Rev Irene Monroe

The Right's Bogus War on Christmas

Filed By Rev Irene Monroe | December 20, 2009 11:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Media
Tags: AFA, American Family Association, Christian beliefs, culture wars, multiculturalism, War on Christmas

What's in a greeting?

With Ramadan, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Winter Solstice and Christmas all going on this time of year, one would think that an all-inclusive seasonal greeting emblematic of our nation's religious diversity would be embraced by us all with two simple words -- Happy Holidays!

However, the season's greeting is the ongoing chapter in the culture war spearheaded in 2005 by what the Christian Right calls the "War on Christmas."

Last month the American Family Association (AFA) boycotted Gap, Inc., about the censorship of their use of the term "Christmas." But Gap's television advertising campaign actually acknowledged all celebrations this time of year with a song that said, "Go Christmas, Go Hanukkah, Go Kwanzaa, Go solstice... go Christmas, go Hanukkah, go whatever holiday you Wannakuh"

In October 2008 AFA criticized hardware retailer The Home Depot for using terms such as "holiday" and "Hanukkah" but not "Christmas."

AFA is one of the nation's watchdog organizations critiquing the censorship of the use of the term "Christmas" in media advertising. A conservative Christian organization headquartered in Tupelo, Mississippi, AFA proudly boasts "promoting the biblical ethic of decency in American society with primary emphasis on TV and other media."

But AFA isn't the only watchdog critiquing the censorship of the use of the term "Christmas."

Owner of Boss Creations, Martha Boss, is doing her part when it comes to trees.

Not liking the use of the term "holiday trees" Martha's attempt to put "Christ back into Christmas " is a simple matter of how you decorate your tree.

We at Boss Creations believe that one way to do this is to decorate with more Christian-themed holiday decorations including The CHRIST-mas Tree. We have figured a way to enhance the tradition of decorating a tree for Jesus at Christmas by adding a cross that acts as a reminder of Him. By changing our tree to include a cross, we are making a statement that we want to keep our Christmas holiday!

The decorated evergreen coniferous tree that has come to be known as the Christmas tree began in 16th century Northern Germany. And Martin Luther, the 16th-century Protestant reformer, is the first to add lighted candles to the tree. But traditions are hard to let go of or to modify or even to expand to include our present-day religious landscape. For example, in 2005 when Nova Scotian tree farmer Donnie Hatt gave Boston its tree, Hatt told the Boston Globe that he "would rather have put the tree in a wood chipper than have it named a 'holiday' tree... Ever since I was born, a tree was put up for Christmas, not for holidays, because if you're going to do that you might as well put a tree up for Easter." Bill O'Reilly, the Fox News anchor, would agree with Hatt. And on his show O'Reilly has talked up boycotts of retailers for not using the words "Merry Christmas." In the 1970s, evangelical Christians were so outraged by the secularization and commercialism of Christmas that they were protesting to "put Christ back into Christmas." But now members of the Religious Right has flipped the script and want more commercialism for Christ, thus extolling materialism as piety.

These boycotts have little to do with the reverence for Christ's birth but rather it's a backlash against the religious multiculturalism of the holiday season. These attacks by the Right on stores like Gap and Home Depot use their economic clout to cripple stores for not showing commercial deference to Christmas.

And truth be told, Christian conservation organizations like AFA and businesses like Boss Creations are on the hunt for whomever they perceive to be "Christian haters" and "professional atheists" and will boycott all stores for using "Happy Holidays" in their advertising.

With the Right's "war on Christmas" against perceived "Christian haters" and "professional atheists," they view as the folks trying to abolish Christmas, the Right don't know of the folks who did. History, however, shows there was once an extreme group of Protestants who did-- the Puritans. With the date of December 25 deriving from the Saturnalia, the Roman heathen's wintertime celebration, and with the date found nowhere in the bible stating it as the birthday of Jesus, the Puritan Parliament banned Christmas from 1659 until 1681.

As a Christian, I know that the central message of the birth of Christ for those like me who celebrate it is to embrace the celebration of human differences and diversity. And it is with this message that I know all people -- religious and non-religious, straight and queer, black and white -- can be included to enjoy and to celebrate and to acknowledge this season with one simple greeting.

Happy Holidays!


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The other thing that was bothersome to me about the AFA's boycott was that they singled out Gap's inclusion of the celebration of Solstice, saying that by doing that Gap was promoting Paganism and witchcraft, which the AFA claims is sinful. Not only are they trying to call out false claims of anti-Christianity, they are also trying to position Christianity as superior above all other religions. They want Christmas to be the only acknowledged and respected holiday of the season.

