The term “War on Christmas” was coined by Fox News to describe a perceived de-Christianizing of December holiday decorations or celebrations. Examples include the acknowledgment of other holidays (Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or solstice), the use of the word “holiday” instead of “Christmas” in advertising, and the removal of overtly Christian messages from government displays or school celebrations.
According to those angered by the “War on Christmas,” Christmas—and its religious meaning—is being systematically destroyed by atheists, people who practice other religions, and anyone seeking political correctness by acknowledging that the holiday season is celebrated by people other than practicing Christians.
So, is there really a “War on Christmas” that’s taking away from the ability for Christians to properly honor their biggest holiday, or is it an overreaction to an increasingly egalitarian society?
A little history
Christmas hasn’t always been a major Christian holiday. In fact, it was mostly stolen from the pagans, and retains many pagan customs, such as the Yule log, decorated tree, and use of candles, holly and mistletoe. Because of the pagan connection, it was actually illegal to celebrate Christmas back in Puritan days. The church felt that all the merry-making was antithetical to Godliness, and even into the colonial era, celebrating Christmas was still punishable by fine. Christmas did not become an official holiday in the U.S. until 1870. (It wasn’t officially recognized in more devout Scotland until 1967.)
It started with the John Birch Society
The first group to publicly speak out about the ruination of Christmas was the John Birch Society, which published a pamphlet in 1959, titled “There Goes Christmas!?” In it, the author, Hubert Kregeloh writes, “One of the techniques now being applied by the Reds to weaken the pillar of religion in our country is the drive to take Christ out of Christmas…” The primary objection was that department stores were replacing overtly religious Christmas decorations with more inclusive holiday adornments. It’s a similar message to the one we’re hearing today.
AFA and Focus on the Family
The American Family Association, another Christian group, is leading the current charge to take back Christmas, and Focus on the Family has a similar agenda. Both groups publish a yearly list of stores that are “Christmas-friendly” or not, and encourage their followers to not only boycott those who are not, but to send letters and make phone calls to the management of those companies. The criteria for not being Christmas-friendly, according to the AFA, is having advertising that does not specifically use the word “Christmas.” Any company who “use [sic] the word ‘Christmas’ sparingly in a single or unique product description, but as a company does not recognize it” is considered to be “against Christmas”
Mixing church and state
Of course, also included in the “War on Christmas” is anyone who objects to the mixing of church and state, which affects government buildings, workplaces, and public schools. The U.S. Constitution allows for freedom of religion, but it also prohibits the display of specific religious symbolism by government entities. The AFA and other fundamentalist groups express outrage that Christmas is being taken out of schools, for example, but the law actually doesn’t prevent Christmas symbols, songs, and celebrations, even in public schools.
What it does say is that specifically religious symbols, literature, etc… can only be used as part of an objective lesson or in a historical context, and must not be limited to a single religion. Holiday decorations are allowed, but cannot be specifically Christian. Christmas trees, candy canes, and Santa are fine, but crucifixes and nativity scenes are not. Children in a holiday performance can legally sing Christian choral music, but the program should also include secular music and/or songs from other religious or cultural traditions. It’s really all about inclusion rather than exclusion.
Can’t we all just get along?
According to one source devoted to separating “War on Christmas” fact from myth, surveys show that 95% of people do not believe that there is a war on Christmas, 67% of non-Christians celebrate Christmas, and more than 90% of respondents do not believe Christmas is an issue in public schools.
While a few isolated entities may have taken separation of church and state to a ridiculous extreme, such as the example of the state government office where saying “Merry Christmas” to a coworker resulted in big trouble with HR, the evidence of an actual war on Christmas seems shaky.
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