War on Christmas
|Some dare call it|
|What THEY don't want|
you to know!
|—H. P. Lovecraft|
The so-called "War on Christmas" (or less sensationally, the Christmas controversy) is a right-wing demagogic neologism referring to real or imagined secularist attempts to keep the annual December solstice holiday shopping season culturally inclusive. Setting the standard by which all other manufactroversies may be judged, it is most famously hawked each and every year by none other than former Fox News Channel contributor Bill O'Reilly.
Few people, even among those who promote this idea, know that its modern-day form started out as a conspiracy theory promulgated by groups affiliated with the John Birch Society, which termed it the "Assault on Christmas". In 1959, they released a pamphlet called "There Goes Christmas", in which they claimed that there was a new communist plot to "take the Christ out of Christmas" by replacing Christmas decorations with
jewish United Nations iconography. The Society claimed that this formed part of a larger push to stamp out religion altogether and to cede American sovereignty to the UN. They urged members to boycott any stores with "inappropriate decorations".
The JBS itself had developed the idea of a War on Christmas from inter-war antisemitic publications, particularly from Henry Ford's The International Jew. Detecting a part of a supposed move to take over the world, the JBS claimed that Jews were launching a "war on Christianity", with one paper lamenting, "Last Christmas most people had a hard time finding Christmas cards that indicated in any way that Christmas commemorated Someone's Birth." This was (of course) seen as a plot by Jewish conspirators who "consider any public expression of Christian character as being derogatory to [their] religion." Sound familiar?
"They ain't makin' Jews like Jesus anymore…"
- "Baby, It's Cold Outside" by Frank Loesser
- "The Christmas Song" ("Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire") by Mel Tormé and Bob Wells
- "The Christmas Waltz" by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne
- "Happy Holiday" by Irving Berlin
- "A Holly Jolly Christmas" by Johnny Marks
- "Home for the Holidays" by Robert Allen and Al Stillman
- "I'll Be Home for Christmas" by Buck Ram and Walter Kent
- "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" by Edward Pola and George Wyle
- "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm" by Irving Berlin
- "Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow" by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne
- "A Marshmallow World", lyrics by Carl Sigman
- "Parade of the Wooden Soldiers" by Leon Jessel
- "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" by Johnny Marks
- "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" by Johnny Marks
- "Santa Baby" by Joan Javits and Philip Springer
- "Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town", music by J. Fred Coots
- "Silver Bells" by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans
- "Sleigh Ride", lyrics by Mitchell Parrish
- "We Need a Little Christmas" by Jerry Herman
- "White Christmas" by Irving Berlin
- "Winter Wonderland", music by Felix Bernard
- "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch", music by Albert Hague (lyrics by the gentile Dr. Seuss)
Then again, since these tunes focus on the nonreligious aspects of Christmas, those so inclined will eagerly put such authorships forward as "evidence" of a fiendish Jewish plot to secularize the holiday. Oh, heck! Let's all just sing Christmas songs around the Hanukkah bush!
The "War on Christmas" meme was revived in the 1990s by paleoconservative, VDARE founder, white nationalist, antisemite, and all-around wingnut Peter Brimelow, as part of a larger battle against multiculturalism. However, no individual is more responsible for dragging the concept from the right-wing fringe into "mainstream" media culture, and making it into an annual tradition as reliable and inevitable as the holiday season itself, than Bill O'Reilly, who is apparently horrified (yes, horrified!) that Wal-Mart greeters and other retail workers might wish that their customers enjoy "Happy Holidays" rather than "Merry Christmas", despite the fact that his own website sold "holiday ornaments" rather than X-Mas ornaments.
The fact that "Happy Holidays" refers to over a dozen holidays (see below) never seems to have any real effect on the demagoguery. Neither does the idea that Christmas itself was first made by blatantly ripping off a pagan holiday (let's hear it for the War on Yule!) or that puritanical types have made a few wars against Christmas themselves (see below). So the Religious Right keeps yammering about it and secularists keep making jokes about going along with it.[note 1] As the years go by, the semi-ironic "Merry Christmas" greeting is gaining ground, used by some as a kind of meta-statement on the ongoing controversy. (It should be acknowledged that there are, in fact, some non-Christians who do object to the public usage of "Merry Christmas" — and in some cases even "Happy Holidays" — as expressions of Christian cultural hegemony in the West. However, and whether one agrees with their stance or not, such people aren't remotely close in either number or influence to becoming the Christmas-destroying juggernaut of right-wingers' fevered imaginations anytime soon.)