Christianity remains the dominant paradigm in our culture, so the anti-Christian claims of the AFA are absurd and just silly. All they are doing in this campaign is exposing their own intolerance and bigotry.

Personally, the Winter Solstice marking the day that the Northern Hemisphere begins to receive more daily heat from the sun, I think it is great cause for celebration, considering how I despise the winter's cold. If the evangelicals object to the celebration of the Solstice, then maybe they should pray for God to modify the orbit of the Earth, or the tilt of its axis.

(Actually, the Earth's rotational axis does wobble through the centuries, not unlike the way a spinning top wobbles --- so all they have to do is wait a few hundred thousand years and the Winter Solstice might migrate into October or March. The problem with this strategy, though, is that for the last millennium it has been Western Civilization's habit to modify the calendar to keep the astronomical markers in their traditional places as best as is possible.)

I have no particular religious beliefs, but I still celebrate Christmas because it means spending time with my family. This "war on Christmas" crap is just alienating the people who want to celebrate the time of year for non-religious purposes. It's true the the country was founded on the principals of Christianity, but it was also founded on the principal of freedom of religion.

I would also like to add that I don't only celebrate Christmas. I celebrate Hannukah with my half-brother. I also celebrate the Solstice (Yule) for my own personal respect of the earth. Boycotting companies for use of the term 'Happy Holidays' and demanding that Christmas be used in commercial advertising that is meant for all audiences is only asserting Christian dominance over all other religious minorities, and brings us closer to a modern version of the Salem trials. Sorry Christian Right, I'd rather not have you burn down my house and stone me just because I don't believe in your god. Yes, lowercase god.

P.S. I also find it hypocritical how the "Christmas Crusaders" criticize the celebrations of these other winter holidays, yet they do not object to all the Christmas carols that include the term "Yule-tide" or a mention of the "Yule log". The Yule was originally an ancient pagan celebration of the winter, similar to the Solstice. But it was accommodated and incorporated gracefully into the Christmas tradition centuries ago, at a time when Christians were not so militantly paranoid.

Like their enforcements of some Bible passages and not others, the Religious Right likes to pick and choose their targets according to their own idiosyncratic, dogmatic whims. And supposedly this is all in the name of "Peace on Earth, Good Will to All".

I agree with you, Reverend. It's not about Christmas. It's about xenophobia in reaction to multi-culturalism. I feel as if this these people who complain about the War on Christmas are really saying that they're mad they don't run the show any more and that their form of worship isn't privileged to be the only one on display. I think it is very similar to those who get angry when heterosexuality isn't privileged to be the only form of sexuality on display.

I wish everyone and anyone who posts on this topic - the "war on Christmas" - would stop using the AFA's terminology. The GAP, and the rest of them have never engaged in CENSORSHIP - they may have chosen NOT to use the word Christmas, but it is in no way censorship! It may seem like a minor point, but the right is very good at misusing terminology, and then the culture adapts it. Take the phrase "family values" - its "code" for their particular set of values, but the phrase is now theirs. Don't allow them to now misuse the word "censorship" and don't get caught misusing it like them!

Take this sentence from your article: "AFA is one of the nation's watchdog organizations critiquing the censorship of the use of the term "Christmas" in media advertising."

you state this as fact, making it sound as if there are people PREVENTING someone from using the word "christmas" in advertising - no one is engaged in this activity. SOME retailers have chosen to not use the word, or to use it less frequently than the AFA would like. THIS IS NOT CENSORSHIP!

It's true the the country was founded on the principals of Christianity ...

This point is very much up to argument and I am not willing to concede it --- the historical facts produce a mixed bag of evidence pro and con, and people can readily build arguments that the glass is half-empty or half-full as they desire. However, there is no foundational document that invokes Christianity explicitly.

Moreover, it is historically true that many of the early pilgrim settlements were groups of European Christians persecuted in their home country usually by other Christians and they came to America to practice their particular form of Christianity. The tear-jerking "Christians are being persecuted" crowd today conveniently forget that the entire two thousand year history of Christianity is in large measure the story of Christian groups fracturing and then attacking each other.

Finally, the American tradition is clear that not only should the government allow all religious sects to worship as they please, but also that there is an implied social contract that the various religious sects should not persecute each other.

