of Israel, slowly but steadily gobbling up the land with settlements? Or at the way O Little Town of Bethlehem currently sits behind the Separation Wall?

There is plenty of injustice in the world that actually relates to the Christmas story for folks to get all up in arms about. If a perceived war on Christmas based on which holiday retailer says what greeting is the primary “injustice” the wider church is concerned about, it’s no wonder why those outside the faith looking in say to themselves, “Nope. Don’t need any of that.”

Spoiler Alert: We’re the Wolves

For a long time, Christianity has been at the center of American society. As time has gone by, that influence has become less and less, and with the lessening of that centeredness and influence has come a lessening of power. In the end, like so much sin, it comes down to the fear of losing power. “Happy holidays” has the audacity to suggest that other faiths might have their own holy days during this season. Accepting that reality becomes a threat when you’re concerned about losing your power and your privileged place in society.

Church, it’s not godless liberal heathen wolves dressed as grandma who are threatening the sanctity of Christmas (we’ll save the equating of “liberal” with “godless” for another column).

It’s you.

Or rather, it’s us.

We’re the wolves.

Truth be told, we’ve actually become Herod.

Merry Christmas.

About Matt Schur
After graduating with a B.A. in English from Truman State and an M.A. in Systematic Theology from Luther Seminary, Matt Schur spent years wandering in a vocational wilderness before finally discovering his calling— assisting and advocating for the marginalized and vulnerable. He currently lives out that call as a case manager and housing specialist for people experiencing homelessness. He also serves an ELCA campus ministry part-time as its music director and pianist, and has published two books of progressive Christian poetry: “Cross Sections” (2021) and “Imperfectly Perfect” (2023). His writing has been featured in “Valiant Scribe Literary Journal,” “Unlikely Stories,” and “Cathexis Northwest Press.” You can read more about the author here.

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