That’s right, I didn’t say “happy holidays” or “seasons greetings” — I said “merry Christmas.” And yes, I’m an atheist, one who loves the Christmas season so much that I tend to get into the spirit of the holiday a little earlier than most. I love the decorations, the music, the gift-giving, the mythology — all of it. This often surprises people because I have a dark sense of humor and tend to be the kind of realist people sometimes call “cynical.” But every December, you’ll find me singing along with Nat King Cole and Dean Martin as I decorate the tree; you’ll find me getting misty-eyed and sniffly when George Bailey comes to understand how many lives his mundane existence has touched and influenced; you’ll hear me wishing “merry Christmas” — and yes, sometimes “happy holidays” — to total strangers. And I’ll say it again — I’m an atheist.
Before I go any further, I want to make sure that word is clearly understood. There seem to be a lot of people who think an atheist is an angry, immoral person who eats babies and sodomizes house pets, and that simply isn’t the case. I’m pushing 50 years old and I’ve been with my wife for more than two wonderful, monogamous decades. I am a passionate lover of animals, especially cats and dogs. I give of my time and money to charitable causes. I have never been arrested. I vote, pay my taxes and try to stay as informed as possible. I have a strong sense of justice, of right and wrong, and I adhere to it without compromise. I am a fiercely loyal friend and a lover of life — my own and others. My goal each day is to be a better person than I was yesterday and to live my life in a way that improves the lives of those around me. I point this out not to be immodest or seek praise but to show you that I am, for the most part, not unlike most people living their lives and pursuing happiness on this earth. Only one thing makes me an atheist: I am not a person of faith. I do not believe in gods or demons, heaven or hell, angels or ghosts, or anything else that requires a leap of faith in the absence of factual proof. That’s all being an atheist means, nothing more. It certainly doesn’t mean that I hate people of faith — I don’t hate anyone. You will not find a more passionate supporter of America’s freedom of religion than I. While I might not share your faith, I would fight for your right to practice and express it, because your freedom is also my freedom. Here’s how I see the relationship between you and me: We may differ on the matter of religion and we might disagree politically, but chances are we have more in common than in conflict and we’re all in this together, so there’s no reason in the world for us to oppose one another.
Having said that, I have a question: What’s all this I keep hearing about a “war on Christmas?” I keep reading stories in the news about Christians who are angry because the phrase “happy holidays” is often used during the Christmas season and they believe this phrase somehow diminishes the Christian celebration of Christmas. With each passing year, these stories increase in number and this sentiment becomes more hostile. TV and radio hosts keep saying that “secularists” are trying to abolish Jesus and that Christianity is under attack, that atheists are taking a bulldozer to America’s Christians. It comes up every year at this time, which happens to be my favorite time of year, and frankly, I’m starting to get a little irritated by it. During a season when the words “peace on earth, good will toward men” are so often spoken and sung, a lot of people are getting angry and talking about “war” — and they are the very people who are supposed to be singing about “peace on earth, good will toward men!”
Now, maybe you’re not one of them. Maybe you don’t buy into this idea of a “war on Christmas.” But if you are — if you honestly believe that the Christian celebration of Christmas is under attack by a secular conspiracy to remove Jesus Christ from the holiday and silence Christians — I hope you will indulge me and, for just a little while, try to look at this situation from a different perspective, one that perhaps you have not considered. Please bear with me.
I don’t know anyone who genuinely hates Christmas. Oh, sure, people complain about it when it comes along — all the commercial hustle, the crowds, the pressure to buy, buy, buy. But ultimately, everyone I know enjoys the holiday and if asked seriously, I doubt they would change a thing. The people I know celebrate the holiday in different ways and for different reasons. Some celebrate it as a religious holiday, others as a secular holiday. There are many ways to celebrate in the Christmas season, and not all of them are Christmas. There’s Hanukkah, the winter solstice, Yule, Kwanzaa — it’s a time of the year that contains many holidays. Given that, what’s wrong with saying “happy holidays?” The word “holiday,” after all, means “holy day.” It comes from the Old English word hāligdæg — hālig meaning “holy” and dæg meaning “day” — and it’s been in use since before the 12th century. How is the acknowledgment of a season of “holy days” anti-Christian? It’s an inclusive greeting that embraces the entire season. I usually say “merry Christmas” because that’s the holiday I celebrate in a secular fashion, but I often say “happy holidays,” too, because I am aware of the different holidays celebrated at this time of year, and that covers all of them.
