The War On Christmas After Ten Years
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2011 Articles: I, II, III , IV, V VI [Blog posts]

See also: War Against Christmas 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002, 2001, 2000, 1999  

 [Peter Brimelow writes: Twelfth Night, the night of January 5, is traditionally the end of Christmas. Appropriately, our good friend Tom Piatak who has written regular essays on the War Against Christmas for us (See here and here, etc), here reviews the conflict ten years after he first joined it.]

When I first wrote about the War On/ Against Christmas ten Christmases ago, there was very little public discussion of the phenomenon. Now each Christmas brings much discussion of the War on Christmas, as well as fresh examples of that war.

Of course, there’s now also War On Christmas Denial—each year, many commentators insist that there is no War On Christmas, in an effort to persuade those who of us who object to the downgrading of Christmas to return to the passivity that used to mark efforts to rename Christmas trees “holiday trees” and the like.

But that passivity is disappearing, as Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee discovered this Christmas. It is gone for the same reason the public remains interested in discussions of the War on Christmas: ordinary people can tell, from their own experiences, that there has been an effort to replace Christmas with “holiday.”

Before there was a War on Christmas in America, Robert Shaw released a wonderful and influential collection of Christmas carol medleys called The Many Moods of Christmas(1963). The title of Shaw’s album was perfect, because there have long been many different facets to the celebration of Christmas.

But there are also many strains in the War on Christmas. One of these strains is the atheist attack on Christmas, an attack that received the most attention this year in Santa Monica, California, where atheist groups succeeded in winning most of the slots reserved for public displays at Christmas and filled them with posters attacking Christ, the Virgin Mary, and Santa Claus as “myths.”

Such attacks are undeniably offensive, but they often backfire for the reason that the people waging them are, in Catholic blogger Mark Shea’s trenchant phrase, “human toothaches,” as tactless and ultimately ineffective as the bullying store psychologist who insists that there is no Santa Claus in Miracle on 34th Street.

Another strain of the War on Christmas is the Puritan strain, the strain that emerges among Christians who object to commercialism and tackiness at Christmas and who end up objecting to the whole thing, just as the Puritans began by objecting to merrymaking and revelry at Christmas and ended up by outlawing it.

A prime example of the Puritan attack on Christmas was Amy Sullivan’s Let’s put ‘Christ’-mas in its place (USA Today, December 4, 2011) which called for the creation of a winter holiday called “Xmas” and a separate religious holiday called “Jesus Day.” But what is lacking in arguments such as Sullivan’s is the recognition that there are indeed “Many Moods of Christmas” and that the different facets of the Christmas celebration have long peacefully coexisted and even inspired each other. Most Americans enjoy both secular and religious Christmas songs, just as they both buy Christmas presents and go to church at Christmas.

Sometimes Sullivan is just wrong, as when she sees no trace of Christ in It’s A Wonderful Life, the favorite movie of both its Catholic director Frank Capra and its Presbyterian star Jimmy Stewart, a movie that begins with several characters praying as the sound track plays “O Come, All Ye Faithful” in the background, shows those prayers being answered by the appearance of an angel, and features spirited singing of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” in its unforgettable final scene.

And other times Sullivan misses the point, as when she dismisses Miracle on 34th Street as having no trace of Christianity. Although that Christmas classic lacks the many religious references of It’s A Wonderful Life, its message is entirely consistent with Christianity—and offers a pointed reminder of why it’s reasonable to care whether retailers observe Christmas or “holiday.”

Early in the movie, Edmund Gwenn, in his Oscar winning performance as Kris Kringle, tells Thelma Ritter, in her first film role as a harried shopper, that Macy’s doesn’t have the fire engine she’s looking to buy for her son, but he then proceeds to tell her how she can get the toy at another store. Ritter is so impressed that she hunts down Kris Kringle’s boss and tells him, "Listen, I want to congratulate you and Macy's on this wonderful new stunt you're pulling. Imagine sending people to other stores. I don't get it...Imagine a big outfit like Macy's putting the spirit of Christmas ahead of the commercial. It's wonderful. Well, I'll tell ya. I never done much shopping here before, but I'll tell ya one thing. From now on I'm going to be a regular Macy's customer."

Although retailers seldom matched the level of generosity found in Miracle on 34th Street, , they did at least feel the need to pay tribute to what Ritter’s character correctly termed “the spirit of Christmas” when what Americans unmistakably celebrated was Christmas—not “holiday” or even Sullivan’s “Xmas.”

The origin of the “spirit of Christmas” was, of course, the first Christmas, with the angelic greeting of “Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men.” The disappearance of that spirit from much of the public square is directly attributable to the War On Christmas, since no one, least of all retailers, feels the need to live up to a non-existent “spirit of holiday.”

The most influential strain of the War on Christmas, though, is multiculturalism.

This strain was evident in Jon Stewart’s declaration of war on Christmas on his Comedy Central The Daily Show, a declaration Stewart made on December 6, the feast of St. Nicholas. In his attack, Stewart vowed to bring “the full might of our secular, multicultural society” down on Christmas—showing a video a Christmas tree smothered by the symbols of a plethora of non-Christian religions.

