O Holy Fight

More Battles in 'the War on Christmas'

In my neighborhood, the war on Christmas began on Halloween. The precipitating incident was the use of the neighborhood e-mail list to discuss calling a proposed December get-together a “holiday party” instead of a “Christmas party.”

To you or me this might seem a matter of little concern (especially if you or I have trick-or-treaters to chaperone). The non-Christians in the neighborhood might consider it a friendly gesture, if they consider it at all. But one brave culture-warrior could see the suggestion of inclusive language for what it really was: an attack on the American way. He hit reply-all to give us a piece of his mind. “SHAME!!!” was his gentle salutation.

I don’t know the neighbor who felt so strongly about what someone else’s wassail should be called. But I regard his e-mail as a masterpiece of the Keep-Christ-in-Christmas complaint tradition. “Will you tell your children that you will have a Holiday tree instead of a Christmas tree?” he asked. “Will you take them to Holiday services or Holiday Mass instead of Christmas services or Mass?” Well, no, I hadn’t planned to. Then came the obligatory feint at inclusiveness, in an attempt to characterize his complaint as something other than special pleading: “Will some take their children to Holiday services instead of Hanukkah services?” he asked. “Will they have a Holiday dinner instead of a Seder dinner?”

It’s true, nobody expects those unspecified “some” to change the names of the things “they” do. And no one where I live is asking Christians to hedge about their Christmas trees either, much less rename Mass. In fact, answering all those questions honestly might lead one to conclude that having a neighborhood-wide “holiday party” is, in an important sense, the opposite of forcing people to compromise their beliefs. But this guy was on a righteous roll. “Inclusion does not mean giving up our traditions and core beliefs,” he argued. “It means respecting those of all groups without offense.” And therefore, all the “theys” within earshot would just have to respect that when this neighborhood has a mixer in December, it’s a Christmas party. Never mind that we’ve never had such a gathering before. (Can’t imagine why!)

Speaking of masterpieces: that friendly fellow is likely to find Sarah Palin’s new book Good Tidings and Great Joy: Protecting the Heart of Christmas under his holiday tree. In it, according to the publisher, Palin “calls for bringing back the freedom to express the Christian values of the season...and laments the over-commercialization and homogenization of Christmas in today’s society.”

Only Sarah Palin (or her ghostwriter) could lament the commercialization of Christmas in a book published just in time for the holiday shopping season. But to be fair, from what I can make out, it’s not the shopping as such that Palin minds; it is the possibility that some might be buying and selling without the name of Jesus on their lips.

I am all for keeping Christ in Christmas. For me, though, the real struggle is keeping Christmas out of Advent, something that won’t be helped by snapping at every retail clerk who says “Happy Holidays!” between now and New Year’s. “Jesus Is the Reason for the Season,” the pious used to remind each other—a gentler slogan, more centering mantra than reprimand. Now the Knights of Columbus distribute “Keep Christ in Christmas” car decals that have a confrontational air: Keep Christ in Christmas or else.

Sitting in traffic, staring at one of these chilly reminders, I wonder: Or else what? Let’s let Palin explain what’s at stake: “The war on Christmas is the tip of the spear in a larger battle to secularize our culture, and make true religious freedom a thing of America’s past.” Unless Christians insist on the de-facto establishment of Christianity in public life, “true” religious freedom will be imperiled. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that, in this formulation, “true” means “Christian,” and “religious freedom” means “cultural dominance.”

It’s no secret that culture-warriors such as Palin—she of the campaign-trail preference for “real America”—have turned divisiveness into a profitable industry. All the more reason, then, to be concerned about the “heart of Christmas.” Peace on earth and goodwill toward men (not to mention the rest of us) can’t thrive among Christians worried about “protecting” their privileges. Publicly dressing down a neighbor who invites you into her home because you don’t like the words she uses is a pretty good sign that Christ is absent in more than name. The good news, for my neighbors and me, is that we have many weeks left to find the heart of Christmas. If that doesn’t work out, I’d settle for nonspecific holiday cheer—and a reply-all cease-fire.

About the Author

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



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One could argue that the culture warriors are those who want any mention or idea of Christmas (or Hannukah) removed from the public square but declare adamantly for all (and only) secular manifestations of the "Holiday Season."

Isn't it a "holiday season", though? I mean, there are many holidays being celebrated, both religious and secular. And the "season" appears to be more or less synonymous with the period from Thanksgiving through New Year's Day.

By the way, Mollie, when I read your line "Speaking of masterpieces," I laughed out loud in my cubicle.

For me, though, the real struggle is keeping Christmas out of Advent,...

Amen. We lost the war against the secularists when we let them sucker us into fighting to keep Christ in their shopping season under the supposition that the shopping season is Christmas. Every year when I drive off to Mass on Christmas morning I see at least one dead, dry Christmas tree left out for  trash pickup. No wonder the faithful are confused; we played the merchants' game with those auto decals and billboards. We fought the war to a stand-off, but in the process we lost Christmas.

And we should recognize that many of our neighbors are among all those "nones' the Catholics blogs are writing about. They have that "Festus' celebration as portrayed on Seinfeld.?    (-:

In my best "hanger on" manner I'll add my two cents to the obvious.  Wonderfully written post.

Long ago and far away I was a much younger grownup and thoroughly financially broke.  Christmas came.  I bought the guys yo-yo's and the gals bubble blowing toys.  Wrapped them and gave them to friends and family.  They all loved them!   Since then we often discuss why we have failed to repeat the event.  I suspect we fear being children again knowing as we do we won't be able to stay.

