Holiday Hucksters: Religious Right Cranks Up Another `War On Christmas'
Rob Boston printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Tue Nov 06, 2007 at 12:26:54 PM EST
Your kids are queasy from eating too much candy, there's a decomposing jack o'lantern on your front stoop and the trees in your back yard are rapidly shedding leaves. Sounds like the time is right for another "War on Christmas" brought to you by the Religious Right!

That's right. These days, the Religious Right doesn't even have the decency to wait until Thanksgiving to start whining about what terms people use to describe the December holidays.

Liberty Counsel, a Religious Right legal group associated with the late Jerry Falwell, issued an alert Oct. 30 vowing to slap retailers with either a "Friend" or "Foe" label this year based on whether the word "Christmas" appears in their ads, in catalogs and on Web sites.

Focus on the Family, in an effort to be hip and trendy, has a new video short out featuring Stuart Shepard, one of its faux reporters. The cheeky Shepard explains how this year he's celebrating "Tossmass" by discarding all of the catalogs that fail to use religiously correct terminology.

Not to be outdone, the folks at World Net Daily are hawking "Christmas Defense Kits" featuring a bumper sticker that reads, "This is America! And I'm going to say it: `Merry Christmas!'"

How charming. There's nothing like being an obnoxious prig for the holidays.

Lately I've been researching this whole "War on Christmas" thing for a story I'm writing for December's Church & State, and I've noticed a few things. For starters, promoting the "War on Christmas" has become a cottage industry for the Religious Right. These groups make tons of money selling pro-Christmas stuff: buttons, stickers, memos that purport to explain your rights, etc. Keeping the "war" alive is crucial to the Religious Right's bottom line.

Secondly, over the past year, the Religious Right has shifted the discussion from things like battles over Nativity scenes on public property to the language, decorations and even in-store greetings offered by retailers.

Why are the legal eagles of the Religious Right focusing on what stores do instead of government? Simple. The number of battles over holiday symbols is decreasing. The courts have ruled on this matter ad nauseum, and guidelines are in place. Retailers are the new big, fat target for the Religious Right's whiny campaign. The Religious Right needs a new enemy to attack to ensure those dollars flow in and to keep its followers in a constant state of agitation and mock outrage over the latest assaults by the anti-religious fanatics who support church-state separation.

But it's the usual Religious Right con. Most advocates of church-state separation don't spend much time obsessing over what stores are doing or saying in December. When a unit of government takes it upon itself to celebrate the religious aspects of a holiday on everyone's behalf, we have to speak out. But the shops down at the mall aren't part of that. They aren't arms of the government. Some say "Christmas" in their ads and some don't. Who cares? The holiday will come either way. (Remember, the Grinch even stole the last can of Who Hash - yet Christmas still came.)

In fact, one could argue that all of the brouhaha at the mall is a distraction from the central message of Christmas. Does the fact that a giant corporation uses the word "Christmas" in its ads truly mean it is interested in marking the birth of Jesus? Chances are, its real goal is persuading you to bust out the credit cards and spend, spend, spend.

It's sad, really. The Religious Right's holier-than-thou brigade claims to treasure Christmas - and then drafts it as cannon fodder in its culture war, spending three months hawking offensive, in-your-face buttons and stickers that make a mockery of a season that is supposed to be dedicated to peace and love. Is that really what Jesus would do?

For those in the Religious Right who genuinely are offended because the newspaper ad from Best Buy fails to include the word "Christmas" and the temporary clerk at the Sears dares to say "Happy Holidays," I have some advice: This Christmas, ask Santa Claus to bring you a life.

As a secular Brit who never worried for a moment about saying Merry or Happy Christmas, it was a very strange experience when I spent my first Holiday season in Florida, way back nearly 20 years ago.

Almost everybody, even then, would say "Happy Holidays" which, to my ears, sounded very strange and oddly vague about the season.  It was later explained to me that since there was a large Jewish community in and around where I was staying (Boca Raton), it was simply more practical and more accurate to use a more inclusive term.

Even today, when I visit the UK over the holidays, we all still use Happy Christmas even though very few of my friends and family could be described as religious.  Even in countries like Norway and Sweden, where Christianity is barely relevant to the majority of citizens any more, I am sure that Christmas, as a word, as a festival, and as a business opportunity will continue to have a long and healthy existence.

