Christmas 2005, like all Christmases since the War Against Christmas began, was marked by the usual flagrant efforts to suppress the public observance of the holiday that has been the principal Western celebration for over a millennium. For example, Patricia Sonntag (send her mail), an administrator at California State University, Sacramento, made news by banning Christmas decorations on the grounds that they represent "religious discrimination" and "ethnic insensitivity."
But this year also saw rampant and increasing grass-roots resistance to the war against Christmas. Thus, when a Catholic priest blessed the Christmas tree in Manhasset, New York, in the name of "Jesus Christ, our Lord," town supervisor Jon Kaiman was heard muttering angrily during the blessing and then told the crowd gathered for the invocation, "This is nonsense...I just want to make it clear that this is in no way a religious ceremony . . .." However, most townspeople decided that what was actually inappropriate was the supervisor's outburst, and the resultant outcry forced him to apologize.
And this resistance is having a positive impact across the country. A CNN poll showed that 69% of Americans now prefer "Merry Christmas," to just 29% who prefer "Happy Holidays," with 61% of Americans saying the use of "Happy Holidays" in stores and public institutions represented a change for the worse. By contrast, last year 41% of Americans said they preferred "Happy Holidays," and only 43% of Americans said the increasing use of "Happy Holidays" represented a change for the worse.
Elite opinion has shifted as well—from silence about the War Against Christmas in years past to denials that the War against Christmas exists, coupled with denunciations of those who insist that it does. There was an air of desperation to some of these pieces, a sense of shock that the Multicultural Left was beginning to lose a battle it thought it had won.
One of these desperate pieces was Hendrik Hertzberg's in The New Yorker (Bah, Humbug, Dec 26, 2005). Hertzberg followed the lead of Michelle Goldberg in Salon.com and stated that, not only was the War Against Christmas fictitious, all those worried about it were simply parroting the earlier arguments of the John Birch Society and Henry Ford in "The International Jew."
Denials that the War against Christmas exists were also found on the Establishment, neocon and even libertarian right—though without Hertzberg's vitriol. Both Michael Rosen of FrontPageMag.com and several writers at LewRockwell.com (say it ain't so, Lew!) assured readers that there was no concerted effort to suppress Christmas.
These denials are simply nonsense. Every American of my age and older has seen the erosion of Christmas over their lifetimes. And they know that this did not occur because it was something they wanted. They remember when schoolchildren sang "Silent Night" as a matter of course, public squares had Nativity scenes, store clerks wished you "Merry Christmas," and the public atmosphere was one of joy and celebration—not of one of hesitation and fear of giving offence.
I was reminded again of what we have lost and are continuing to lose when listening to—of all things—the left-wing, publicly funded Canadian Broadcasting Corporation while driving to my sister's for Christmas.
On CBC 2 I heard "Brother Heinrich's Christmas," a delightful story by British composer John Rutter, recounting the traditional tale of how Heinrich Suso was inspired to write "In Dulci Jubilo" after hearing the angels sing it and joining in their angelic dance. In addition to being delighted, I was reminded of how I used to hear similar Christmas stories all the time, and no longer do.
Indeed, when I was a child, a retailer in Cleveland aired a different story about Christmas for several weeks before the holiday. Today's retailers are too busy going through the Orwellian exercise of replacing every mention of Christmas with "holiday" to do anything comparable. The entire focus of the season has shifted from trying to make something new and wonderful for Christmas—Brother Heinrich's motive in writing a new carol, and even one of retailers' motives in telling stories about Christmas—to seeing how much we can get away with, before someone complains about "intolerance" or being "excluded."
Anyone doubting the existence of the War against Christmas needed only to visit Slate.com during the week before Christmas. On December 22, the banner headline was "Bah, Humbug," and the site prominently featured both a drawing of a menacing Santa and the anti-Christmas diatribe of British "Bollinger Bolshevik" Christopher Hitchens. Other articles included a Buddhist complaint about Christmas and an Episcopalian priestess arguing that Mary wasn't a virgin.
It is impossible to imagine Slate treating, say, Martin Luther King Day in a similar fashion.
The following day, the webzine asked, "What Really Happened in That Manger?" Slate's answer: nothing. One of Slate's Biblical scholars, Alan Segal, wrote that the Gospel accounts of the Nativity are "legendary, contradictory, and unhistorical," no more real than what Segal called "the fictional war against Christmas." Quite a trick, if you can get away with it: to wage war against Christmas while denying that the war even exists.
Not all commentators sought to deny reality. Others chose instead to criticize those of us opposed to the War against Christmas. The New York Times ran a story about the increasing pro-Christmas resistance and called it "Good Will Took a Holiday, Whatever You Call It." (by Paul Vitello, December 18). Unsurprisingly, the Times blamed the disappearance of good will on those trying to preserve Christmas, not those trying to submerge it into "holiday."
Similar criticisms were also found among Establishment conservatives, although generally in more measured tones. Kathryn Jean Lopez at National Review Online professed to not care whether people said "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Holidays," and ran a piece by Jennifer Graham and headlines on an essay by Nina Shea suggesting that concern over the War against Christmas was either misplaced or overblown.
Seeking to solidify National Review's role as the leading voice of what might be called "The Courtier Right," Lopez [email her] was particularly vexed that some of those objecting to the War against Christmas also objected to the "Happy Holidays" card sent out by the Bush White House.
