December 8, 2005

New Front in the War on Christmas

This silly War on Christmas has been blogging paydirt for me. Or cause for blogorrhea, depending on how you look at it.

People, they make it tough to be a friendly atheist when they tell me there’s no way someone with no religious beliefs can issue a meaningful “Happy Holidays.” But, on to the rant, and then probably the end of this subject on my weblog. For today, anyhow.

No, this isn’t about the Preznit using “Happy Holidays” on his Xmas cards. Although it’s worth reading this story about that in the Independent Online for one of the best summaries of this controversy yet:

But the right-wing fringe has become expert at whipping up outrage over phony cultural controversies and scapegoating the “liberal elite” which supposedly runs the country. (Even though Republicans are in charge of almost everything.)

No, this is about a whole new front in this war that you’re probably not hearing quite as much outrage about.

This Christmas, no prayers will be said in several megachurches around the country. Even though the holiday falls this year on a Sunday, when churches normally host thousands for worship, pastors are canceling services, anticipating low attendance on what they call a family day.

Critics within the evangelical community, more accustomed to doing battle with department stores and public schools over keeping religion in Christmas, are stunned by the shutdown.

It is almost unheard of for a Christian church to cancel services on a Sunday, and opponents of the closures are accusing these congregations of bowing to secular culture.

Let me walk you through it. These very large churches have decided that because their congregations will most probably just be spending time with their families on Sunday, it’s not worth it for them to have services on that day. On Christmas day. Which falls on a Sunday.

Is it possible that these churches have canceled services for purely practical reasons? Maybe they’re out working in the community on that day.

Whatever. The reasons don’t matter. Sentiments don’t matter. What matters is whether or not there is an appearance that the shadowy secularists (the equivalent of terrorists in this War on Christmas) are gaining ground in the public arena this holiday season.

So, naturally they catch flack according to the logic of the rest of the War on Christmas claptrap.

The wrinkle here is that it’s not as entertaining to attack other Christian churches. You run the risk of looking like one of those anti-Christian terrorist secularist people who are oppressing the single most humongous religion in our country. So, a few evangelicals object, but you won’t see Bill O’Reilly on the attack. You won’t hear about it over and over again on Fox.

So finally we can analyze what it comes down to. And apparently an atheist is needed to to explain it.

Christmas isn’t at Target, no matter what Bill O’Reilly said last year when he first made hay over “Happy Holidays.” Christmas isn’t At Walmart, no matter who the American Family Association is planning to boycott next (as they famously did with Disney).

The loudest of those promulgating a “War on Christmas” are not protesting the secular celebration of Christmas. They are not decrying the excessive consumption. They’re not up in arms about huge holiday spending. “Ban over-the-top revelry” is not their rallying cry. If it were, they could easily lead by example. They would be boycott all Christmas gift-giving. They could boycott all non-Jesus-related trappings of the season in the American celebration that has grown up around Christmas. They could remove the fun and leave the religion.

But their declarations of war are clear. The “War on Christmas” is about the wording that businesses use in their advertising. The complaint is (at its heart) that businesses are not fulfilling their responsibility in conflating the (I am told) religious holy day Christmas with the commercial aspects of the holiday season.

What about people wishing you a “Happy Holidays?” That’s not about commercialism. It’s just a clear affront, right? Because if an atheist has nothing to celebrate around the solstice (in your view) then he should just keep his mouth shut because it ruins your Xmas. Or holiday season.

Here’s a list, for your enjoyment.