Interestingly enough, and in apparent defiance of the best efforts of the sinister anti-Christmas warriors, the proportion of American Christians who feel a religious meaning in Christmas is increasing, even as church membership is generally declining in the U.S. as well. This would appear to suggest that the unstated premise that the meaning of Christmas rests upon people using the word to sell merchandise is not correct.
In 2016, then-President-elect Donald Trump unilaterally declared an end to the War on Christmas, basically by declaring war on everyone who didn't say "Merry Christmas", although oddly enough, Trump himself had previously waged war on Christmas when his management company banned Christmas trees from the lobby of one of his apartment houses in 1981.
Not like it used to be?
Many right-wingers misrepresent the history of Christian celebrations in an attempt to claim that Christmas in the past was all about religion, but now is purely secular with no mention of Jesus; for example, in 2017, there were claims that Australian schools were "trying to take pictures of Jesus out of Christmas cards". In addition to being completely made up, this ignores the fact that the very first Christmas card ever made had no mention of Christ, the nativity, God, angels, or anything religious. Designed by John Callcott Horsley in 1843, it featured a scene of people drinking wine, including a mother feeding it to her young child, with generic scenes of charity at either side. Most of Christmas tradition was invented in the 19th century by people such as Charles Dickens, whose novella A Christmas Carol focuses on Christmas as a time for charity and spending time with loved ones rather than emphasizing the Christmas message. Largely secular Victorian traditions like roast dinners (also popularized in A Christmas Carol), trees, and cards show the lack of religious significance.
So what's a war without war profiteers?
The American Family Association (AFA) issues a yearly list of nationwide retail outlets often owned by huge multinational corporations that they say are "for," "marginal on," or "against" Christmas. The "for Christmas" companies supposedly use the word "Christmas" instead of "Xmas" [note 2] or "Holiday" in their advertising, while the "against Christmas" companies do not. Of course, the AFA doesn't seem to notice that many of the companies on the "for Christmas" list often substitute "Holiday" for "Christmas" in their ads or minimize the number of references to the holidays altogether. This has led to speculation
from godless, gay, pinko-commies that maybe the AFA receives compensation for inclusion on the "for Christmas" list, a claim that the AFA denies.
They've messed up our economy!
In 2008, the ante was raised as a columnist blamed the year's economic crisis on the War on Christmas. In true Wall Street Journal op-ed style, Daniel Henninger said that the push against Christmas is leading us to a Mad Max type environment.
The War in politics
In 2007, even some Presidential candidates took up the war, with Mike Huckabee claiming he was going to wish the gathered Iowa Republicans a "Merry Christmas" in spite of it possibly being "controversial". This was intensified in 2015 and 2016 under Donald Trump.[note 3] Trump's wife, First Lady Melania Trump, officially declared the war over in 2018, when she told her then-friend on the phone:
"Happy Holidays" may also refer to…
- Alban Arthuan
- Baxter Day[note 4]
- Black Friday
- Boxing Day
- Bug Nollig[note 5]
- Buy Nothing Day
- Cave Christmas[note 6]
- Chinese New Year (occasionally)
- Constitution Day[note 7]
- Conventions occurring in December/January
- The Crystal Feast[note 8]
- Cyber Monday
- Dianetics Day
- Dies Natalis Solis Invicti
- Dongzhi Festival (Chinese winter solstice festival)
- Eastern Orthodox Christmas (observed on January 7)
- Eid al-Adha (Islamic New Year)[note 9]
- The Feast of Frith[note 10]
- Freeza Day (or Frieza Day)
- Guy Fawkes Night
- Hanukkah[note 11]
- Hearth's Warming Eve
- Holiday (Pastafarianism)
- Inti Raymi
- The Kongo Bongo Festival of Lights[note 12]
- Life Day
- The Long Night
- Monkey Day
- Newtonmas, a.k.a: Grav-mass
- New Year's Eve
- New Year's Day (also celebrated on the first of April, by fools)
- Nickmas[note 13]
- Nittel Nacht
- The Primary Gifting Period[note 14]
- Ramadan[note 15]
- Saint Stephen's Day
- Second Rite of Belial
- Solstice (winter in the northern hemisphere, summer in the southern)
- Starlight Night[note 16]
- Thanksgiving (in some places)
- Twelfth Night
- Yule (or Jul)
- Zamenhof Day (yes, it's a real thing)[note 17]
Weapons used in the war
- Yule logs
- Gift exchanges
- Decorated evergreen trees (these are unbiblical)
- Magical reindeer
- Plastic, life-size Santas
- Flesh and blood, alcoholic Santas (SantaCon)
- Strings of colored lights
- Last-years' fruitcake, now weaponized, not to be confused with:
- Food, often in extraordinarily large quantities
- Roving gangs of musically-inclined, jovial songsters
- Christmas tree fires
- Eggnog, also weaponized
Holly with leaf miner damage: evolutionary arms race
Christmas beer from 1896
- Santacon photo - Tompkins Square.jpg
Anti-alcoholic Santa poster
Actual wars on Christmas
In a twist that breaks an irony meter or two, in many of the times that a war has actually been declared on Christmas, it was Christians who were the ones warring against it.
