Holiday Haranguers: Religious Right Tells America To Celebrate Christmas Its Way Or Get Out
Rob Boston printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Thu Dec 24, 2009 at 11:01:10 AM EST
I did an interview last week with TV preacher Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN). The network was interested in getting my thoughts about U.S. Rep. Henry Brown's resolution promoting Christmas.

I told CBN I didn't think much of it. I pointed out that if you want a deeply religious experience at this time of year, you're bound to be disappointed looking for it at city hall, public schools or the U.S. Congress. I recommended going to church for that.

I've told several reporters this year that, whether the Religious Right likes it or not, the character of Christmas is changing in America. Increasing religious diversity, the popularity of "do-it-yourself" spirituality and other factors are affecting all aspects of the culture, Christmas included.

Some in the Religious Right have responded to this by hunkering down and arrogantly insisting that Christmas belongs to them, and they will determine how it is to be celebrated. On Dec. 22, Robertson went on a tear about the need to preserve the religious character of Christmas and warning interlopers to stay away.

"It isn't somebody else's holiday! This is our holiday! This is a Christian holiday!" Robertson ranted on his "700 Club."

Yet that same CBN story cited an interesting statistic. It referenced an unnamed poll taken this month that found that "66 percent of Americans celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday, while 20 percent celebrate it as a secular holiday."

Those numbers surprised me. Numerous polls have shown that the United States remains a religious nation, but the number of people celebrating Christmas as a secular holiday appears to be growing. Twenty percent may not seem like much now, but I doubt that figure was even half that 40 years ago.

I think this is what's really bothering people like Brown, Robertson, Liberty Counsel, the American Family Association and the other members of what I call the "Christmas Police." Some people dare to celebrate Christmas as a secular holiday or add elements of Paganism. (This is not so strange, considering the holiday's Pagan roots.) Some interfaith families blend various traditions. There are even people who say they add a dose of Festivus from the old "Seinfeld" sitcom.

This really annoys the Religious Right. To the budding theocrats, there's really only one "right" way to celebrate Christmas -- theirs.

But once again, the Religious Right is picking a fight it can't win. If Americans' attitudes toward Christmas are changing, it's not because of government fiat. Indeed, the reasons for this tide of cultural change are complex and involve many elements.

America's policy of religious freedom buttressed by the separation of church and state guarantees every American the right to celebrate Christmas as his or her conscience dictates. You can do it wholly religious, wholly secular, a mix of both or add in elements from other holidays that take place this time of year. If the Religious Right doesn't like it, too bad!

I don't know what Christmas will look like in 50 years. It may very well be more secular, or it may have incorporated even more features from other end-of-the-year celebrations. The holiday will evolve as the culture dictates - no matter how much television evangelists and members of Congress rant and rave.

Season's Greetings from Americans United!

There is little more futile than the religious right's continual whining about the "War on Christmas."  The major battle was done and dusted decades ago, and all that's left are a few meaningless skirmishes defending icons of Christmas in the public square.

While surveys may say that 66% of Americans will celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday, in reality, a good majority of that 2/3rds of Americans will still be celebrating Christmas as a mostly-secular holiday.

Sure, many will spend an hour or two in church for Midnight Mass or the Christmas morning service (services that are well attended even in heathen Britain where I am at the moment), but the vast majority of their time before and during Christmas will be reserved for entirely secular things:

  1. Family (visiting with relatives)
  2. Consumerism (buying presents)
  3. Friends (office parties, group outings)
  4. Conspicuous Consumption (food and alcohol)
  5. Travel (getting there, or getting stuck!)
  6. Play (esp. the children)

Pile on top of all that the traditional secular/pagan trappings of an American Christmas:

  1. Santa Claus
  2. Christmas Trees
  3. Yule Logs
  4. Sentimental Christmas Music (arrrghh!!)
  5. Reindeer, Elves, Grinches, etc.
  6. Christmas TV Classics & Specials
  7. Christmas Sports (NFL, NBA, etc)

And finally top it all off with whatever family traditions grow up over the years -- jokes, funny presents, etc. -- and I'd wager that you can barely see the religious underpinnings of Christmas any more.

That's what so amuses me about the Religious Right and their whining about other, peripheral, matters.  It's all about symbolism (what does it matter to the heart of the religious message of Christmas, really, whether or not a manger scene is allowed pride of place in a state capitol building?)

Perhaps some of them have already noticed that their side has already lost the war, but they believe that if they can continue to make a big enough stink about a few high-profile battles then perhaps nobody else will notice that Christmas is already, in reality, over 90% secular.

Finally, since I am in the UK at the moment, I will simply point out that in a country where fewer than 10% of the population is in church on any given Sunday, there is no lack of people saying "Merry Christmas" to one another, or state schools putting on productions of the Christmas Story, or manger scenes in people's houses, or people singing Christmas carols, or children learning traditional (religious) Christmas carols in music class and school choirs, or local, country, and national government entities getting on board with the spiritual trappings of Christmas.

Britain has kept the vast majority of the trappings of Christmas that the Religious Right is so bitterly fighting for, and yet has still become a vastly more secular nation in the last 40 years.  In other words, the stuff they are fretting about it simply doesn't matter.  Not only are they watching the wrong ball, they are at the wrong game.

Oh, and a Merry Christmas to everyone on this blog!

by tacitus on Thu Dec 24, 2009 at 07:54:45 PM EST

Boy, mentioning Santa Claus opens a can o' worms!

It'd be interesting to know how many of the people who claim to celebrate Xmas as a "religious" holiday tell their kids about The Guy in Red and The Reindeer and all that!

Some eschew Santa (we did), some have assimilated him (a proud tradition, perhaps best encapsulated by the description in Dickens' "Carol"), and some no doubt just throw him, with the baby Jesus and the Manger, onto the heap.

Your comment is good, but you bullet list of secular trappings raises further questions. I'm guessing the pollster's questionnaire has the makings for a finer analysis.

And then there was that news item about the "Christ-mas" tree.

See? It's only getting hairier!

by razajac on Sun Dec 27, 2009 at 08:29:37 PM EST

The 2.010 year war on Winter Solstice has been bloody, ruthless, relentless and demeaning to all who know the true history of the season and the Christian assault to destroy our rightful heritage and traditions that go back for hundreds of thousands of years.

by sovereignjohn on Thu Dec 24, 2009 at 09:53:03 PM EST
Unless some dramatic astronomical event intervenes to straighten the Earth's axis, you will find that the Solstice will continue unabated. That war was won millions if not billions of years ago.

Happy Yule,

by scrocker1946 on Mon Dec 28, 2009 at 01:47:51 AM EST

Robertson: "It isn't somebody else's holiday! This is our holiday! This is a Christian holiday!"

Garrison Keillor: Christmas is a Christian holiday -- if you're not in the club, then buzz off.

Y'all are much better connected historically than I am - is there any truth to the rumors that Congress made Xmas a federal holiday in 1870 in part on the grounds that its observance had become a universal event for all Americans?

Modern AFA: Keep Christmas in the department stores, where it belongs!

by Pierce R Butler on Fri Dec 25, 2009 at 01:09:29 PM EST

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