The Myth of the War on Christmas?

The Myth of the War on Christmas? December 19, 2015

Several news outlets, including CBS and NBC, recently covered a story about yet another apparent attack on Christmas. It even made the news in England. A Jewish mom complained about a trip her son’s class was going to take to see Santa, so the school canceled the trip. As one Fox News Commentator put it, this is yet more evidence of the war on Christmas.

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I’m a pastor. I’ve been a Christian all of my life. Christmas is my favorite holiday of the year. We start decorating before Thanksgiving. We take our annual Christmas trip to Disneyland before Thanksgiving. We start listening to Christmas music before Thanksgiving. Christmas Eve services are the high point of my year. I love Christmas.

Back when I was in grade school, in the 1960’s, in a suburb with 30%+ of the population made up of Jewish households, several voices, including some Lutheran voices, argued for removing Christmas shows from schools. My father was so hyped up about it that he became the spokesperson for those who believed that taking Christmas out of schools was a war on Christmas. Because of his leadership, he was asked to run for several political positions including the local school board, Mayor, and Congress. (He, thankfully, lost all of those elections).

All these years later concerns about the war on Christmas and taking Christ out of Christmas capture headlines and throw groups of people into cultural and religious anxiety.

But is there really a war on Christmas?

Here’s what I see:

A Charlie Brown Christmas, with the moving telling of the story of the birth of Jesus, continues to air on a national network every year (more than once!) and continues to be one of the most watched holiday specials of the year.

In almost every radio market, at least one “secular” station plays Christmas music 24/7 for weeks, mixing in secular music with sacred songs about Jesus.

Every Christmas night Dr. Who has a Christmas special.

PBS broadcasts Christmas concerts featuring sacred, Christ-centered carols.

People across the country decorate their homes inside and outside for Christmas.

Malls and stores decorate for Christmas.

On Christmas Eve and Christmas day churches around the world will be full to overflowing with people celebrating the birth of Jesus.

In reality, you can’t go anywhere for at least a month without seeing signs of Christmas everywhere!

If there is a war on Christmas, it is and always will be a losing battle.

Having said that, the story of Jesus, according to Jesus himself, is summarized in these words: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.

Should a Jewish boy or a Muslim girl or a non-believing child be forced to visit Santa on a school trip? Should a public school make kids of all religious faiths sing songs about Jesus? That doesn’t seem to be the most loving thing. (I’m guessing most Christians who are concerned about the war on Christmas would not want Ramadan concerts in their kids’ schools!)

Jesus can take care of himself just fine. The world stops every year and always will for a holy moment whether it wants to or not because of his birth. We don’t need to fight any supposed war on Christmas. Nor do we need to force Christmas on people of other faiths or life perspectives.

Christmas is a time to pause, reflect, to be with family, and for those of us who are Christians, to celebrate the birth of Jesus in ways that bring light in the darkness in gracious, not forceful, ways.


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  • Nick Winters

    It’s pieces like this that remind me that Christianity has reasoned, compassionate adherents that aren’t afraid of other faiths and other modes of thinking. It’s a reminder that’s very necessary, as the voices of unreason and fear that also exist in the religion increasingly dominate the public sphere. Good to know that they don’t completely control the conversation.

    • RevTim

      Thanks, Nick!

  • Guthrum

    I see and agree with most of what you are saying. I am not into the Starbucks cup deal, they look very Christmas to me. There was a time when pastors and people were against commercializing Christmas, with music and decorations going in stores in October. What I have a problem with is a school system (Johnson County, Kentucky), where a school superintendent tears up the Christmas play because it had some religious reference to religion (“Charlie Brown’s Christmas”, a traditional Christmas play). All this because of one misguided individual complaining. It ended up that the parents stepped up and read the part.
    And that is what it is going to take: people standing up and speaking out.
    Then there is the Bangor, Maine school, where a high school teacher was told to remove her pink, Hello Kitty Christmas tree ! No reason was given by the principal.
    What we are seeing is a total over reaction, usually by one or a few misguided individuals who have some agenda and go around stirring up trouble. Imagine disrupting a children’s play – heartless !
    These sort of decisions need to be made by parents, students, and the people involved. Not administrators, judges, lawyers, or some outsider atheist group.

