November 30, 2005

War Against Christmas, Or Just Good Manners?

Filed under: Random Stuff — Bob Gifford @ 12:02 am

Michelle Goldberg has an excellent article at Salon titled How the secular humanist grinch didn’t steal Christmas. She describes the history of the mythical war against Christmas going back to Henry Ford’s anti-semitic rants, the John Birch Society’s warnings about the forces of the UN in department stores, and now Bill O’Reilly’s “Christmas Under Siege” segments. She assures us that the war on Christmas is no more real today than it was 80 years ago, but the myth lives:

As the holidays approach, the right is making ever more fevered preparations to thwart this ostensible conspiracy. Last week, the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights launched a short-lived boycott of Wal-Mart, charging the megastore with “insulting Christians by effectively banning Christmas.” The American Family Association called for a Thanksgiving-weekend boycott of Target because of the chain’s purported refusal to use the phrase “Merry Christmas” in its advertising…

Despite Johnson’s lamentations, one can in fact offer Christmas greetings without legal counsel…

In fact, there is no war on Christmas. What there is, rather, is a burgeoning myth of a war on Christmas, assembled out of old reactionary tropes, urban legends, exaggerated anecdotes and increasingly organized hostility to the American Civil Liberties Union.


Of course, much of the venom about the anti-Christian forces is directed at a rather innocuous phrase. Apparently, the words “Happy Holidays” are offensive to Christians, and constitute an assault on their religious rights. However, I consider this phrase something else: good manners.

In case Bill O’Reilly hasn’t noticed, not all Americans are Christian. If I want to wish a colleague well for their time off from work in December, but am unsure of their religious (un)belief, I have a choice. I can go with “Merry Christmas”, and odds are I won’t give offense. But I have to think it would be rather uncomfortable for a Jew or a Muslim to have someone wish them a merry Christmas, just as it would be uncomfortable for me to be wished a happy Yom Kippur or Ramadan. If I received such a wish, I wouldn’t take offense, but it would create a certain distance between me and the well-wisher. It would make me realize that they either a) just assume that my religious beliefs are the same as theirs, or b) don’t care what my religious beliefs are but instead choose to throw their beliefs at me whether I like it or not. Either way, I would feel a bit disrespected, a bit less-than because of the comment.

Now multiply this by the tens or hundreds of greetings and wishes we receive during the holidays.

So my second choice is to go for the safer “Happy Holidays”. Sure, it’s a bit unspecific and innocuous, but I know I won’t inadvertently give offense to a non-Christian.

Of course, the best option is to take the time to get familiar with just which holiday your colleague or acquaintance will be celebrating, and give them a very sincere wish for their celebration of Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanzaa, Winter Solstice or Newtonmas.

It all comes back to Jesus’s second commandment: love your neighbor as yourself. Or at least treat them with a little respect and consideration.

The furor over whether WalMart does or does not allow store decorations that say “Merry Christmas” is this same issue of good manners writ large, along with a strong desire to maximize the December per-store sales numbers. For the retailers, holiday decorations are not some religious statement, but a business decision: how to get customers into the gift-buying mood without making any of them feel like their patronage is unwanted. This is no conspiracy, just retail merchandising in a pluralist society.

Unfortunately, good manners doesn’t feed the conservative talk show appetite for moral outrage and righteous anger, nor the televangelists’ call for donations to “save” Christmas from secularization. But for me, I’d much rather have friends wish me “Happy Holidays” than listen to the conservatives’ dire warnings about a liberal conspiracy to outlaw Christmas.

66 Comments

  1. You can boycott them if you want to. I have no problem with that. I boycott WalMart myself, albeit for different reasons. Personally, I don’t feel insulted when someone wishes me “Happy holidays” or “Seasons Greetings.” To each his own.

    btw, I composed message 49 before number 48 came on the screen. It was not a response to it, I assure you. 🙂

    Comment by wildwest — December 7, 2005 @ 4:29 pm

  2. Hey, you know what? Neal Boortz (The talk show host) says that every time someone says Happy Holidays an elf dies.

    That is sooooooooo sad! 🙁

    Comment by Jacke — December 7, 2005 @ 6:54 pm

  3. Why does a corporation that is trying to make a profit go out of its way to make the majority of its customers feel uncomfortable with shopping in their stores? If being politically correct has become the corporation’s overriding objective then maybe they should close their doors for a couple of months before Christmas and open back up when it is safe for them to do so.