- In England, the Puritan government of Oliver Cromwell banned Christmas celebrations. This led to pro-Christmas rioting in several cities, in which rioters defied Cromwell by decking the halls with boughs of holly.
- Scotland, with its strong Calvinist tradition, also ignored or minimised Christmas. Although it was popular before the 1560 Protestant Reformation, the celebration was banned by law in 1640 (e.g. fishermen in Aberdeen were forced to set out on their boats on Christmas Day). This was partly repealed in 1686, and then the ban introduced again in 1690 (when the Protestant King William came to the throne) until 1712. New Year (which has no religious significance) was the big winter holiday, while the Church of Scotland didn't consider Christmas to be important, and Christmas wasn't even a day off work until 1958. This position is still maintained the small ultra-Calvinist Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland.
- In Massachusetts, Christmas was completely banned for 22 years, from 1659 until 1681, only being legalized again when King James II appointed an Anglican governor to the colony who could rule by decree. Christmas did not become popular there until the 1850s.
- George Washington's famous crossing of the Delaware took place on the night of December 25, 1776, with the hope of catching the Hessian soldiers garrisoned in Trenton, New Jersey off guard in the morning as they were still in bed nursing hangovers. The Continental forces presumably weren't celebrating Christmas as they were busy loading boats. After the Revolutionary War, celebrating Christmas fell out of style in America as "too British".
- Observation of Christmas in the British Isles was in decline during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Christmas had fallen under a cloud of official public disfavor as a result of the Industrial Revolution, along with most other festivals that had the potential to encourage public gatherings of the lower classes for alcohol-fueled revelry. The factory owning classes found this threatening. It took Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol to revive the holiday, which, as the story suggests, was being increasingly neglected by the capitalist class. And it did so by promoting a new style of family-centered observance as opposed to mass public gatherings.
- Even today, certain fundamentalist Christians regard Christmas (not entirely inaccurately) as an unbiblical holiday of pagan) (and/or papist) origin. The Jehovah's Witnesses and Herbert W. Armstrong are well-known for this. For similar reasons, Jack Chick states that Christians are not supposed to celebrate Christ's birth in at least one of his comic book tracts, and argues that teaching children about Santa Claus will lead to them rejecting Christ once they realize Santa is a fairy tale. Other fundamentalist types, such as the Independent Baptists and Pentecostals, tend to de-emphasize the celebration of Christmas relative to mainline churches even when they don't reject it outright. Some Christian fundamentalists have also been known to picket Santa Claus in malls (or even to point out that Santa is an anagram of Satan), refer to Christmas trees as "Baal bushes", and the like.
- In November 2018, a religious education teacher in Pickering, North Yorkshire, UK, declared that their school was banning Christmas because the holiday was too commercialised and not sufficiently focused on Jesus. The ban was later reversed, but may have been a stunt to get the kids to think more deeply about baby Jesus in the manger. In any case, it was another instance of Christians (temporarily) banning Christmas.
- In the Soviet Union, Christmas was abolished as a religious holiday and replaced with New Year, which is still much more popular than Christmas in Russia (and much of the rest of the former USSR) to this day.
Actual peace on Christmas
The Christmas Truce of 1914 was a relatively widespread phenomenon that occurred in the trenches of World War One. However, the high commands of all sides involved quickly quashed this display of brotherly love, adding another brief page to the War on Christmas.