Syndicated columnist Cal Thomas also took strong objection to any expressed concern over the displacement of Christmas, suggesting that Christ frowns on such concerns and arguing that Christmas isn't about retailers' "observing this event, giving us a 'religious rush' and creating a false sense of security that the culture is better than it is." Thomas' proposed solution is for Christians to be quiet, at Christmas and about Christmas.
This attitude was nicely summarized in an e-mail from an Episcopalian friend. He wrote: "I have heard the comment several times that the removal of Christmas from stores will move it back into our house—where 'it should be.' It seems [some] Christians…wish to move back to the first century. We can meet in secret and hide behind closed doors."
My friend is right. Thomas' attitude leads either to defeatism—the retreat behind closed doors—or to Puritanism, which solved the "problem" of Christmas by banning it. Christmas didn't stay behind closed doors because the joy it inspired was infectious, and infused whole societies that celebrated it. A public celebration of Christmas can even be an occasion of grace, as the onlooker is led to wonder about the source of the joy.
And wanting retailers to observe Christmas is about more than seeking a "religious rush." When retailers observed Christmas, not an unnamed "holiday," both store employees and customers felt some need, or at least some pressure, to live up the "Christmas spirit," a much discussed concept in my youth, involving "peace on earth, good will to men." Now that most stores observe an unnamed "holiday" instead, there is no felt need to live up to a nonexistent "holiday spirit." This means that the commercialism that has long been part of the American Christmas will be all that remains, the nicer elements having been jettisoned because they are too closely associated with the Nativity. The naked commercialism to which Thomas objects, and which some urge as a reason for the further suppression of Christmas, is actually a residue of the War against Christmas.
Thomas' views were echoed in a strange quarter, The New York Times, which is not known for paying much attention to the views of Jesus. Nicholas Kristof asserted in his column that Jesus prefers "Happy Holidays" to "Merry Christmas," and that American Christians should be more concerned by what goes on in the Third World than with what happens to Christmas in America.
Of course, there is no reason one can't be concerned about both. I wish Kristof had been with me at my sister's parish on Christmas, and heard a fiery Nigerian priest denounce American Christians for the supine way in which they have, far too often, acquiesced in the war against Christmas. I doubt Kristof cares more about what happens in Africa then this Nigerian priest. It's just that the priest—unlike Kristof and Thomas—recognizes that American Christians who are too timid to defend Christmas are likely to be too timid to defend much of anything else. And that a public square stripped of Christian symbols will fill up with non Christian and then anti-Christian ones.
One thing none of the commentators decrying opposition to the War against Christmas managed to come up with was a credible justification for the war. As I wrote four years ago, "the most important thing about the transformation of Christmas to 'holiday' is how needless it was, and how it was the product not of 'tolerance,' but of hatred, resentment, and envy."
As John Brimelow has noted, the latter two emotions were evident in Ruth Marcus's piece in The Washington Post assuring her readers there was no war against Christmas. Marcus wrote of her "nose-pressed-against-the-glass" attitude toward Christmas, and complained that "This is the time of year … when those of us who aren't Christian, or who don't celebrate Christmas, most feel our minority status.." But Marcus' feelings aren't an argument for suppressing Christmas. As Cinnamon Stilwell observed in an excellent December 20th essay on the War Against Christmas in the San Francisco Chronicle:
"I'm reminded of my mother's childhood in Australia and her experiences being the sole Jewish child in what was essentially a Christian school. Far from feeling left out, she simply accepted the situation at face value. …. The point is, simply being a member of a minority group is not tantamount to being oppressed."
The "hatred" I wrote about four years ago was also on display this year in Christopher Hitchens' anti Christmas essay—which also served up large portions of ignorance of America and contempt for ordinary people and their pleasures.
Hitchens described Christmas as "vile and insufferable" and those resisting the War against Christmas as mounting " one of the most sinister as well as one of the most laughable campaigns on record.." Hitchens denounced the Christmas music and decorations enjoyed by millions of Americans, and incongruously claimed that the President was "constitutionally required to avoid any religious endorsements," apparently thinking of the portion of the Constitution beginning, "Congress shall make no law…"
Even more amazingly, Hitchens complained that the American Christmas has "the atmosphere of a one-party state." As Christian Kopff has observed one-party states don't go in much for Christmas. This was especially true of Hitchens' favorite one-party state, the Soviet Union. As Hitchens stated in the PBS special "Heaven on Earth,"
"One of Lenin's great achievements . . . is to create a secular Russia. The power of the Russian Orthodox Church, which was an absolute warren of backwardness and evil and superstition, is probably never going to recover from what he did to it."
What Lenin did to the Russian Orthodox Church was to unleash on the church and its members murder and terror. Scrooge wanted to see those who celebrated Christmas boiled with their own puddings and buried with a stake of holly in their hearts. Hitchens, being more modern than Scrooge, just wants to send us to the Gulag.
It is easy, after reading Hitchens, to see how the war against Christmas has made so much progress.
When confronted with a hate-filled fanatic most people merely want the fanatic to go away and leave them alone. And when the fanatic does go away, after "Silent Night" is dropped from the concert, or the Nativity scene is mothballed, or store employees no longer wish customers "Merry Christmas," many people have been tempted to go along.
But, this Christmas, ordinary Americans have started standing up to the fanatics and malcontents who have been waging war against Christmas.
Let us hope that this process continues, and that the likes of Hitchens are unhappy for many Christmases to come.