    We have become a nation of People Who Are Easily Offended. There are a bunch of idiots in this country who look for an offensive remark, look, or whatever every where they go. Personally I am sick of them. We have humored and kowtowed to these ill-tempered jerks for too long. It is not a matter of politics but of power. By saying I am offended by whatever you say or do I have gained a considerable amount of power over you. Anyone who is mentally unbalanced enough to be offended when some pimple-faced kid or worn-out granny working hard in Wal-Mart says “Merry Christmas” to them needs to visit a mental health professional. Everyone of us has a dozen things we can get offended about every day if we wanted to.

    Comment by Dennis — December 7, 2005 @ 8:47 pm

  4. Like you’re offended by people saying “Happy Holidays?” Get over it, Dennis! People have been saying it for years. They’re not trying to make you uncomfortable. If you get offended, you’re giving *them* power over *you.*

    Comment by wildwest — December 8, 2005 @ 6:09 am

  5. Did I say I was offended by people saying “Happy Holidays” to me wildwest?

    Comment by Dennis — December 8, 2005 @ 7:30 am

  6. “Why does a corporation that is trying to make a profit go out of its way to make the majority of its customers feel uncomfortable with shopping in their stores?”

    I’m sorry. I assumed that’s what you meant by “feel uncomfortable.” If not, please tell me what you did mean so I can address it.

    Check out these paragraphs from Tom Tomorrow at http://www.thismodernworld.com:

    Like the Administration it exists to serve, Fox believes that if you can’t find a reason to have a war, you make one up. And this stuff does seep out into the wider culture. I went to the Christmas tree lighting in the center of my little New England town last week, and in the course of it, the (apparently) crankly old man dressed up as Santa made a point of telling all the boys and girls that “–it’s a Christmas tree — not a holiday tree!”

    A reader wrote in with a very simple response to the Christmas Warriors. Leaving the question of different faiths and holiday traditions aside (though you’d think that anyone who gives lip service to Judeo Christian values would understand why nondenominational greetings might be more appropriate in the public square), the majority of people in this country will be celebrating two holidays within the space of a week — Christmas and New Year’s. Contra O’Reilly, et al., “happy holidays” and “season’s greetings” are mostly a shorthand way of conveying best wishes for the holiday cluster. Believe it or not, it’s entirely possible that some percentage of the store clerks who use such expressions actually aren’t trying to covertly undermine the entire Judeo-Christian tradition…

    Comment by wildwest — December 8, 2005 @ 7:52 am

  7. Hi everyone,

    If you’re not offended, Happy Holidays!

    If that offends you, Merry Christmas! Or Happy_____________(fill in the blank).

    Wishing you all happiness however I can do it without causing anyone any discomfort.

    wildwest

    Comment by wildwest — December 8, 2005 @ 7:55 am

  8. I was just having a similar discussion in a private AOL political group of which I’ve been a member for a little over a year, I think. One of my fellow conservatives asked me to translate liberalese for him, lol, cuz I’m so perspicacious, I guess, here’s what I told him:

    Don’t cha no only lefties are allowed to dissent!? If you dissent then you are stopping someone else from having the right to dissent, when they dissent they are exercising their free speech rights. When you respond to their dissent then YOU are making a political issue out of it, it has nothing to do with them, they are totally innocent in this matter. Now, you just be qwite, you’ve already managed to politicize everything beyond belief! Shame on you! Stop it!