But some insist that the use of the phrase “happy holidays” is just another tactic in the “war on Christmas,” which is part of the greater effort to remove Christianity from the United States. Where did this “war on Christmas” come from? When did it start? Who’s fighting it and why? More importantly … is this thing for real? You might not know the answers to those questions. I didn’t. So I did some research.
In 1959, the John Birch Society, a far-right organization that sees anti-American and communist conspiracies in just about everything, released a pamphlet called “There Goes Christmas!” written by Hubert Kregeloh. The pamphlet claimed, “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 — to denude the event of its religious meaning.” The John Birch Society believed the UN was being used to crush religious belief:
The UN fanatics launched their assault on Christmas in 1958, but too late to get very far before the holy day was at hand. They are already busy, however, at this very moment, on efforts to poison the 1959 Christmas season with their high-pressure propaganda. What they now want to put over on the American people is simply this: Department stores throughout the country are to utilize UN symbols and emblems as Christmas decorations.
These “UN symbols and emblems” were simply secular Christmas decorations that did not employ religious imagery, decorations that had been around for some time. The pamphlet claimed this was a plot to destroy Christianity and called on patriotic Americans to boycott any stores that displayed such decorations. No one took this very seriously in 1959 — this was, after all, the John Birch Society. The conspiracy theory did not catch on. But it was to come back a few decades later.
In the 1990s, Peter Brimelow, a British American financial journalist, was an editor at Fortune magazine when he decided he didn’t like the phrase “happy holidays.” He told the Daily Beast, “I just got real interested in the issue because I noticed over the years there was this social shift taking place where people no longer said ‘Merry Christmas.’” In his book Alien Nation, Brimelow wrote that “weird aliens with dubious habits” were damaging the “ethnic core” of white Christian America and were part of a “multicultural struggle to abolish America.” He saw the trend toward saying “happy holidays” as part of this sinister movement and decided to do something about it.
Brimelow and conservative British political journalist John O’Sullivan, who was then editor of the conservative magazine National Review, had an idea: A yearly competition in the magazine for the “the most egregious attempt to suppress Christmas.” But before O’Sullivan could implement the idea, he was booted from his position as editor in 1997. Even the staunch conservatives at the National Review wanted nothing to do with Brimelow and O’Sullivan and their increasingly hostile attitudes toward racial minorities and immigrants. So Brimelow founded VDare, an anti-immigration online journal which the Southern Poverty Law Center categorized as a “hate journal” in 2003. VDare became the home of Brimelow’s “Annual War on Christmas Competition.”
The winner of the competition in 2001 was Tom Piatak’s article “Happy Holidays? Bah! Humbug!”. In the article, Tom Piatak writes that today’s celebration of Christmas in America bears a “closer resemblance to the Nazis’ Julfest” than the Christmases of old, like those celebrated during Piatak’s childhood. He specifically targets other holidays and religions as the source of the problem:
Teaching children about Kwanzaa, rather than about the Christmas carols and spirituals developed by blacks, inculcates negative lessons about whites instead of positive ones about blacks. Teaching children about Hanukkah, rather than the beliefs that actually sustained Jews on their sometimes tragic and tumultuous historical journey, inculcates negative lessons about Christianity, not positive ones about Judaism.
