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Gail Collins on the 'imaginary' War on Christmas

After you've read my latest column ("O Holy Fight"), you should be sure to follow up with Gail Collins's latest ("Culture War Games"), which is a variation on the same theme. Collins includes more details, and wonderful details they are, from Sarah Palin's War-on-Christmas book -- in which, I gather, she is named, or at least referenced, as one of those clueless "snickering" pundits who just don't get it. (To be sneered at by Sarah Palin is an honor that I dream not of.)

Bonus: Don't miss this Sarah Palin War-on-Christmas soundboard from the good folks over at New York magazine's Intelligencer blog. Happy Holidays indeed.

About the Author

Mollie Wilson O'Reilly is an editor at large and columnist at Commonweal.



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Of course, sneering at Sarah Palin is an honorable way of preparing for the season... Happy Holidays indeed!

Oh, enjoying the spectacle of Sarah Palin's post-political career in punditry is not part of my Advent observances. Today's woman is a multitasker, you betcha.

Ms. O'Reilly,

Can't you think of anything more substantive to write about?  How is the Gospel advanced by picking on Sarah Palin?  

Oh good grief, just how much of a sourpuss do you have to be to feel offended for the sake of Sarah Palin? Do you guys shoot up vinegar in dark alleys?

I'm going to start responding to everyone everywhere, "Hey, bub, do you think you're advancing the gospel there, eh?"

Charles Ryder:

I don't think you understand the commonweal mentality.  Sneering at conservative commentators (especially a woman who didn't have her Down's Syndrome

unborn infant put to death) is sometimes part of the way they express their love of humanity.  But they're basically good folks, just misguided.  You have to be patient with them; that's something I've learned the hard way.

Merry Christmas


It can’t be mere coincidence that the more catty criticisms of Sarah Palin seem to always come from other women.   One might think, politics aside, women would appreciate the trail Mrs. Palin has blazed for them.    Instead, one gets the sense that feelings of inadequacy are the source of the bitterness.   After all, how many women have done any of the following, let alone all of them:

  • Mother of 6 children;
  • 1 special needs;
  • Mayor;
  • Governor;
  • VP candidate;
  • Successful author

The more you consider it,  feelings of inadequacy are wholly appropriate!

Happy St. Nich’s day!

As Garry Wills documented in Head and Heart: American Christianities, James Madison articulated a much more severe separation between religion and government  than even Jefferson favored.  IMO, we would have been well advised to have taken Madison’s view.

Sarah Palin belongs to the world of celebrity, by her own volition.  She may be a political conservative and a Christian in her personal life, and when she acts as a person in those fields, she is of course due full privilege for her personal agency.  But when she acts as a celebrity, she must be ready to absorb the slings and arrows that the public always throws at actors when the role is poorly presented.   And no one except the audience gets to say how the common wo/man in the stalls will judge the performance. 

She is of course welcome to her opinions, but no one is obligated to grant respect, much less authority, to those opinions.  If they are persuasive, they will sway action; if they are not, they will call down derision.  None of this has any connection whatsoever to her son, and it ill becomes someone to assume that because I reject or mock her political pronouncements I make any judgment whatsoever about his personal spiritual journey.

Mark L.

Earlier today I read this essay and thought I'd like to write a post recommending it. But for now I think I'll just put the link here.

Mark Proska: Sarah has five children, not six.  She served only half of a single term as governor before she resigned to chase the almighty dollar.

Running for VP, or even being one, is not necessarily a great accomplishment; ask George Dallas, William Rufus King, Hannibal Hamlin, Henry Wilson, Levi Morton, and a whole passel of other WhoDats.  Our vice presidential candidates are almost always chosen for their ticket-balancing value, not for aptitude.

There are many intelligent and accomplished women trailblazers who have earned my appreciation and admiration. Snow Snooki isn't one of them.




Gentle correction:

Sarah Palin has five children.

Whoa, that things on smarm is one of the most useful things I've read lately. I've never been able to quite nail down that quality.

Not sure how it's advancing the gospel, though.

I agree.

The trail Sarah Palin has blazed for us? Snort.

Your comment is really mean-spirited, Mark. Maybe it's time to examine your conscience and go to confession.