    So, there you have it, Dennis. The ACLU should go unchallenged in their efforts to remove any semblance of any sort of mildly religious symbol from all manner of State and Federal institution along with fighting for and promoting the “rights” and sensitivities of a miniscule percentage of the American population over the sensitivities of the majority of Americans, but that’s fine, now if you challenge their erroneous and unconstitutional mind-set, YOU are politicizing the issue and they are innocent. Don’t you see how that works? 😉

    Comment by Jacke — December 8, 2005 @ 8:13 am

  9. I didn’t get the impression that Dennis was saying he is offended when wished “Happy Holidays,” nor does the phrase offend most Christians. Actually I’m kind of irritated with William Donohue for making a fuss over the White House’s “holiday” greeting card, because it is muddying the waters with respect to the “Happy Holiday” issue in the Retail Industry. ONCE AGAIN (I’m hoping that with enough repetition, people like you will eventually be able to understand this simple point) the Retail Industry makes most of its annual profit from Christmas shoppers as a result of the Christmas Holiday, but doesn’t want to risk offending the tiny portion of non-Christmas shoppers by using a traditional Christmas greeting. As Dennis said, kowtowing to malcontents in America is getting a little old and that is the problem.

    Quite frankly, I personally don’t know anyone who is offended when greeted with “Happy Holidays” and if someone wants to wish me “Happy Hanukkah,” I would be flattered that the person was gracious enough to include me in some small way in his celebration of Hanukkah. So, Merry Christmas Wildwest and Happy New Year!

    Comment by Tyler — December 8, 2005 @ 8:15 am

  10. And a very Happy Hanukkah to you, Tyler!

    Comment by wildwest — December 8, 2005 @ 8:41 am

  11. Barry Lynn tells Jerry Falwell “There is no war on Christmas.”

    http://www.au.org

    Comment by wildwest — December 8, 2005 @ 1:52 pm

  12. Barry Lynn writes:

    “Contrary to your wild allegations, Jerry, neither Americans United, nor any other civil liberties organization that I know of, is waging any kind of war on Christmas.”

    I don’t disagree with the majority of what Mr. Lynn writes, wildwest, but note that he says “that I know of?” He hasn’t looked into all the law suits that the ACLU has filed against businesses and organizations, or cities which have put up displays which included nativity scenes etc, would be my guess. So, not having looked into those issues, and he couldn’t have or he wouldn’t be able to make the claim he has then he is ignorant of much of what has gone on with that specific civil liberties organization. If you don’t believe that this has been going on for years I’d be happy to research it for you. I have read article after article about it and other related activities of the ACLU to remove all sorts of Christian symbols from State seals, County seals, City seals, etc. All it takes is one community member to complain to get the ball rolling for the ACLU to sue and in most cases those entities don’t have the necessary funds to fight them or don’t want to use the funds to fight them at the expense of other important issues. Like I said, I don’t necessarily disagree with him that it’s divisive but Jerry Falwell, whom I am not a fan of, btw, did not instigate the fight, he reacted to what was going on, in doing so and creating an argument by challenging some of what is going on some would like to cast him as the instigator, which isn’t entirely fair, if you ask me. That’s my two cents worth.

    P.S. A local town close to me in Missouri removed a small fish from their Cities seal because the ACLU answered the call to sue them because a single wiccan woman was “offended.” This is what I’m talking about. The majority is getting tired of losing everything we have cared about and everything which was once considered traditional and historical because a very small percentage of the populace chooses to spend all their time looking for something to get offended about. I mean, it was a little tiny fish, for heaven’s sake! It is this sort of action which has store managers around the country afraid and nervous to even allow their employees to say Merry Christmas to someone. It has gotten ridiculous, and yes, it’s a ridiculous thing, but Falwell didn’t start it. Merry Christmas to you and Happy Hanukkah to Tyler!

    Comment by Jacke — December 8, 2005 @ 2:54 pm

  13. I wonder what perspective AU has on the situations you mention, Jacke. They can be reached at americansunited@au.org.

    I like the work the Rutherford Institute does on some of these issues. And they’ve had an interview with Barry Lynn. They have a good rapport. Perhaps they draw lines in different places. It would be interesting to hear them converse about these things.