    • LeighW

      If you want a religious Christmas pageant, send you children to a Christian school, or go to church.

      I was one of the parents who complained when my children’s school had a nativity play last year. They go to a public school, and having them sing about praising Jesus was complately inappropriate.

      • Exactly. The churches should put up the religious displays and hold the religious themed concerts. I even participate in some of those as a musician. I enjoy them. But I don’t think it’s appropriate for the state to be promoting religion…any religion.

      • Guthrum

        I certainly would not call “Charlie Brown’s Christmas ” a religious program by any stretch. Most of the school Christmas programs have traditional Christmas music, which is usually a mix of carols and holiday songs. The courts have ruled that is permissible. I agree that some sort of nativity drama should be only at churches.
        But then you have the wildly popular novel “Best Christmas Pageant Ever” widely read in elementary schools throughout the country. Courts have ruled that it is permissible as long as it is presented and teached as a literature lesson.

        • Warren

          I certainly would not call “Charlie Brown’s Christmas ” a religious program by any stretch.

          The climax is Linus reciting a passage from the Gospel of Luke.

      • RevTim

        Leigh, agreed. I do echo one of the other responses that perhaps rather than banning everything about Christmas, this season serves as a good teaching moment about Christianity and Judaism, as both celebrate major events this time of year…and to also give due to other faiths…not to recruit but to inform and educate. Christmas is all around us, along with signs of Hanukkah, so why not talk about why these moments are so important whether we are adherents or not.

        • Shadowbelle

          Sorry, very late to the discussion. But I think it creates something of a false equation when one lines up Christmas with Hanukkah. Christmas is a major Christian holiday. Hanukkah is a minor Jewish holiday.

          (Christian) people have a tendency to think that because Hanukkah falls at around the same time as Christmas, it’s sort of the same thing, and it’s just as important to Jews as Christmas is to Christians. That’s very far from the truth.

          When those teaching moments arrive, it might be a good time to explain about the Days of Awe.

    • RevTim

      Guthrum, I agree with you that we live in a hyper-sensitive time where we over-react when the over-reaction ends up becoming the problem. In this day of extreme voices it’s hard for the middle to get heard above the noise. Let’s keep at it.

  • Yonah

    As to our family, we are Jewish Christians. As a former Lutheran pastor, and now a Methodist pastor, December remains an “interesting” experience. When our family was exclusively connected to the Jewish community, we lived the Jewish side of the question. Primarily, the mainstream Jewish attitude in our experience is one seeking balance. If public schools etc wish to reference Christmas, it’s an easy thing to do by referencing other religious traditions and being educational about it. It’s not rocket science.

    • RevTim

      Yonah, what a great perspective. Thanks.

  • A few years back I was riding in the car with some relatives who were all hyped up about the “war on Christmas”. “They’re banning nativity scenes,” they exclaimed. As they were ranting we drove past their Evangelical Christian church. No nativity scene. I went to their Christmas pageant that year. It was mostly secular holiday music with a little Jesus at the end. So basically they can’t be bothered to promote their own religion and want the city to do it for them? How ridiculous. If you want a nativity scene, put one up on your own property or your church’s. If you want to sing religious songs sing them all you want. But you don’t get to force other people to do so or to pay for it.

