News & Politics

An Exit Strategy for the War on Christmas

Let's face it: Christmas is not the exclusive property of those who think God came to earth 2000 years ago as a baby in Bethlehem.
As a dedicated secular humanist, I must regretfully acknowledge that the War on Christmas has not been going well. Some would use the word "quagmire," and urge a phased redeployment to other fronts, like Easter and Mardi Gras.

Others argue that we simply need more boots on the ground, and that our allies, such as the ACLU, have not been fielding sufficient troops. I say we have only ourselves to blame, and that -- however noble our intentions -- we haven't been putting up much of a fight.

Take me, for example. I had big plans for the season: I was going to spray paint the local church crèches with atheist graffiti, sue my town over the lights on Main Street, let termites loose on the mega-tree at Rockefeller Center, and start rumors about an E. Coli infestation of the nation's fruitcake supply.

But here it is, December already, and I've done nothing to rate a mention on Bill O'Reilly's show or even a mild rebuke from the Pope, who, apparently oblivious to the anti-Christmas threat, spent last week cozying up with Muslims in Turkey.

What's my excuse? Well, Christmas of course. There are those catalogues, which usually get recycled directly from the mail box, to study. Menus to plan. Should we do the Cuban-style roast pork or a re-run of the Thanksgiving turkey? Cards to buy and address: How will the pretty Virgin and baby go over with my Wiccan friends?

Then there's the annual fight over the tree: Can it be multi-colored and gaudy, as I prefer, or all-white, as certain puritanical in-laws insist? And toys, toys, toys. I spent yesterday searching for obscure members of the Dora the Explorer tribe: What's with this pre-Christmas shortage of Dora's monkey sidekick, Boots?

Let's face it: Christmas is not the exclusive property of those who think God came to earth 2000 years ago as a baby in Bethlehem. I caught the Christmas bug from my parents, who were militant atheists of the Richard Dawkins ilk.

I celebrated it with my first husband, the son of Jewish atheists. True, we tried Chanukah too one year, but it bombed with the kids. What's a little Chanukah gelt compared to a floor-full of presents?

My second husband, who had been inadvertently converted to atheism by the nuns at Catholic school, was the worst. We fought over whether to measure the extent of our excess by the volume of presents under the tree or their weight as determined by the bathroom scale.

How Christian is Christmas anyway? The tree and the wreathes descend from pagan, tree-worshipping, Druidism. The December date for the holiday probably comes from the Roman Saturnalia, a pre-existing blow-out featuring feasting and role-inversion (masters had to wait on slaves.)

Even if you fixate on Jesus, he was a pretty ecumenical guy -- a Jew who invented Christianity and is also much honored by Muslims. And who would be grinch-like enough not to welcome a baby whose mission was to bring world peace? Hell, I'm such a baby freak I think any baby, anywhere, any time, should be a cause for major celebration.

At the post office last week, where I was stocking up on stamps for the above-mentioned cards, I struggled over the seasonal options: Chanukah, Kwanza, Eid (the post-Ramadan Muslim holiday), or a traditional Virgin and Child. "You should get a sheet of each," the postmistress helpfully suggested, "More and more people are doing that." So I did, and I now declare the war is over -- the War on Christmas anyway.
Barbara Ehrenreich is the author of 13 books, most recently "Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream."