“War on Christmas”
or Simple Politeness?
by James Hall from the Left
I’ve often said “Happy Holidays”
to my Jewish friends and to those whose religion I don’t know, and never knew that I was participating in a liberal
plot to destroy Christmas until Jerry Falwell told me it was so. (Full disclosure:
I also say “Merry Christmas” to family and friends I know to be Christians.
I send Christmas cards and put up Christmas lights and buy Christmas presents, too.)
I always thought that saying “Happy
Holidays” was just being polite. Saying “Merry Christmas” to
someone whose holiday this month is actually Hannukkah or Kwanzaa would be like having your Muslim grocer wish you a pleasant
Ramadan, or your Hindu professor urge you to be reincarnated into a higher caste. Awkward,
that: would you say ‘no thanks, that’s not what I believe’ to a friendly gesture or just keep quiet?
People have been saying “Happy Holidays”
for years. Now the phrase has become a war cry for the Christian Right. They are taking aim at those of us who use it, including much of the business community. They want stores and businesses to proudly claim they are in business for Christ by
putting up “Merry Christmas.” Funny, I thought that Jesus threw the
money-changers out of the Temple. Now the Christian Right wants to turn Macy’s
into Christ’s Commercial Temple, and they are holding business’ feet to the hell-fire.
Still, isn’t it absurd to claim
that retail business, whose biggest season is during the Christmas season, is out to destroy Christmas by saying “Happy
Holidays?” Conservative Christians used to deride the commerciality of this season; now, it appears, they want to co-opt
it. But how many pagans will be saved in a Radio Shack or a J. C. Penney’s?
Reverend Falwell’s offensive includes
taking back the Christmas Tree for Christians. You can’t call it a Holiday
Tree anymore, even though many non-Christians do. In Japan, where the people
are largely Shinto or Buddhist, they put up trees and enjoy the shopping.
Strangely, there’s no mention of
any Christmas Tree in the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ birth. The only mention
of a tree is in Jeremiah 10:2-4, where the prophet specifically admonishes his people not to decorate their homes with trees,
as a number of pagan religions did to celebrate the Winter Solstice. The early
Church Father Tertullian said the same, as did the Pilgrim Governor of Massachusetts, William Bradford, who banned all “pagan
mockery.” The first American church to put up a tree was in 1851, and many
of its parishioners accused the minister of paganism.
So, Reverend Falwell, whose tree is it? If anyone has a right to ‘take back’ the tree, it’s the people who
first used it, the worshippers of Druidism and Baal (if any of them still exist). No,
Reverend, let’s be charitable and share the tree with anyone who wants it—it’s not ours to keep.
Maybe the separation of Christ’s
name from the commercial institutions and buying season isn’t such a bad thing after all. Maybe Christians should focus on the Christmas Story and not on what’s written on advertising flyers
and store signs. Maybe we shouldn’t worry about what store clerks are wishing
shoppers or what trees are publicly called and keep Christmas in our hearts. Happy
holidays to you all.
War on Christmas, Part Two
Once again the claim that America was established as a 'Christian nation'
is used to justify impoliteness to non-Christians. I'm not sure what that claim means, exactly, because America was
never exclusively Christian. Not then, not now. Just like today, the founding fathers represented a mixture of
religions, including non-Christian Deist, Unitarian, and even some atheists. The founders deliberately refused to establish
a national church or offer religious tests for office.
What America does stand for, then and now, is religious freedom, the right
to worship as one chooses, which is what all groups coming to America sought, and should have. That means a public space
that is religiously neutral, allowing all to worship in their ways. It's that public neutrality that has allowed so
much diversity and vitality in religion in this country, more than in any other place in the world.
Yet some want to spoil that wise public policy. We've fought these
battles before. Ironically, Falwell and his army of Liberty Council lawyers, and the Family Research Council are going
after business at a time when the limits of Church and State are well known, and there is little controversy over religious
displays in public areas, so long as other displays, including secular ones, are also permitted.
No one is trying to destroy the public expression of religion in the commercial
sphere. Note that the ACLU has never filed a brief forcing a business to forgo a Christmas party or promote a "Happy
It's the Religious Right that has intruded into this sphere, attempting to
bully businesses to see it their way. Wal-Mart and Sears aren't government property. In their attempt to boycott
the use of "Happy Holidays" at these stores, religious conservatives are actually telling the owners of private property how
to run their businesses and what to do with their property.
Let's debate whether Jesus Himself would be in favor of Merry Christmas signs
in Burdines or Macy's. I will leave it up to my esteemed colleague to show me where in the Bible Jesus ever demanded
that the public square be made his. In fact, his comments on the practice of public displays of piety (Matthew 6) in
prayer, fasting, and almsgiving were overwhelmingly negative.
One wonders how far this Children's Crusade of Falwell's will go. If
'Happy Holidays' is threatened by Liberty's legions of lawyers, how close are Frosty the Snowman and Santa Claus to legal
limbo? Will the Sugar Plum Fairy, Charlie Brown, and the Toy Soldier join the Reverend's hit list? Will "Jingle
Bells" no longer jingle?
Let it go, Jerry! This mess of Christians claiming the commercial buying
season and ownership of ambiguous symbols like the Christmas Tree only serves to dilute Christ's real message. Conservative
Christians used to know this, but in their zeal to fight wars of culture and raise funds for future political action, they
have apparently forgotten it.
James Hall, From the Left