In my local school District, most objections to Halloween, Christmas, Easter, Birthday Parties and other Festivities seem to come from Jehovah Witness and other Denominations (Mostly Conserative and Christian) that simply don't "Celebrate" anything.     Personally, I tire of those "Culture Warriors" who for some reason, seem more comfortable attacking the same usual suspects. 

Didn't Bing Crosby and Andy Williams Sing Happy Holidays in the 50's ?????   Time to stop measuring Christmas Ornaments in the Public Square.  

I am unaware of those who demand "happy holidays" at all.  It's the greeting even those of us who are Christians give in honor of (often) the great mix of holidays at this time of year when we are NOT sure of another person's beliefs.  Between Advent, Christmas, Hanukkah, sometimes Eid, Kwanzaa, the New Year - what we try to do is be kind.  I celebrate Christmas eagerly with those of like mind, and I respect othe people's holidays with enthusiasm.  So what?  No I do NOT need Christmas to be exclusive, thrust upon non believers in public spaces, and I sure don't want any MORE commercialization than we have so I'm find with 'holiday shopping' over the rampant materialism of competitive Christmas loading up of goods over spirit.

There's no 'War on Christmas'.  There is just hyper individualism run amok everywhere.


I once heard Fr. Andrew Greeley comment that Chirstmas would be a wonderful feast if it didn't come during the Holidays!  As one who has been wishing people Happy Holidays for decades, even before it became fashionable, I find this whole battle to be tiresome.  What I actually find much more troubling is the tendency, which has really reached its zenith this year, of moving Black Friday closer and closer to Thanksgiving Day.  We've now reached the point where Thanksgiving, the secular holiday of giving thanks for our national bounty is nothing more than another shopping day with its "big" sales.  Bottom line is that none of this is about "keeping Christ in Christmas." It is about maximizing profit. 

A large lighted sign atop one of the tallest buildings in our area (about 20 storeys high) simply says:



The war on those of us who want to celebrate the holidays on our terms and not, obligatorily, on yours, is another (and there are so many!) example of the arrogance and malice of religious conservatives.  Christmas is, in any case, a devious and manipulative adoption by the church of much more traditional Winter Solstice celebrations to commemorate an event which, if it ocurred at all, did so in the spring..  They are welcome (not that this satisfies them, of course) to celebrate as they will, but the time to demand that everyone else do what they say has passed.  Time to grow up.

Unlike COMMONWEAL, I am not as sanguine (or tolerant) of tiptoes around the poinsettas and "let a thousand poinsettas bloom under any name you want."  Back in communist Poland, our foreign masters also refused to call Christmas Christmas.  It was "the holidays" (swieta--the holydays, literally, though one wandered what avowed Marxist materialists deemed "holy").  So, yes, there's a lot in a name ... and a lot said about those who, in the name of a faux "tolerance," will avoid it.

For what it's worth, in Taiwan -- that is, officially, the Republic of China -- celebrates its Constitution Day on December 25, commemorating that document's adoption by the National Constitutive Assembly on December 25, 1946 (while the Nationalist government was still in control of the mainland). Years ago, a Chinese tutor -- herself a Catholic in Taiwan -- told me that there was a fair amount of suspicion in Taiwan that Chiang Kai-shek chose that day to have it coincide with Christmas. Chiang himself was a Christian, of course, having become a convert to Methodism in 1927 (though he never became a convert to constitutionalism).

Over on the other side of the Taiwan Straits, the PRC will be celebrating the 120th anniversary of Mao Zedong's birth the day after Christmas (the chairman was born on December 26, 1893. Should be interesting, since the Chinese Communist Party has yet to come to terms with Mao and the meaning of his legacy.

@John M Grondelski:

1. What would you consider genuine, as opposed to "faux," tolerance?

2. Would you count among those who avoid "a name," presumably that of Christmas, any Christian who regards Christmas as a Christian feast, knows not everyone is Christian, and wishes only other Christians "Merry Christmas"?  When greeting one not known to be Christian, who may be celebrating a different religious holiday, does saying "Happy Holidays" somehow invite totalitarian suppression of Christianity?  And if that's not what you meant, why all the scornful and hyperbolic rhetoric?

O'Reilly, Palin et al. get the vapors if someone calls a Christmas tree a holiday tree, even though Christmas trees are a custom appropriated from the Druids.  What are the odds.


A large lighted sign atop one of the tallest buildings in our area (about 20 storeys high) simply says:


—Charles Monia, 12/3,6:29 pm

Good grief! It just gets worse, doesn't it? Now they're trying to start a War on War. Why do they hate America?

@John Prior:

Needed that chuckle, thanks.

Happy St. Nicholas Eve, everyone.  Next year in Bari, maybe, to see if the locals are just bragging or bragging justly (se Parigi avesse il mare, sarebbe una piccola Bari).  Probably not in Smyrna.

The whole manufactured "war" controversy is, like so much of the "culture wars," transparently trumped up.

I just read a piece about a Salvation Army worker who got PUNCHED by an elderly lady for saying "Happy Holidays" (as she had been instructed to do).

Whether I've been wished happiness OR merriness, I respond with "Thank you, and the same to you." Of course, it's the GOOD WILL in the greeting that counts.

As we say here in the south, I was raised right.

The irony is that the whole faux controversy has made me MUCH less likely to initiate any holiday or Christmas greetings at all in my work with the public.

I'm just glad I'm off this week on vacation.

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