  1. Christmas isn’t a season, it’s a day. There is no Christmas Season in the Bible. But if you slip and say “Christmas Season” it’s OK - I know you really mean “Holiday Season” and I am making the substitution for you in my head automatically. Heck, I often slip up and say “Christmas Season” myself.
  2. The “Holiday Season” refers to a time of the year where there are a lot of holidays, and it appears to start around Halloween. You might be upset about that, but after Halloween is when people begin preparing for Thanksgiving. I didn’t make the rules. Note, people don’t talk about Thanksgiving Season, because it’s already part of the Holiday Season. Thanksgiving is not part of a fictitious “Christmas Season.”
  3. The holiday season (for me) culminates and ends in New Years. Well, to us atheists it’s New Years. We commonly call it “The Circumcision” in this Christian nation, right? Be sure to wish everyone a Merry Circumcision before you leave work for your circumcision celebration. Get good and drunk, because circumcision is painful. Others may have religious celebrations that last past New Years. I don’t mind extending the holiday season for them. Why not? It’s been going on since after Halloween.
  4. There are atheists who celebrate at the end of the year. It’s really none of your business what they’re celebrating, unless you’ve been invited to celebrate with them. And this atheist doesn’t particularly care what you think of his celebrations. You may insist that there are no non-religious celebrations around the solstice. You may also insist that people can’t fly, that you can’t talk to someone in another country, that a machine can’t beat a person at chess. It’s up to you how you want to appear.
  5. When I wish you a “Merry Christmas” or a “Happy Holidays” or a “Happy Hanukkah” I mean them equally sincerely. If you’re insulted by a sincere wish of happiness, then one of us is an asshole.
  6. 23.45° - that’s the reason for the season. It’s the 23.45 degree tilt of the Earth’s axis. In fact, it’s the reason for all the seasons. Jesus is the reason there is a Christmas. If you’re talking about the Holiday Season, the reason that so many celebrations are clustered around the solstice is rooted in the solstice, and you’re back at 23.45 degrees. BTW - the Earth’s tilt is secular (i.e. Worldly rather than spiritual).
  7. I hope you have a merry Christmas. Really. If you’re religious, I hope it’s deeply spiritual for you. Just like I hope the same for everybody else celebrating their holy days. I don’t particularly care which one it is you celebrate.
  8. If shopping is the spirit of Christmas, then it makes some sense that WalMart should wish you a Merry Christmas.
  9. If you don’t like people focusing on the non-religious aspects of certain religious holy days, maybe you should protest the use of Christmas Trees, and other non-religions trappings. I’m not really trying to tell you what to do, but if you want to deny that there is a secular celebration at all, the real protest would be in eliminating the commercial and secular aspects. From the point of view of an American Christmas celebrator, this is a progressive idea because it moves away from the way we were brought up. From the point of view of a devout Christian, I imagine that this is would be an extremely conservative idea, because it is a return to the type of observance that people like the Massachusetts pilgrims had. But Bill O’Reilly knows that this would never fly with people celebrating the “Holiday Season,” so there is no use sticking to that principle (that Christmas is a solemn, reverent occasion). Or, at the very least, you’d want to replace all the non-Christian pagan stuff with Christian stuff. Some people do do this. But I don’t see them on TV, or publishing books, or stirring the pot about a “War on Christmas.” Because, I agree with you, except for the war part. I agree that the American Christmas celebration interferes with the religious Christmas. Maybe it’s not so great after all to mix religion and other things. Because maybe your fun holiday gets so popular that “peace on Earth, goodwill toward men” on the one hand and crass commercialization on the other overshadows Jesus. And instead of protesting that process, which is controlled by no one person and is not a war so much as it is an effect of the melting pot society, people like the American Family Association are left to declare a silly boycott about whether the word “Christmas” is out there in the advertising.

I think I’ve covered pretty much all the bases by now. Now I’m going to go have some egg nog as I watch for actual meaningful protests to roll in. But I won’t hold my breath, because it’s no fun to protest against other Christians, and unless you institute taliban-like rule, there’s not much you can do to force people to celebrate your holy day.

Posted by James at December 8, 2005 11:17 AM
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I did read about the church thing yesterday or the day before. Now, I do understand that some people aren't "happy" unless they're hopping mad about something, but I do wish they'd pick their battles a little more sensibly before their brains melt from the rage.

Posted by: Julie at December 8, 2005 3:07 PM

Funny epilogue.

Fox (O'Reilly's employer) is having a "Holiday Party" this year, and not a Christmas Party.

I wonder if O'Reilly will boycott Fox over it (i.e. quit). I wonder if he'll even complain about it on his show?

My guess is, the people at Fox are smarter than they seem and they just think they've found a way to keep O'Reilly from showing up this year with his loofah.

Posted by: James at December 8, 2005 3:14 PM

A little something for those that protest a Christmas Tree being referred to as a Holiday Tree. They ought to know by now that Christmas largely isn't Christian, has nothing to do with the birth of Christ, and that the "Christmas" tree is a pagan symbol. In fact, the bible contains no mention of Christmas, but does have a warning about adopting certain pagan ways:

From Jeremiah 10:2-4:

2: Thus saith the LORD, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them.