Easter: The next battlefield
Following the COVID-19 pandemic and many statewide social-distancing orders against public gatherings, some churches have resisted having internet church services in favor of in-person services, declaring a "war on Easter". Reverend Rodney Howard-Browne of Florida was arrested for unlawful assembly; his previous claim to fame was giving away AR-15s at his church and encouraging congregants to bring their guns to church. Pastor Tony Spell of Louisiana was also charged with misdemeanors for holding an in-person church gathering.
War on Thanksgiving?
In 2019 and 2020, some figures on the right, including then-President Trump, alleged that Thanksgiving was being targeted by liberals for banishment and/or renaming due to its alleged associations with white colonialism and the genocide of Native Americans. This despite Thanksgiving being a celebration of the first colonists and the Native Americans being amicable neighbors.
- Freedom From Religion Foundation
- Moral panic
- Conservative correctness
- War on Science
- Kirk Cameron, specifically his awful film Saving Christmas, which did very well at the 2014 Razzie Awards
- War on Christmas Official Dispatches Aggregated headlines and satirical rebuttals
- Wingnuts vs. ACLU debate
- Faux News has an interactive map showing the "battles" in the WoC.
- Controversy over public religious Christmas displays in America is fueled by differing beliefs regarding Christmas and American history, London School of Economics
- "The War on Christmas, or How to Build Mass Support for Right Wing Ideology" An article that traces the intellectual roots of the war on Christmas in the conservative movement.
- "The War on Christmas: A Measured Response" by Hbomberguy
- When, in fact, most secularists really don't mind "Merry Christmas"; as a general rule, it's mostly just a few butthurt egotists who complain every year.
- Which is highly amusing, since the "X" in "Xmas" is not a placeholder to "cross out" Christ, but the Greek letter chi (χ), which is the first letter of "Christ" in Greek; it's an abbreviation invented by Christians and used for centuries.
- For example, President-elect Donald Trump suggested boycotting Starbucks over their private decision to change the style of their Christmas cups (so much for small government!). Hey, there's even been a song written about Trump's love for Christmas.
- A holiday celebrated by Buster and his mom on Arthur.
- A holiday celebrated by the insect society of Ballybug in Lu & the Bally Bunch.
- From the episode, "The Night Before Cave Christmas" in the Super Mario World animated series. It's celebrated in the middle of August, however.
- Taiwan's Constitution Day is celebrated on December 25. This is because the first president of Taiwan, Chiang Kai-shek, was Christian and wanted an excuse to make Christmas a public holiday in a predominantly Buddhist/Taoist society.
- Brought up in one line from the Doctor Who episode "A Christmas Carol".
- Eid al-Adha has coincided with Christmas in the past and will do again in the future. Since Islamic holidays are on a lunar calendar, however, its date progresses backwards through the Gregorian calendar. In 2023, it started on the evening of June 28 and ended on the evening of July 2. It will start on the evening of June 16 and end on the evening of June 20 in 2024 and start on the evening of June 6 and end on the evening of June 10 in 2025. In some locations, the date depends on the sighting of the new moon with the naked eye.
- Celebrated in an animated adaptation of Watership Down, and not in the original book.
- Due to the Hebrew calendar being luni-solar, the date "wanders" through the month of December and sometimes November.
- Celebrated in an episode of Donkey Kong Country.
- What Nickelodeon called Christmas in 2002 to get around this whole shitstorm.
- This is UK retailer-speak for the period ending closing time on 24 December, starting at an indeterminate point in time which seems to be getting earlier with each successive year. You can identify when a store is in "PGP layout" by referring to the "Seasonal" aisle. PGP layout begins when the store's Seasonal section makes the first of two switches to Christmas paraphernalia — the second switch is a return to Christmas goods after Halloween. Until Bill Bailey popularised the term, it was considered jargon, but is now proof positive of "Political correctness gone mad!!!!", with four exclamation marks and everything.
- The Islamic holy month of Ramadan has coincided with Christmastime in the past and will do again in the future. Like Eid al-Adha, however, its date progresses backwards through the Gregorian calendar. In 2023, it began on the evening of March 22 and ended on the evening of April 20. It will last from the evening of March 10 until the evening of April 8 in 2024 and from the evening of February 28 until the evening of March 29 in 2025. In some locations, the date depends on the sighting of the new moon with the naked eye.
- Celebrated by robo-penguins in an episode of Cyberchase. That's right, Baxter Day isn't the only holiday from a PBS show listed here.