I don't think it would be appropriate of anyone to comment on her as a woman, mother, or wife (not our busienss or right to judge), but as an author, mayor, governor, and all-purpose pundit, she is a public figure and rightly apt to be judged in those regards. If folks think she was a bad governor or mayor, it's legitimate to say so.  If they think her books are a lamentable waste of trees, that is fair to say as well.


Waging a war on the "War on Christmas" is unimaginative, boring, and banal.  Endlessly sniping at Sarah Palin is not only shooting fish is a barrel, it is is endlessly tiresome.  And for all you Gawker hipsters -- it's really, how shall I say, a totally square pastime.  

This is Commonweal, a Catholic magazine.  Sorry for mentioning the Gospel. 

Peace on Earth!


I agree with you, Charles, and I want to change my ways.  But I need help from someone more experienced than I at being righteous. Tell me: if I told you to blow it our your rear, would I be advancing the gospel? I think so, but I need your superior wisdom. I just want to be holier (than everyone else). Can you give me some spiritual direction?

Sorry, I meant to add "Peace on Earth" or "Yours in Christ" or something like that at the end to make it all nice and pat. Like I said, I'm just learning.

Hark the Herald Angels!


Here's some advice for you.

Poop in your hat and pull it over your ears.  I'd say shit, but, after all this is a Catholic magazine. 

Mr Ryder,

Can't you think of anything more substantive to write?  How is the Gospel advanced by picking on me?

Baby, It's Cold Outside!

Charles Ryder:

How old are you? Yoy certainly sound like some of the adolescent boys I used to teach. 

Now, write 100 times: "I will clean up my act."

Correction: You certainly sound like some of the adolescent boys I used to teach. 



By the way, nobody can shit in their hat and pull it over their ears ever since Bruce Nauman's 1990 installation "Shit in your hat--head in a chair." It's just passe.

Abe:  Hey buddy, you need to calm down and return to your usually strange (but witty) persona.  I'm surprised that Grant Gallicho hasn't censured your

s-word usage.  He's censured me for far less scatological observations.  But hey, it's Christmas time, so I guess he's cutting everyone some slack.  Merry Christmas all of you commonweal bloggers, and I mean that sincerely...

P.S. to Grant:  How come I'm not being identified as a subscriber? 

 Sarah Palin? 

The one who entered the national stage with some snotty comment  about community organizers? 

She doesn't come off all that civil and polite to me; I'm not sure why people are outraged that she might be the subject of impolite comments herself. 


Right. There's nothing outrageous about it. It's tit-for-tat, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, etc. It's perfectly natural. 

Far be it from me to use scatology to refer to The Divine Sarah, but, in keeping with her "holier than thou" smarminess, may I remind her and her cadre of Mean Girls fans of this?

Women who farteth in church, sitteth in their own pew.

And, in keeping with the Spirit of the Season:  shop early, often and spend more.

I suspect that the meanest thing one could do to Sarah Palin would be to ignore her. That also seems to be the hardest thing.

Io Saturnalia!

How does having a lot of children make anyone a good person?  If nothing else, it should get you a ticket to carbon footprint hell ;)  There's so much about Palin that I dislike, but I'll choose just one topic - she's cruel to animals.

Mollie—That idea is definitely worthy of its own thread.   Maybe you can weave it around this Sunday’s gospel?

A voice of one crying out in the desert,
Prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight his paths.

Angela—Why are you so intent on minimizing Mrs. Palin’s accomplishments?   This is exactly what I was getting at in my comment.   Sure, I can appreciate there’s much you might not like about her politics, but your criticisms seem decidedly small-minded.

Helen—Thanks both for the correction and its gentleness.

Connie—You are correct about confession, but I saw more of chivalry than mean-spiritedness in my comment.

Abe—Can you leave the locker room language in the locker room?   Commonweal, and especially the Ladies of Commonweal, deserve better.

Bob—Thanks, same to you!

"War on Christmas" is an unfortunate term, but I think the old Knights of Columbus posters "Put Christ in Christmas" had something going.  

The problem isn't with non-Christians co-opting our holy day, or sinister anti-religious government forces suppressing our traditions, it's that we Christians ourselves secularized our holy day with many of us focusing not on Advent but on Black Friday and Cyber Monday shopping. If Christmas needs to be  "fixed", we need to change our own ways.