VDare’s 2005 winner, “Christmas, Jews, De-Assimilation and Decline” by Steve Sailer, is much more specific. Sailer is a writer who has, in the past, shown enthusiasm for Eugenics and believes black people to be inferior. In a 2005 article for Vdare called “Racial Reality and the New Orleans Nightmare,” he wrote of black people, “The plain fact is that they tend to possess poorer native judgment than members of better-educated groups. Thus they need stricter moral guidance from society.” In his competition-winning article about the “war on Christmas,” Sailer complains that, although Jews wrote many of today’s most popular Christmas songs, those songs were secular, and these days, they aren’t even doing that, because rather than being grateful for the piles of money they’ve been able to make off of Christianity, all they want to do is destroy the Christian tradition of Christmas.
With just a little research, it becomes very clear that the roots of today’s “war on Christmas” are deeply imbedded in the soil of racial hatred and religious bigotry. The people responsible for pointing out this “war” and making the most noise about it in the 1990s were white supremacists and anti-Semites.
By the middle of the past decade, the cry of “war” had been picked up by media figures. TV and radio personality John Gibson published a book in 2005 called The War on Christmas: How the Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday Is Worse Than you Thought. Gibson, a former Fox News anchor, relates several anecdotes that involve towns deciding to call their Christmas parades “holiday parades” or including symbols of other religions in their holiday displays. He sees a widespread conspiracy at work which is not only bent on removing any Christian significance from Christmas, but which is part of a “revolution against Christianity.” Behind this conspiracy, he claims, are “a cabal of secularists, so-called humanists, trial lawyers, cultural relativists and liberal, guilt-wracked Christians.” He includes in this cabal civil rights organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union — and he even includes Christian churches that try to be inclusive, calling them “institutional backers of the war on Christmas.” He writes, “These are the churches that marry gays and turn their backs on preborn babies.” He claims that the members of these churches “vote for John Kerry, Ted Kennedy, and Barney Frank.”
Here’s the score so far. Those who say there’s a “war on Christmas” blame it on a conspiracy to eradicate Christianity that is the work of communists, the UN, non-caucasian people and immigrants, Jews, secular humanists, the ACLU, anyone who supports gay rights or a woman’s right to choose, and any Christians who vote for Democrats.
Perhaps the loudest voice calling to let slip the dogs of Christmas war is Fox News personality Bill O’Reilly. Just in case you’re not familiar with O’Reilly, he’s the guy who was sued for sexual harassment in 2004 by Andrea Mackris, an associate producer on his Fox News show The O’Reilly Factor. According to court documents, Mackris was subjected to repeated verbal harassment by O’Reilly, who commonly peppered their conversations with lewd references to the size of his penis, the women who were “amazed” by it, his fondness for phone sex, vibrators and explicit sexual fantasies about what he’d like to do to Mackris in the shower with a loofa. He masturbated and climaxed during more than one telephone conversation with her, and while having dinner with Mackris and her friend, he repeatedly propositioned them both and talked about an upcoming trip to Italy to meet the pope, during which his pregnant wife would be staying home with his daughter. He then “implied he was looking forward to some extra-marital dalliances with the ‘hot’ Italian women.” All of this was done against Mackris’s will and despite her repeated appeals for him to stop. In 2004, when Mackris pointed out that O’Reilly had engaged in similarly inappropriate behavior with other women working on his show and warned him to be more cautious before one of them told someone, he said words to this effect:
If any woman ever breathed a word, I’ll make her pay so dearly that she’ll wish she’d never been born. I’ll rake her through the mud, bring up things in her life and make her so miserable that she’ll be destroyed. And besides, she wouldn’t be able to afford the lawyers I can or endure it financially as long as I can. And nobody would believe her, it’d be her word against mine and who would they believe? Me or some unstable woman making crazy accusations. They’d see her as some psycho, someone unstable. Besides, I’d never make the mistake of picking unstable crazy girls like that.
He further pointed out that any woman who blew the whistle on his behavior would have more to contend with than O’Reilly alone.
If you cross Fox News Channel, it’s not just me, it’s [Fox News president] Roger Ailes who will go after you. I’m the street guy out front making noise about the issues, but Ailes operates behind the scenes, strategizes and makes things happen so that one day, BAM! The person gets what’s coming to them but never sees it coming. Look at Al Franken, one day he’s going to get a knock on his door and his life as he’s known it will change forever. That day will happen, trust me.
