The war on Christmas is not going away any time soon.
With Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Winter Solstice, and Christmas all celebrated this time of year, one would think that we would embrace an all-inclusive seasonal greeting emblematic of our nation’s religious landscape with two simple words—Happy Holidays!
This year the controversy started with the inanity over the new design of Starbucks red holiday cup that didn’t have a Christmas theme or the greeting “Merry Christmas.”
“Starbucks REMOVED CHRISTMAS from their cups because they hate Jesus. Do you realize that Starbucks wanted to take Christ and Christmas off of their brand new cups? That’s why they’re just plain red.,” Joshua Feuerstein wrote spewing an anti-Starbucks rant on Facebook that went viral.
Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump helped stoke the frenzy.
“I have one of the most successful Starbucks in Trump Tower,” Trump stated during one of his campaign stump. “Maybe we should boycott Starbucks?…By the way, that’s the end of that lease but who cares.”
Trump tied his verbal boycott of Starbucks (Trump Towers in NYC, however, are servicing Starbucks drinks in the holiday red cups.) to one of his presidential promises.
“I’m a good Christian,” Trump stated in October. “If I become president, we’re gonna be saying Merry Christmas at every store … You can leave happy holidays at the corner.”
But more than a decade now, when this holiday season rolls around we can always count on a yearly kerfuffle about what the appropriated season’s greeting should be, exemplifying the continued chapter in the culture “War on Christmas.”
Sadly, the kerfuffle concerning Christmas is right here in my liberal backyard, too.
In 2012 the then governor of Rhode Island, Lincoln Chafee, tried to avoid the controversy he generated by calling the state house Christmas tree a “holiday tree.”’The Daily Mail reported, “The governor defended his decision by arguing that it is in keeping with the state’s founding in 1636 by religious dissident Roger Williams as a haven for tolerance —where government and religion were kept separate.”
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 religiously diverse and atheist 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.”
Is there really a war on Christmas, some ask?
Well, it depends not only on whom you ask, but which type of Christian you are.
Some see the war on Christmas as an assault on Christianity, where the mere utterance of the word is gradually being expunged from the holiday public lexicon. And it feels to these Christian holiday revelers, the country, in its effort to be political correct, is moving toward religious intolerance.
In an email exchange between a friend from North Carolina and me about this war of words wrote “It’s a Xmas tree for me and holiday tree doesn’t cut it. This PCness feels like it’s over the top. Next will be the word ‘Easter’… And what about ‘Saint’ as in St Patrick Day…a big deal in Boston.”
But there is a difference, in my opinion, between Christian apologists and Christmas apologists.
For many Christians this is one of their high holy holidays, and it’s their religious bedrock that not only anchors them in their faith but it also shapes and governs them in their view of the world. The author and Christian apologist C.S. Lewis eloquently captured this essence when he wrote in his 1945 essay “Is Theology Poetry?” “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”
But for Christmas apologists they refuse to see anything else because the war on Christmas is about their cultural dominance and they are fighting back with all their might.
Christian evangelist Pat Robertson said on his “700 Club” television show that the problem is Muslims. “If people don’t like America and the traditions that made America great, let them go to Saudi Arabia, let them go to Pakistan. Yeah, they can go to Sudan and find a wonderful Muslim holiday.”
Trump has taken Robertson’s Islamophobia to a fascist level in his most recent public diatribe stating that our government should ban all Muslims from coming to the United States, even American Muslims returning home from overseas.
Truth be told, Muslims, secular progressives and Jews, atheists have never been the folks trying to abolish Christmas. Instead, it was once an extreme group of Protestants — yes, the Puritans. With the date of Dec. 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.
The intolerance of a multicultural theme for this holiday has little to do with a heightened renewal of the birth of Christ or the fading of an American holiday trodden. Instead, it has much to do about a backlash toward a country growing more religiously pluralistic.
As a Christian, I know that the central message of this holiday is the embrace and 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.