The War on the War on the War on Christmas

Media warriors divide the ranks of those on two sides: those who gleefully view public Christmas observance as a right versus those who glumly view Christmas as a state-imposed endorsement of religious worship.

The buzz they create touches nearly every part of an otherwise festive season filled with light, color and music. There are heated arguments over the need for public funding for Christmas lights. Many nearly come to blows debating the mere use of the word “Christmas” in schools and at public events. Long-winded television commentators warn incessantly of “Christmas under attack” while politicians drone on about the separation of church and state. Retailers and their customers haggle over the use of the phrase “Merry Christmas”. Scholars debate over the pagan origins of modern Christmas celebrations while Christian “fundamentalists” denounce efforts to remove the mention of Christ from any holiday event. Every Christmas season seems to elevate the debate to a new level of absurdity.

Defend Christmas, “The War on Christmas

I admit that I have a perverse fascination for these sorts of fights, the struggle to reestablish the reality of a fantasy, or something. All of those calls for women to ‘return the home’– I think of my grandmother, who we called Grandmere, and who worked all of her life.

And then there is the perennial call to defend Christmas, which must have begun as an advertising ploy on Fox but has now taken on at least the feel of reality to a remarkable number of people. Some of this is just plain creepy, like the Family Time with Santa video.

That reminds me of all of those baby Jesus stories they used to tell us during our weekly Catholic classes. This idea, though, of being a ‘persecuted Christian’ is very appealing to some; certainly more appealing than realizing you’re a rich real estate agent or something. Things have gone all meta too, at the War on the War on Christmas.

Yet, as far as I can tell, the entire war, and now the attempt to bring reason back into the war– the war on the war– is rooted in two very minor phenomena. First, a few retailers made the pragmatic decision to use Happy Holidays rather than Merry Christmas in various contexts. It’s always odd to hear right winger market worshipers suddenly go all secular and decide that maybe the market isn’t always right.

Second, a few school administrators, perhaps newly aware of the diversity of their student bodies, decided to dial down the Christian rhetoric. I have a lot of sympathy for the schools who want to find some way to be more inclusive but who inevitable face this weird hysteria over things that don’t exist and over exaggerated threats to Christianity’s overwhelming cultural dominance.

It may be difficult to imagine a Black president getting elected, or a Woman, or one with a beard for that matter, but an openly nonbeliever? That’s really the unthinkable thought. As a friend said the other day, everything is forced to be related to Christianity, even atheism. I just wish these folks were more focused on fighting the ever uglier commercialism of Christmas.

About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol]

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