3: For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe.

4: They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not.

Try not to get all bent out of shape about what others call your "idolatree", eh?

Posted by: Chuck S. at December 8, 2005 5:44 PM

Chuck, that was a new one to me. Thanks!

Posted by: James at December 8, 2005 6:19 PM

I didn't realize one had to be in church on a particular day to be Christian.

Isn't the whole point that you feel god's love all around you? How bad a Christian are you that you need to be in a building at a certain time in order to feel god's love?

Thankfully, I don't have to worry about that as I believe there is no god.

Posted by: Patti M. at December 8, 2005 6:23 PM

Well, this is part of the problem. When your whole group can't decide whether you even need to be at church on Sunday or whether you ought to have services on Christmas, it seems silly to pick on other people for the way they celebrate the holiday season.

But really, if it weren't for stuff like this I wouldn't get to have these long blog posts.

Posted by: James at December 8, 2005 6:36 PM

Chuck, that is a great passage. Birthday celebrations are a pagan celebration, which is why fundamentalists don't celebrate birthdays or Christmas.

James, I love your point#8. There's no Merry Christmas in my shopping experience, waaaaah!

They're all so hypocritical, that's the truly irritating part for me. Go pray, please, and leave the rest of us "traditional" celebrators alone. But don't celebrate traditionally and then complain that the other people celebrating traditionally aren't saying "Merry Christmas." I guess if they recognize that everything they're doing except sitting in a Church is "traditional" then maybe they'd feel guilty about doing it. Ha.

Posted by: Maggie at December 9, 2005 9:04 AM

Well, the aim is the same as always: to tell you what to do, or make you feel like crap if you don't do what they want. The best way to deal with it, of course, is to not change what you do in response. At all.

But you know my first reaction is usually amusement: I got amused at the idea that they objected to the way people celebrated traditions that they stole from other faiths. Marvelous! As if becoming a very popular religion is like winning some prize, and being a member of that religion you actually get to tell people how to celebrate.

"No, your tree means Christ now! We insist!"

These folks think that if they can't tell you how to think, they lose something. If someone celebrates Christmas differently, then they have lost something.

It's conservatism, and it's adhering to tradition.

But in the case of Christmas, it's dishonest on the face of it, because there are decades of picking and choosing which traditions to pay attention to, and which to ignore. What history matters and what doesn't. And, with barely any research, you find that Christmas tradition is not as Christian as they want you to think it is. It's an amalgam, often adopted by Christians, but taken from all over.

Which brings me full circle to amusement.

Because telling someone they can't celebrate Christmas secularly because they're not Christian I could almost understand. "Christmas is about Christ" they tell us. OK.

(BTW - you can think Jesus had some good ideas and not be a Christian. You can think he wasn't Christ. You can think he wasn't God. You can even celebrate his ideas But I guess that's beside the point.)

OK - so maybe out of respect for Christians you call your celebration the "Holiday Season" so those sensitive will not claim you are subverting Christmas.

Not good enough. You're an atheist. You can't celebrate any holidays because the word comes from "holy days."

Well, so much for trying to respect your view of Christmas. It's clear that the strategy here is to drive me off celebrating altogether.

Sorry, we're not inventing a new Kwanzaa. Back to celebrating Christmas. And I have no problem celebrating it secularly. In fact, it pleases me secularly.

Christians should have embraced the use of "Happy Holidays" so that "Christmas" stays pure. Maybe they can flip-flop next year and boycott any store that uses "Merry Christmas" in its advertising.

Either way, the bonehead play award is well deserved by the Warriors for Christmas.