I am reading Helen Ellerbe's book; The Dark Side of Christian History, and she writes: "Yet, it was their belief in the many faces of God that helped Romans accommodate Christianity, not the uniqueness of Christian theology. Christianity resembled certain elements of Roman belief, particularly the worship of Mithra, or Mithraism. As "Protector of the Empire," Mithra was closely tied to the sun gods, Helios and Apollo. Mithra's birthday on December 25, close to the winter solstice, became Jesus's birthday. Shbepherds were to have witnessed Mithra's birth and were to have partaken in a last supper with mithra before he returned to heaven. Mithra's ascension, correlating to the sun's return to prominence around the spring equinox, became the Christian holiday of Easter. Christians took over a cave-temple dedicated to Mithra in Rome on the Vatican Hill, making it the seat of the Catholic Church."

Gives one a whole new perspective to consider our Christian history!!

Thanks, Sarah Jane, for this interesting perspective.

If you want to mess up a Christmas Crusader, ask them what religion the "three wise men" or "magi" belonged to. They obviously were not Christian, because the doctrines of Christianity had not been developed yet. And they obviously were not Jewish either.

They were "pagan" religious scholars of some sort, possibly from Babylonia, and probably maintained a library of documents from many different religions and studied them, not unlike the Religious Studies departments in modern "secular" universities. Since they were expert astronomers, some suggest that the magi might have been Zoroastrians. The Greek word "magi" is usually interpreted in other contexts as "wizard" implying some possible relationship with occult magic. In any event, they were not Judeo-Christian.

Yet the gospel of Matthew describes them in an obviously favorable light, directly implying that not all followers of pagan religions earn God's disfavor.

The Christmas story is intrinsically a multi-religious event. It's right there in the Bible.

My faith seems to be one of the few that do not have a holiday at this time of year, there was no holiday set for this time of years among the ancient Gaels. But my family likes to celebrate a very secular version of Christmas with their nominally Christian grandfather, and many of us get hired to play Christmas shows.
I use the term happy holidays with everyone because I have so many friends and students from different faiths.

Let's cut the crap.

People spend ungodly sums of money at Christmas time (pun unintended). The churches want a bigger share of that than they get in the offering plate at the Xmas Eve service.

If they can attack the stores as being too secular, it helps the sheeple feel more comfortable giving even more hard earned cash to the religious right groups when they come calling for donations on the backs of stores who want to honor everyone's beliefs.

Dr. Theodore W Hayes | December 21, 2009 4:26 PM

Perhaps evangelicals-- fundamentalists in particular -- would do better to work at putting "Christ" back in "Christian" before they attempt to get Christ back in Christmas. I see nothing Christ-like about these screeching religious political extremists.

Why try to ruin Christmas for so many? American is a Christian country and freedom of speech or not – it's an outrage to blatantly try to ruin the holiday spirit for millions of people. These terrible people are proselytizing – isn't that what they're against? Look at this! Tictacdo - step by step instructions on how to reject Jesus. What a crying shame... targeting our youth directly.

First, Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Religion are two principles written into the US Constitution (as it is currently interpreted by the US Supreme Court) --- the notion that "America is a Christian country" is not in that document, nor in any other foundational US document.

Secondly, Jews have the right to openly celebrate Hanukkah, and Muslims Ramadan, and African-Americans (who choose to) Kwanza ... it's the exact same political right that gives Christians the right to openly celebrate Christmas.

Next, no one is "ruining" your Christmas --- it is your own feelings of bigotry and religious exclusivity that are ruining your Christmas. If you would only learn to respect other peoples right to select the religion and holiday greeting of their choice, you would be at peace with all this.

Finally, as for the TicTacDo website you link to, if you don't like the "How To Become An Atheist" list, then you are perfectly welcome, it appears, to submit a list on "How To Become A Christian" (if someone hasn't done one already --- and even so, do your own).

You have a perfect right to put out your own message --- and other people have a right to put out their message. That is how it works in America, and if you don't like it, maybe you should go live somewhere else.

"As a Christian, I know that the central message of the birth of Christ for those like me who celebrate it is to embrace the celebration of human differences and diversity."

Huh? I don't understand the connection. How does celebrating the birth of Jesus suggest embracing diversity and difference? I spent time in mainstream, evangelical, and liberal Christian groups for decades and I have never heard of such a connection. Could you elaborate some? Thanks.

The people behind this and those who support it will certainly rot in hell. There time will come too.