- However, some people prefer to call it "Esperanta Literatura Tago" or Esperanto Literature Day.
- H. P. Lovecraft's "The Festival" on Wikisource
- A Short History of the War on Christmas: How everyone from Bill O’Reilly to Jon Stewart became a co-conspirator in an annual farce. by Daniel Denvir (December 16, 2013) Politico.
- How the secular humanist grinch didn't steal Christmas: The right-wing crusade against the liberal "war on Christmas" is great for rallying the troops. Too bad the war doesn't exist. by Michelle Goldberg (November 21, 2005 5:11PM) Salon.
- A Short History of the War on Christmas, Politico
- Why Were So Many Beloved Christmas Songs Written By Jewish Musicians? by Lauren Markoe (2/14/2014 08:05 am ET Updated Dec 14, 2014) Huffington Post.
- A Jewish Christmas Soundtrack: The top 10 Christmas songs written by Jews, from 'Silver Bells' to 'Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow' by Marc Tracy (December 24, 2012 • 7:00 AM) Tablet.
- White Christmas Subversion by James G. Bruen, Jr. (December 2010) Culture Wars.
- Who Started the War on Christmas?, The Daily Beast
- Fox betrays Christmas crusade, sells "Holiday" ornaments for your "Holiday tree", Media Matters
- December and Christian Cultural Imperialism, The Good Men Project.
- Jeffrey M. Jones (December 24, 2010) "Christmas Strongly Religious for Half in U.S. Who Celebrate It". Gallup.
- Trump: 'We're going to start saying Merry Christmas again' by Amy Graff (Updated 10:13 am, Tuesday, December 13, 2016) San Francisco Chronicle.
- When Trump forbade a Christmas tree — and other forgotten stories from the ‘war on Christmas’ by Avi Selk (December 25, 2017 at 3:50 PM), The Washington Post.
- Schools Take Major Step to Ban Any, All References to Jesus—Including Christmas Cards, Charisma News, 28 July 2017
- Christmas card
- The History of the Christmas Card, Smithsonian Magazine, 9 Dec 2015
- The Man Who Invented Christmas, Les Standiford
- AFA Expands "Christmas" Hit List (2009), Joe.My.God.
- Disinformation website (disinfo.com) page on the AFA's 2011 list, with commentary. (Notice whose online store tops the "for Christmas" list.)
- Near the end of this YouTube video, AFA spokesman Bryan Fischer denies to Thom Hartmann that corporations pay to get on the "for Christmas" list. (However, the best part of the video comes at the very end, when Hartmann calls Fischer a "blasphemer" for his right-wing take on the Parable of the Talents.)
- "Wonder Land: Mad Max and the Meltdown", WSJ
- "A Merry Christmas for Huckabee", The Weekly Standard. Oh noes!!!
- Tapes reveal Melania Trump appearing to downplay child separation policy, bemoaning Christmas decorations by Jaclyn Peiser (Oct. 2, 2020 at 3:45 a.m. PDT) The Washington Post.
- DragonBall Z Abridged Special: Plan to Eradicate Christmas Team Four Star Wiki
- Official HumanLight website
- Jeremiah 10 Jeremiah 10
- Lords of Misrule: The Puritan War on Christmas 1642-60, History Today
- Hastings, Max Montrose: The King's Champion
- See the Wikipedia article on Christmas in Scotland.
- "Christmas and New Year traditions in Scotland", Scotsman, 24 December 2013
- Should Christians celebrate Christmas?
- Nissenbaum, Stephen (1996). The Battle for Christmas. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 0-679-41223-9.
- Andrews, Peter (1975). Christmas in Colonial and Early America. USA: World Book Encyclopedia, Inc. ISBN 0-716-62001-4.
- Hutton, Ronald (1996). The Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain. London: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-198-20570-8.
- Fairy Tales? by Jack Chick
- Christmas cheer at Lady Lumley's School after ban lifted, BBC, 5 December 2018
- Santa's Russia, The Washington Post
- See the Wikipedia article on Happy Xmas (War Is Over).
- How the war on Christmas became the war on Easter by Shane Claiborne (April 4, 2020) Religion News.
- War on Thanksgiving: Trump falsely says liberals want to rename holiday by Emily Stewart (November 27, 2019) Vox.]
- Is There a War on Thanksgiving? by Jonathan Beecher Field (November 24, 2020) Boston Review.