    Comment by wildwest — December 9, 2005 @ 8:57 am

  14. Thanks for the link, wildwest, I may look into that. You know I made an offer to research this for you and I didn’t know how you’d respond, and honestly, I don’t have a bunch of time right now, but this morning, while having my coffee, I began looking into it a little. I did a google and then I thought well, I’m liable to find nothing on this except from sources which wildwest and others would consider to be biased toward the right so, I decided to go straight to the source and began checking the ACLU website. I was not impressed. Doing a search turned up their responding article that they are not stealing Christmas, so I tried looking into their past lawsuits. What I found was that unless it is a high profile case, such as the Judge Roy Moore case in Alabama, they do not list all the actions they take against communities Nationwide. So, I decided to look at their action alerts and found one on HeadStart which looked in line with the kind of thing I was looking for. What I found there was a letter they had prepared for their supporters to sign and a write up about their opinion of an amendment to HeadStart’s legislation. There was no bill number and no identification of the bill in such a way so that a person might be able to visit Congress.org and read the bill for oneself, only information fed from the ACLU. I sent them a letter inquiring as to whether it is their intention to inform people or to lead people. I am going to see if I can find anything at Thomas.org, also, when I have the time.

    Comment by Jacke — December 9, 2005 @ 2:01 pm

  15. Okay, wildwest, I found an article of interest. I chose this article:

    http://www.townhall.com/opinion/columns/johnleo/2004/12/13/13930.html, written by John Leo, editor for U.S. News & World Report, because it was written in 2004. This, I believe is important because it was written before the “preemptive strike” of the Christian Right this year against the purging of Christmas and Christian symbols from schools and the marketplace. It references a past suit brought by the ACLU against the city of Cranston, R.I., the ACLU lost because the town fought back with the help of the Arizona-based Alliance Defense Fund. From the article:

    “The annual assault on Christmas comes in many forms. First, there is the barrage of litigation by the American Civil Liberties Union, which is reliably offended by almost any representation of Christianity in the public square. Small towns, facing the prospect of expensive litigation over religious displays on public property, often cave in simply out of fear. Part of the intimidation is that if the towns lose, they must pay the legal fees of the ACLU. But now religious-liberties legal groups provide attorneys to stand up to the ACLU.”

    You see, wildwest, until the advent of these new civil liberties groups on, what you would consider, the right, small towns and cities across the Nation were afraid to stand up to the ACLU when they sued over matters such as this, or merely threatened to sue, because they could not afford the costs. In other words, the ACLU was running rough shod over people’s free speech rights and other rights because these small towns and cities were poorly financially equipped for fighting them, but not being able to afford the fight didn’t mean they were wrong, nonetheless, many towns and cities across the country have caved in to the demands of the ACLU out of the fear of losing. This is the very thing that caused many Christians this year to go all out in getting out in front of the ACLU BEFORE it began bringing these demands and threats to small towns and cities across the Nation. This is also, in my opinion, the root of why public schools and stores are fearful of using the word “Christmas,” opting for the more politically correct “Happy Holidays” and “Season’s Greetings.” There is absolutely nothing wrong with saying those, also traditional, seasonal salutations but they should not replace “Christmas” entirely because of political correctness, either.

    Again, this article was posted on Townhall.com December 13, 2004, BEFORE this debate of this year. Here is how it ends, but I do hope you will read the entire editorial:

    “The South Orange/Maplewood, N.J., school district banned religious Christmas songs, even in instrumental versions. In Florida, an elementary school concert included songs about Hanukkah and Kwanzaa but offered not a single note of Christmas music. A recent winter parade in Denver looked very much like a Christmas event, except for one small thing: Every reference to Christmas was banned. Unless believers and religious-liberties groups begin to push back, the anti-Christmas trend will prevail in the public square.”

    Comment by Jacke — December 10, 2005 @ 12:56 am

  16. Merry Christmas one year later. ‘ve been fighting on the Best Buy front on the war on Christmas with an original song that seems to be generating lots of interest.

    As you may know, Best Buy banned the use of “Merry Christmas” in their ads this year. It caused me to wonder what kind of an Inn Best Buy would be if it were an Inn, and not a department store, back in Bethlehem when Jesus was born. That thought gave birth to this song:

    Best Buy Inn
    Dr. BLT
    words and music by Dr. BLT (c)2006
    http://www.drblt.net/music/BestBI.mp3

    Comment by Dr BLT — November 25, 2006 @ 6:28 pm

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