The pitiful thing is that the religious right is simply manufacturing the controversy.  Almost none, perhaps none at all,  of the cases they cite as being anti-Christmas are motivated by anti-Christian sentiment.  After all, the stores want to sell as much merchandise as possible to the widest selection of people, so any decision they make is purely in response to market research.  Just like in Boca 20 years ago, it makes sense, in some cases, to use the more generic term.

The irony is that in many ways, Christmas is no longer primarily a Christian holiday, even in the US.  Even among Christian families, many of them spend more time, and much more money on the secular trappings of Christmas -- presents, decorations, parties, booze, food, food, and more food than they do on the religious side of things.    Sure, carol services and other Christmas celebrations can be wonderful -- and many otherwise non-religious people attend them -- but in many ways, in practical terms, the religious significance of Christmas comes third for many, many people, behind that of family, and commerce.

So, for all the self-indulgent indignation, fussing and moaning, these protesters are sorely missing the point.  Just like their pointless battle over gay marriage, they are missing the bigger picture.  America, by and large, doesn't really care about these things.  Sure, when polled, they might be pushed into taking a position, but on the whole, as you say in the article, they have more important things to be worried about.

by tacitus on Tue Nov 06, 2007 at 02:03:10 PM EST

Fundamentalists cry that using inclusive language during the holidays is "political correctness", then they try to force businesses to use their specified language to promote Christmas.  What a bunch of hypocrites!

by RasSteve on Wed Nov 07, 2007 at 06:52:02 AM EST
Yes, but when they do it, it's cute!

by GreenEyed Lilo on Wed Nov 07, 2007 at 09:46:08 AM EST

...real people and real lives are involved, and people who just want to live in ways that these Christianist creeps don't approve of are being targeted.

I know Christmas doesn't have to be religious, too--my Pagan self and my apatheist brother, as well as our atheist wives, celebrate it as a way to reconnect with our family.

by GreenEyed Lilo on Wed Nov 07, 2007 at 09:48:22 AM EST

Advent, a time of waiting, of spiritual preparation, of keeping it simple?

Naaahhh. Fundamentalists never heard of it.

by NancyP on Tue Nov 06, 2007 at 05:47:52 PM EST


I actually wish people a blessed advent during the appropriate weeks.  The religious non-profit for which I am administrator has a "holiday" party which is always on the first Friday in December and we shamelessly call it an Advent Party.  

On first Advent, our Rector always wishes everyone a happy new year, because for those of us following the liturgical calendar, it is in fact, the new year.  

I rather suspect that if you asked a lot of the fundies which days constituted the 12 days of Christmas, they would start counting on December 13.  Oh well. . .

by SFLady on Tue Nov 06, 2007 at 08:09:56 PM EST

One of the great frustrations of ministry was the failure of my congregations to understand advent. Christmas became a rushed season of frills, programs, parties, decorations and calories. Lost in all our flurry of activity was a sense of the waiting for Christ, the call of the prophet to self-reflection, or the possibility of seeing Christ in the pregnant pessant girl, the hotels stable, or the crowed village streets. Advent has become a secular season, the marketer already preparing for ther Christmas 2009 season, while the church ignores its implications and tilts at shaddows.

by chaplain on Thu Nov 08, 2007 at 08:22:36 AM EST

My diary entry from November 5th.

However, you make fantastic points about retailers v. government that I didn't think of. Thank you.

by GreenEyed Lilo on Wed Nov 07, 2007 at 09:44:51 AM EST

Interesting considering that:

  1.  December 25th is originally the winter solstice that the Christians hijacked in order to stamp out paganism.

  2.  The "Christmas tree" is also a pagan custom
hijacked by the Christians - Jeremiah 10:2-4:

3.  The nativity scene most likely never happened.  The story as described in the gospels is probably a non-event.  Herod had already been dead (4BC) for ten years by the time of the census (6AD).  There were no inns in those days and an alternate story is that the birth occurred in a cave.  There is no mention of a great star appearing at that time by historians.  The story is full of holes.

The battle, it seems, is over a myth and a holiday and customs that do not even belong to those who are most vocal about it.

by Concerned on Mon Nov 12, 2007 at 12:37:16 AM EST

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