I am all for keeping Christ in Christmas. For me, though, the real struggle is keeping Christmas out of Advent,

That line, from Mollie's original piece, is, for me, the money quote in this whole spat. There is a local guy driving around with a bumper sticker that says: "Don't rush the holy season/Advent exists for a specific reason." The Christian and quasi-Christian fight to keep Christ in Christmas is validating the mercantile move of Christmas into the shopping days formerly observed not as Christmas but as Advent. In other words, as currently fought, this war is a surrender.

One of the saddest things I saw last year was a Christmas tree out for the trash collectors on the evening of Dec. 25. (Seventh Day Adventists; they should have more respect than that for the calendar.)


Irene said, "If Christmas needs to be  "fixed", we need to change our own ways."  Amen to that!

True story. I was at a Christmas party at my wife's secular organization about eight years ago. Someone dressed as Santa came for the kids and have out toys. As they were gathered around him, he asked them, but what is the REAl meaning of Christmas. One young boy chimed up, it's when Santa was born!

I thought it was pretty funny but it underscored the point that by now there are two completely different traditions with their own rituals, themes, and fixed mythologies. Anybody is free to select either theme or both. There is no need to have any "war" although there are warriors on BOTH sides.

Speaking of alternate traditions, I grew up following the Finnish/Nordic tradition of opening gifts on Christmas Eve because Santa is actually from Lapland in northern Finland. Well after midnight or evening mass but when we came home presents were there because well you know Santa goes to the Finn kids first!!!

Mollie, thanks for the link to the smarm/snark piece. As a child frequently quelled by Thumper's maxim about "saying something nice," I was glad to see the rabbit get his, even though the article made me feel kinda bad about liking Dave Eggers.

Would be interesting to distill smarm/snark into an elemental list of characteristics, as Susan Sontag did with camp, no?

"Commonweal, and especially the Ladies of Commonweal, deserve better."

I've hardly ever been a lady, but if I were one I'd find that comment to be extremely patronizing.


Hardly ever???

Martin Marty's Sightings essay of December 9th tackles the contrast between "War on Christmas" narratives in contrast to those addressing Nelson Mandela's life and death.

"What strikes the analyst of the “War on Christmas” stories, or at least what struck me, was the difference in tone by sets of writers or broadcasters on both, or all, sides of the “culture wars”—there’s that “war" image again—as they dealt with the events, personalities, and trends. The Mandela stories did justice to the flaws of the imperfect human who led causes for freedom in South Africa and inspired strugglers globally, but almost all were written in respectful, humane tones. After all, the Mandela effect is one of reconciliation, even though it was born of conflicts past, whose after-stories linger."

"In contrast, both, and all, sides in “The War on Christmas” stories were disrespectful, never empathic. Their authors gave no sign that they could understand why those on the other side were stirred to battle, and they gave every sign that they regarded their side in the argument as totally right in their self-chosen Total War."

Smarmy? I don't think so. I appreciate the attempt to understand without derision those who whose sensibilites differ from our own.  

The thing is that the sensibilities of those advocating for the reality of a "war on Christmas" seem to be located in the rhetorical potential of that narrative for political maneuvering. The tail wags the dog. It's tough to open a sympathetic ear to such blatant grandstanding.


Pay-lo has a new reality show coming out on the Sportsmen Channel, so she's doing... fine(?)

My wife: Stop trying to make Pay-lo happen. It's not going to happen!

How come no one yet has started a war on sneezing? No more saying "[May God] bless you!" when someone sneezes!  Something less religious is needed.

What some of these Scrooges seem to think is that they have a Constitutional right not to even *hear* someone saying something in public that offends them.  They try to turn it into a freedom from religion right.  Nothing could be further from the historical truth.

True, we don't have a right to incite to riot, but we may express our religious beliefs in public -- at least we used to have that right.

@ Mark Proska

Sarah Palin spent five years at five different colleges (one of them twice) before earning her B.A. degree.  She was mayor of a city with a population of 6,000.  She served half of one term as governor of the 47th most populous state.  She's published a couple of books that were almost certainly ghost-written, because on live TV she can barely utter a coherent sentence.   She starred in a reality TV series whose ratings were so low, it was canceled after one season. 

Her accomplishments need no minimizing by anyone else.

Come on, Angela, fess up.   She makes you feel inadequate.    Don't get me wrong, if a man had done all that, I'd feel inaequate too!

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