Posted by: James at December 9, 2005 9:48 AM

I am a minster in a Pentecostal church of God and have a few things to say to those "christians" adn non believers alike. And I use the term christians loosley. I am a christian and I hate teh fact that I and people like me are automatically put into a catagory with everyoen else who claims christianity. Most "christians" are as godless as those who claim there is no God. I am a child of God. A true believer. I dont believe in religion... its just another word for "do anythign you want in God's name and you're ok". Phewy. Shameless bunch of hypocrits.
Christ never called us to try and force our views on any one of the world, but to live seperate from teh world and at peace with teh world. He never told us to go change the world by force or the worlds beliefs by force.. but only to spread the word of the gospel of Christ and Him crucified. No wonder the world hates us. Not for what true believers of Christ have done.. but mostly for what those Hypocrits that are only "christians" on Sunday have done. I celebrate Christmas to remember the birth of my Lord.. and to celebrate a time of holiday cheer with my family. Prove to me you heathen hypocrits that anythign is wrong with myself or a non believer celebrating Christmas. You can not. The word "Christian" means to be a believer and a follower of the teachings of Christ Jesus. Christ would never have done the things the "christian" world at large has done. The job of a "True Christian" is not to condemn the world for what they do but to tell them of a better way and stay out of it from there. To lead in Godliness and Holiness.. not to go and boycott a store for celebrating Christmas. Oh ye hipocrits.. better were it in teh days of Sodom and Gamorah than for you on teh day of judgement. Get off your high horse and get saved then call yourself a Christian. Please forgive my typos and spelling mistakes. God Bless you all

Posted by: Dave at December 9, 2005 4:02 PM

Dave, that is a sincere blessing that I am honestly warmed by. Would that other people of faith from all faiths were as compassionate. The world would be a better place. Merry Christmas to you.

Posted by: briwei at December 9, 2005 4:04 PM

Dave, people like you are being drowned out by louder, more mean voices.

Here's hoping voices like yours are heard above the din.

In my limited capacity as a Catholic, I seem to recall that one of Christ's actions was to take care of those less fortunate than himself. Although I do not believe in a higher power, I do believe--strongly--in looking after those who have less than I do.

This means, to me, supporting my local food pantry; supporting the MSPCA; supporting the low-income housing development my company has adopted; supporting homeless shelters; and so on.

These are actions I don't see when I pick up the paper to read that Congress has cut funding for social programs one day this week (most of which help the poor) and then cut taxes for the rich the next.

That in itself is irritating enough, but to know that a large chunk of these folks have the unmitigated gaul to then call themselves Christians (and talk about the "War on Christmas") makes my head nearly pop off!

So, the point of my long-winded rant is to say that if you're going to call yourself a Christian, then BE ONE.

And, for those of us who are not, just be good. Look out for those who are down on their luck--you could be one or two steps away yourself, and in need of just the kind of help I'm talking about.

Posted by: Patti M. at December 9, 2005 4:26 PM

Thanks for your comments, Dave.

Rest assured that some of us do not lump all Christians together.

People of all belief systems can concentrate on and celebrate our common values, whether taught by Jesus or whomever.

As I said, I'm not going to let this have an effect on a joyous season.

Posted by: James at December 9, 2005 4:30 PM

Yes, thank you, Dave, for sharing your thoughts with us. Much appreciated.

Posted by: Patti M. at December 9, 2005 4:42 PM

Was just in the cafeteria at work. I'm in a pretty conservative area of CA. Three guesses what is always on the TV. Yup, FOX News. And there, on the bottom of the screen, where the important news od the moment is displayed were the words "The War on Christmas". Today's evidence? A school in Wisconsin wrote a secular tune for their holiday show to the tune of Silent Night. Some jackass from "The Liberty Alliance" or something like that is suing them to change it back and allow it to be sung.

Posted by: briwei at December 9, 2005 4:44 PM

Good lord. If only these people would use their energy on more important things (refer to the small list I posted previously for starters).

Poor Brian, stuck in the weird section of CA. To bad you're not in SF!

Chin up, buck-o.

Posted by: Patti M. at December 9, 2005 4:47 PM

I just put "War on Chrismas" into Google and found that has it on sale.


Posted by: Patti M. at December 9, 2005 4:56 PM

"23.45° - that’s the reason for the season. "

This is now officially the best sentence you've ever written.

I think I'll wind up writing something on ProgRI about the "War on Christmas"... as much as I try to keep it focused on local issues and not blogosphere national talking point stuff. I just have to wait for a slow news day.

Posted by: DG at December 9, 2005 5:48 PM

Thanks, I thought it was decent, too.

I wish I had gotten there first. I was thinking about making a T-shirt, so I searched first and found that a number of people have asserted that "axial tilt is the reason for the season." -- so I can no longer pretend that I think it's original.

Google -- shatterer of illusions.

Posted by: James at December 9, 2005 6:05 PM

I have to admit I used your "23.45° - that’s the reason for the season" sentence in my sig file (giving full credit, of course).

It was just tooooo good.

Posted by: Patti M. at December 12, 2005 10:43 AM

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