[Recently by Tom Piatak: A Catholic Reader Defends His Church Against Some Immigration Reform Critics—And Bishops]
One of the real virtues of the New York Times is that it prints a lot of facts—so many that some of its stories are bound to run up against its counterfactual editorial positions. One of these editorial positions, which the Times shares with the vast majority of "mainstream" media outlets, that there is no War Against Christmas.
Of course, War Against Christmas denial is not only nonsense—the deniers often evince the very disdain for Christmas that they claim is nonexistent. For an example of the nonsense, see my Yes, Virginia and Michelle Goldberg, There is A War Against Christmas, from the VDARE.COM War Against Christmas 2005 series. For an example of the disdain, see Slate writer David Greenberg's A Very Ecumenical Christmas, posted on December 15, 2006, which credits Eisenhower's America with transforming Christmas into "holiday" and enumerates such "perennial yuletide joys" as "harried trips to mobbed shopping malls, wasteful spending on pointless presents, spikes in depressive and suicidal feelings." But as I have pointed out before (Resistance Rampant, Whether National Review Likes It or Not), the naked commercialism Greenberg objects to is all that will be left of the public observance of Christmas after the multiculturalists are through with it, the nicer elements having been jettisoned because they are too closely associated with the Nativity.
Nevertheless, an article completely undercutting War Against Christmas denial appeared in the New York Times as long ago as this summer: In Wal-Mart's Home, Synagogue Signals Growth by Michael Barbaro, June 20 2006, celebrating the creation of the first synagogue in Bentonville, Arkansas, the headquarters of Wal-Mart.
Bentonville's first synagogue did indeed signal the growth celebrated by the Times. But it also coincided with the beginnings of the War against Christmas in Bentonville. As Barbaro wrote:
"Residents of Benton County . . . are proud citizens of the Bible Belt. . . . For decades, a local hospital has begun meetings with a reading from the New Testament and the library has featured an elaborate Christmas display. Then the Wal-Mart Jews arrived."
Bentonville's new synagogue has around 100 members, in a city with a population of around 30,000 and a county with a population of over 150,000. A number of members are newcomers to any synagogue, reportedly because in the cities from which they came "you didn't need a synagogue to have a Jewish identity." But, despite the synagogue's small size and the fact that some of its members are novices in terms of religious observance, some members
"have become increasingly vocal proponents of religious neutrality in the county. They have asked school principals to rename Christmas vacation as winter break (many have) and lobbied the mayor's office to put a menorah on the town square (it did)."
There are now also lessons about Hanukkah in some Bentonville classrooms, and Jewish songs in some high school concerts.
Of course, there is a difference between obliterating mention of Christmas—as in the "winter break" that has now come to Bentonville—and incorporating different holidays into the public celebration of Christmas. The former is indefensible, while the latter may be well-intentioned, both on the part of those requesting the change and those agreeing to it.
And there is no indication in the Times article of any malice on the part of anyone in Bentonville. But both approaches end up, in different ways, diminishing the public celebration of Christmas. To that extent, they are part of the War Against Christmas.
Indeed, in places other than Bentonville, what began as an attempt to celebrate non-Christian holidays alongside Christmas has culminated in the public suppression of Christmas. There are now many school districts that both celebrate Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and Ramadan and rigorously censor references to Christmas, and the New York city public schools are litigating to preserve their policy of displaying menorahs and Islamic crescents while forbidding Nativity scenes.
This year's most celebrated skirmish in the War against Christmas, the temporary decision to remove what were officially termed "holiday trees" by the Seattle Airport, began with a threat of a lawsuit to force the airport to display a menorah (which no one ever demeans as a "holiday candelabra"— and rightly so). This evolution from "inclusiveness" to the suppression of Christmas is in keeping with the logic of "multiculturalism," which in practice seeks not so much to understand other cultures as to use them as weapons to tear down Western and Christian culture. And Bentonville may yet come to resemble the New York schools in the future. Barbaro quotes Gary Compton, the superintendent of schools in Bentonville, as saying "We need to get better at some things. You just don't go from being noninclusive to being inclusive overnight." [Send him mail]
But even if the Bentonville schools are not going down the same path as the New York City schools, Barbaro's article helps show what's wrong with such "inclusiveness." As Barbaro notes, Bentonville's synagogue is not the only instance of religious diversity in Benton County. Bentonville has gone from being a "sedate rural community" into being "a teeming mini-metropolis populated by Hindus, Muslims, and Jews." If a menorah is now set alongside symbols of Christmas in Bentonville, and Hanukkah songs sung with Christmas carols, why shouldn't Bentonville's Muslims and Hindus demand equal time for their symbols and songs at Christmas? And, if such demands are made, on what principle could they be refused?
The end result, of course, would be that what began as the public celebration of Christmas will become instead a celebration of "diversity." The only permissible seasonal salutation will be "Happy Holidays." What remains of the celebration of Christmas will be at best watered down and at worst stripped of meaning.
But public bromides about "diversity" are a poor substitute for an exuberant celebration of Christmas—as more and more Americans are coming to agree.
In addition to being a "celebration of diversity," turning Christmas in Bentonville into a multicultural amalgam of Jewish, Muslim, and Hindu holidays would also become a celebration of guilt. Today, a standard part of the observance of Christmas are constant reminders that not everyone celebrates it. We treat no other holiday this way, for good reason: such reminders are inconsistent with the genuine celebration of any holiday.
Thus, one week after Christmas is New Year's, a holiday unencumbered by any such reminders. No one has yet to devise a substitute greeting for "Happy New Year." Yet, as many Americans come from traditions with different calendars as come from traditions that do not celebrate Christmas. And those different New Years (such as Rosh Hashanah) are vastly more important in those traditions than the faux Christmases (such as Hanukkah) that we hear so much about each December.
Christmas is the target for such special attention because of what it is and represents—not because etiquette demands that the celebration of any holiday include an acknowledgement of those who do not observe it.
Indeed, the efforts to achieve "religious neutrality" are exclusively focused on Christmas, not other times of the year when non-Christian traditions often have more significant celebrations.
Despite the Times' assertion that there is no War Against Christmas, what is happening in Bentonville is continuing to happen in many other communities across America, with little more fanfare than accompanied similar changes in other communities years or even decades before.
These changes have happened for a variety of different reasons, at the prompting of people of all faiths and of none. But one upshot of these different changes is that the public celebration of Christmas has become muted, defensive, and hesitant, when it has not disappeared altogether.
And this change has impoverished all of us, Christian and non-Christian alike, who love Christmas or enjoy at least some of the matchless variety of art and celebration it has inspired.
The editorial writers who insist there is no War Against Christmas generally know that Christmas in America is no longer what it was. But the reason the New York Times insists there is no War Against Christmas can be traced to other news items this year: many retailers, including Bentonville's Wal-Mart, are once again willing to name the holiday to which they owe their fortune.
The decision to remove "holiday trees" from the Seattle airport was reversed after massive public outcry. The Westchester school bus driver was allowed to keep his Santa hat after all. Americans are rebelling against the abolition of Christmas. And they are beginning to have an impact.
And the New York Times does not want to admit that the tide may be beginning to turn in a war that the cultural left had been quietly and steadily winning.