Although Stewart is a comedian, it is clear that he is very unamused indeed by resistance to the War on Christmas. Indeed, it is impossible to imagine Stewart ever declaring “war” on any of the holidays celebrated by any of the other religions whose symbols smother the tree. “I was only joking” is a defense only to attacks on Christianity and the West—not to anything held dear by the multiculturalist left.

But perhaps the prime example of the War on Christmas this year: Stephen G. Bloom’s attack on Iowa in The Atlantic—an attack that, as’s James Fulford pointed out, had a War on Christmas dimension.

Bloom, [email him] a longtime professor of journalism at the University of Iowa, objected to Iowa’s importance in the process of selecting the president, because Iowa is too white (“Rural America has always been homogenous, as white as the milk the millions of Holstein cows here produce”) and too Christian (“Religion is the glue that binds everyone, whether they’re Catholic, Lutheran, or Presbyterian. You can’t drive far without seeing a sign for JESUS or ABORTION IS LEGALIZED MURDER”) to suit Bloom. [Observations From 20 Years of Iowa Life, The Atlantic, December 9, 2011, Corrected Online Version]

The ingratitude underlying Bloom’s vicious portrayal of Iowa is striking, since Iowa’s taxpayers have been paying Bloom’s salary for many years.

One of the other things Bloom disliked about Iowa is Christmas. He expressed disdain for “Christmas crèches with live donkeys, sheep and a neighborhood infant playing Baby Jesus.” And Bloom matched his disdain for Christmas and other Christian holidays with action, and here Bloom is worth quoting at length:

When my family and I first moved to Iowa, our first Easter morning the second-largest newspaper in the state (the Cedar Rapids Gazette) broke all the rules I was trying to teach my young journalism students in its coverage of an event that was neither breaking nor corroborated by two independent sources. An archived edition of the paper shows it with a verse from Matthew 28:5-6 above-the-fold on Page One, along with an illustration of three crosses. The front-page verse—which in its entirety read, "And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. He is not here: for he is risen, as he said"—took up two columns and was played against a story about the murders of six people in the Iowa town of Norwalk. [ note: This verse obviously loomed very large in Bloom's memory: he originally wrote that he saw the ”headline splashed across Page One: HE HAS RISEN…The editors obviously thought that everyone knew who He was, and cared”. But the link in this quote is to the Cedar Rapids Gazette's refutation, placed in the corrected online version by the embarrassed editors of the Atlantic.]

After years and years of in-your-face religion, I decided to give what has become an annual lecture, in which I urge my students not to bid strangers "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Easter," "Have you gotten all your Christmas shopping done?" or "Are you going to the Easter egg hunt?" Such well-wishes are not appropriate for everyone, I tell my charges gently. A cheery "Happy holidays!" will suffice. Small potatoes, I know, but did everyone have to proclaim their Christianity so loud and clear?”

This is the War Against Christmas in a nutshell: a massive effort to transform America so that malcontents like Stephen Bloom won’t feel quite so alienated living here.

And Bloom’s annual lecture to his students on the need to avoid saying “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Easter” is representative of the way the War on Christmas has spread, as other malcontents have used their influence, just as Bloom has used his, to try and convince people that there is something wrong with the public celebration of Christmas.

Because Iowans are generally nice, I fear that far too many of Bloom’s students have been convinced that they should use their influence to end the traditions that offend Bloom.

And because Americans are generally nice, we have too long allowed the anti-Christmas malcontents to convince us that we needed to tone down the celebration of Christmas.

But because the anti-Christmas malcontents are not nice, and are in fact malicious, we shouldn’t listen to their advice or give them what they want.

Fortunately, more and more Americans are realizing the truth about the War on Christmas. One of the most hopeful signs this year for me: a column that appeared in my diocesan newspaper, The Universe Bulletin, [Not online]a very mild-mannered publication that generally avoids anything controversial.

But this year, one of its writers, Louise McNulty, devoted her column to the War on Christmas. McNulty wrote:

“One wonders, in a nation which is primarily Christian and overwhelmingly God-believing, why so much is conceded to a small, apparently easily-offended minority of Atheists and non-Christians. Why is there such a push to hide the reason for celebrating December 25 and call it a “holiday,” instead of its true name, Christmas[?]”

Good questions, for which the multiculturalists have no good answers. As McNulty also noted: “I don’t think Christians ever objected to people wishing each other ‘Happy Holidays’ until the word ‘Holiday’ was used to keep ‘Christ’ out of Christmas.”

My emphasis. This is the ugly reality behind Stephen Bloom’s pressuring his students to say “Happy Holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas: visceral Christophobia.

[ Note: We disagree with George Weigel that this useful word was “first coined by a world-class comparative constitutional law scholar, J.H.H. Weiler, himself an Orthodox Jew." Tom Fleming, Editor of Chronicles was using it in the 1990s—perhaps a rediscovery: it was earlier used by Christian missionaries in China and India around 1900 to describe the attitudes of the locals.]

Let us hope that in the future there are even more Americans willing to ask the questions McNulty does—and fewer willing to listen to the advice Bloom is giving.

Tom Piatak (email him) writes from Cleveland, Ohio.

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