The problem with Christmas

The list of usual rightwing suspects is trying to make Christmas a "wedge issue." The holiday has become yet another spurious reason to whip up some good old-fashioned anti-liberal hatred -- best enjoyed with some eggnog -- and push their larger agenda of a "Christian America." Christian Science Monitor offers up the highlights of this latest campaign:

  • During a Nov. 9 broadcast, FOX news commentator Bill O'Reilly launched the first volley in an all-out television-based offensive against retailers which shun "Merry Christmas" for "Happy Holidays," going so far as to list specific offending merchants that should be boycotted.

  • After threatening a boycott of Wal-Mart stores in early November, the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights successfully won concessions from the retail chain after an employee offered up his own explanation to a customer via e-mail for the store's policy of wishing customers "Happy Holidays" in lieu of "Merry Christmas." Wal-Mart stood by its all-inclusive "Happy Holidays" greeting, but did publicly apologize and promptly fired the offending employee.

  • The Rev. Jerry Falwell and the conservative Liberty Counsel have launched a "Friend or Foe Christmas Campaign." Armed with 750 lawyers, the group promises to "reclaim Christmas" by filing suit against anyone who, in their view, limits the public celebration of Christmas. Reverend Falwell recently publically criticized the city of Boston for a reference on its website to the annual lighting of its "Holiday Tree."

  • The conservative 150,000 member American Family Association has called for a boycott of Target stores for not utilizing the specific phrase "Merry Christmas" in their holiday advertising.

  • A California organization called "The Committee to Save Merry Christmas" has garnered national media coverage with a grass-roots campaign to boycott Sears and Federated Department Stores Inc. for changing their advertising from "Merry Christmas" to "Season's Greetings."

CSM author Beth Joyner Waldron argues that using religiously neutral words like "Happy Holidays" and "Holiday Tree," we don't fool anybody, but instead "neither fully show sensitivity toward the views of the minority nor genuinely celebrate the traditions of the majority. We are left then with a sanitized holiday season, fraught with fears of politically incorrect missteps."

On the surface, this sounds logical: If it looks like Christmas, sounds like Christmas, then why not call it Christmas? My problem with all this is that there is, in fact, no "problem." The so-called holiday season these days is growing at a monstrous speed -- as anyone who's been assaulted by Christmas carols weeks before Thanksgiving would know. Besides, there is little or no connection between this commercial version of Christmas and faith -- or hope or charity, for that matter. What's truly irreligious -- and for that matter, amoral -- is the message dinned into our head repeatedly by the fake Santas: buy, buy, buy.

A point that didn't escape religious groups of an earlier era. As Waldron notes, "In the early 1950s, groups of clergy first began organizing against what they considered the disturbing commercialization and secularization of Christmas. While their efforts were largely confined to using the power of the pulpit, today's pleas are most likely to leverage the power of the judiciary and the court of public opinion."

Since Falwell and his cohorts have been relentless in their efforts to return us to that golden era, I suggest they start with their own Christmas campaign. [CSM]

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