    • RevTim

      You made me laugh a bit but the truth hits pretty close to the bone on this one. How about more authentic grace in our churches flowing out into our communities and less fighting battles and wars that don’t exist! 🙂

  • Melissa Hitchcock

    I would like to give some input from the perspective of a child whose family did not observe Christmas for religious reasons. For the entire month of December, everything was Christmas–art projects intended to be gifts for parents, busy work, story time and lets not forget the traveling preacher who came to tell bible stories. The parties we were excluded from–my sister and I still had to be at school but we were sent to the empty library. Anything we did do related to Christmas (a lot of these activities are incorporated into classwork and are graded) came with the icky feeling that we were guilty of some kind of sin. If there are going to be holiday celebrations at school, particularly at this time of year, why not let them be about teaching different cultures? Children in a global society like ours should learn about Hanukkah and Ramadan. As for a war on Christmas–that is one of the most ridiculous things I have ever heard. It seems that there is more animosity against those who don’t celebrate it.

    • RevTim

      Thanks, Melissa, for your perspective. I agree with you that understanding different religious perspectives is important for our kids, especially now. If we do teach our kids about Hanukkah and Ramadan, then we will also want to make sure that we teach about Christianity and other faith expressions. While your school had the traveling preacher (not sure how that was allowed!) most schools, if they do anything Christmas, don’t talk about the sacred side of it. Did your family celebrate anything at all in December or did you feel all of Christmas, even the secular/winter stuff, was all tied together?

      • Melissa Hitchcock

        My family did not do any kind of celebration during December. We were part of a christian based cult, the Worldwide Church of God. Also known as Armstrongism. I am no longer affiliated with that cult or any of its off-shoots. I was in elementary school in the 1970’s and attending a very small rural district in Georgia. The preacher would not have been allowed if it was in a larger community such as Atlanta. I believe that religion is best left out of the public school system unless it is taught as part of a world religion or social studies class. I do think that if a community is very diverse, it will only help students be better people by learning the different customs that are practiced around them. I read these kinds of articles occasionally but rarely see any comments from people who experienced this kind of thing as a child. It is hard and uncomfortable even if there are people who try to make something special so the child will not feel completely left out. I enjoyed your article very much.

        • RevTim

          Thanks, Melissa. I am somewhat familiar with the Armstrong movement.

          God’s peace to you!

          • Melissa Hitchcock

            Your welcome and peace to you as well.

      • sonya miller

        Hanukkah and Ramadan are not the only “other Holly day” faiths; however it is up to you to share with your teachers child what your child does practice. Myself, we are Wiccan and the Christians well know our Sun God was born on the 25th way before theirs…however, I do not feel my son should have to say, or sing that “Jesus is the reason for the Season” when anyone educated in history or theology knows that is not the case. We shared with his principal and school, and I noted that in his K5 class was a Buddhist family, a Muslim family, obviously a Korean family, a Jewish family. Also, many forget that the Church of Latter Day Saints also though Christian does not celebrate Christ-mass. Thus, out of a class of 15 kids about half were not practicing christians, oh and I am sure out of those confessing “Christians” most of them do not practice either.

        My son’s class made snowmen, reindeers, read the Grinch, had Santa milk and cookies, gave gifts and made gifts for others, and I felt that his public school did a great job sharing the Holidays with everyone. Did they share my faith? No. But did they push Jesus on us when we all know that faith? No. So I was content.

        However, I too feel there should be no Nativity scene and NO Cross at any Federally or State funded Government organization. It is not fair nor right, in a country of religious freedom to push one faith over the others; unless you want the Wiccan Rede on the courthouse walls you should not have the ten commandments and no one should feel peer pressure to swear on a Bible they do not believe in to witness in a court proceeding. Times are a changing, there is no war on Christianity there is just finally an acute awareness that Christianity does not own faith or the concept of afterlife; and it never did.

  • Brandon Roberts

    my view on this thing is both sides are idiots the side getting all offended over the word “christmas” or the holiday in general and the side getting butthurt over cups and complaining about happy holidays and claiming a “war on christmas” yeah there’s no real war on christmas and most people don’t mind the word “christmas” or the holiday and most people don’t care if you say happy holidays seasons greetings or anything else just the minority. i’m nonreligous i’m pretty liberal on most issues and i do not care about people saying merry christmas. i think the right message is wish people a joyous holiday however you feel fit and don’t get upset over the way other people prefer to

    • RevTim

      Yup.

    • Nick Winters

      Well, to get technical, you’re a little off on the both sides issue. Atheists and the FFRF are not offended by the word christmas and the holiday in general (which many of them celebrate; I certainly do!). They’re irritated at Christmas displays being given pride of place on government property, because it’s essentially Christians marking their territory and then banning anyone else from putting up displays. The way you can tell this is that there are no complaints from these organizations about nativity scenes on Church grounds or at private homes. Location, location, location.

      • Brandon Roberts

        ok i can certainly understand that.

  • jaia60

    When we hear about real life-threatening religious persecution in other lands, it makes it ludicrous to hear people in this “Christian” dominated country complain about “religious persecution” because there is no manger scene in the town square or because of an absence of Christmas symbols on a Starbucks cup that you are going to crush and throw away after you finish your coffee.

    The hunker-down, “us vs. them” defensive attitude that seems to be dominating the conservative churches today doesn’t seem very good for the future of the church.

    • RevTim

      Well said! Merry Christmas.

  • KamonSence1951

    With all due respect, re: “this season serves as a good teaching moment about Christianity and Judaism” .. If you have 500 people teaching about Christianity and Judaism (or any other belief system or atheism) you are going to have 500 versions taught depending on who follows what they were told to teach vs who injects their personal beliefs – and what questions students ask. If parents or religious leaders have told them something different, these discussions take on a life of their own as the implications & ramifications for differences of opinions are huge.

    There’s also a big difference between learning about a holiday and letting that holiday infiltrate the entire school. Multiculturalism is not something that should only make an appearance in December so others can feel included or not feel excluded. Culture diversity as historical teachings about people around the world are very important all through school, and teaching about religious holidays and practices in a public school means you are going to get a different version in every classroom depending on where that classroom is located and who is leading the discussion. Regardless of what a parent may have told their child, you can bet a whole other can of worms is going to be torn open by someone else.

    Keeping religious teachings out of public school is not being done to persecute Christians, as many of them whine about, but rather it is done in the interest of equality in a “public” setting that is paid for by the taxes of all people. I feel relgious things are better left to parents, families and the religious leaders they have chosen and trust to teach their children about religious holidays, and parents should be happy that they get to make this decision, not some stranger or teacher they know little or nothing about, yet has a lot of influence over their children.

    Public schools are secular, not extensions of religious institutions, and our secular schools cannot pick a side in religious debates even when the students may want to discuss it. But that does not mean children understand this concept and will respect it. How does a teacher deal with this? Conflicting beliefs & teachings also have the potential to build walls & cause conflict between children who may not have been aware of or are too young to understand religious & cultural differences, and could hurt children whose families do not practice or believe the same as what is being taught, even if it’s in the name of culture.

    If any personal belief or feelings are brought into the mix, it may not be uniting children, or us, or our communities, it can also separate us, which looks like it has done more and more when I watch the news. Public schools and teachers must be strict and vigilent in their distinction between teaching about religious holidays, which is permissible, and favoring or celebrating religious holidays, which is not permitted. For better or worse, America is very different in 2016 than it was in 1956, and I don’t know how this is going to pan out or how it has to be approached by our antiquated school systems in order to help unite us more as Americans, which is needed more now than ever.

    As a non Christian child of the 50’s, I tend to feel that no religious anything belongs in a public school, that it is something that is up to parents to decide for their children, not strangers. I would much rather a bigger, better & stronger educations system that places the important emphasis on American history, our Constitution, patriotism, and teaching children HOW to think over what to think. IMHO, these are the things that will make us stronger and smarter and better prepared to thrive in the future.

  • Unindoctrin8ed

    The “War on Christmas” is a blatant media lie that plays well to Christians with persecution complexes (and no understanding of the non-religious origins of Christmas).