O’Reilly never denied any of Mackris’s claims, but filed a countersuit. The lawsuit was settled out of court for an undisclosed sum and both suits were dropped.
But that was a while ago. All of that may seem irrelevant to this topic, but bear with me — I’m trying to make a point. I’m trying to show you the kind of people who are perpetuating the “war on Christmas.” Today, Bill O’Reilly is concerned about what he sees as an attack on Christians and Christianity, because obviously, following the teachings of Jesus Christ is a big priority in O’Reilly’s life. On November 28, 2005, O’Reilly said on his Fox News show, “Every company in America should be on its knees thanking Jesus for being born.” He hammers this subject relentlessly, claiming that it’s all part of “a very secret plan” that is designed to “diminish Christian philosophy in the USA.” Every year, O’Reilly sounds off about stores and companies that choose to use the phrase “happy holidays” rather than “merry Christmas” in their marketing campaigns, and every year, the complaints get angrier, louder and wilder. According to O’Reilly, saying “happy holidays” will lead to the “legalization of narcotics, euthanasia, abortion at will, gay marriage,” and will wipe Christianity off the map in America.
More and more media figures — Glenn Beck, Laura Ingraham, Michael Savage, Sarah Palin — have jumped on the “Christmas war” wagon. But all of this anger and shouting is not confined to the media. In 2002, the Alliance Defense Fund, an organization of Christian activist lawyers co-founded by James Dobson, began organizing hundreds of lawyers all over the country to pounce on anything they perceived as a threat to Christmas by filing lawsuits. A number of other Christian activist organizations do the same thing every year, filling the courts with lawsuits defending the most popular and beloved holiday in America from … whatever. Senior legal council for the Alliance Defense Fund, Mike Johnson, once said, “It’s a sad day in America when you have to retain a lawyer to wish someone a merry Christmas.”
There’s just one problem with that: It’s never happened. No one has ever had to seek legal representation for wishing someone “merry Christmas.” Johnson’s remark is based entirely on fantasy. In fact, none of the things these people are so wildly upset about are happening! No one is trying to destroy Christmas. It remains the most popular holiday in America.
Stores and businesses that use the phrase “happy holidays” do so because they know their customers include not only people who engage in the Christian celebration of Christmas but those who celebrate the other holidays during this season, and those who are not religious at all. The last people on the planet who would want to destroy Christmas are those who benefit most from it — department stores, toy stores, retail chains of all kinds. These businesses depend on Christmas! Why would they want to do anything to alter the holiday in any way? All they’re doing is being inclusive, trying to bring in more people. American businesses have no interest in banishing Christianity, only in beefing up their profits. They’re doing that by broadening their appeal with more nonspecific acknowledgments of the season, like “happy holidays” and “season’s greetings.” If you think business in America is devoted to the Christian religion — or any religion at all — you haven’t been paying attention. Business worships only the dollar and always has.
The anecdotes frequently cited by people like John Gibson in his 2005 book are part of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Those upset about the “war on Christmas” — who are not the majority of Americans, by the way — have become so loud and so angry that businesses and other organizations have become over-sensitive to the possibility of offending people at Christmas time, so they sometimes go too far in their efforts to be inclusive by calling Christmas trees “holiday trees” or Christmas parades “holiday parades.” Then the Christmas warriors point to those things as examples of an evil conspiracy to wipe the baby Jesus out of the holiday — a conspiracy that does not exist.
There is no “war on Christmas.” Right now, as you read this, Americans are just as free to celebrate the religious holidays that come at this time of year as they ever have been, all of it fully supported by the United States Supreme Court. Lynch v. Donnelly, a 1984 Supreme Court ruling, determined that nativity scenes are allowed on public property along with the three wise men, the Christmas star, Christmas trees, snowmen, candy canes — there is no prohibition against Christianity. Government-sponsored displays must include representations of other religions and secular symbols of holiday celebration as well because the government is constitutionally prohibited from recognizing a single religion above all others. This is, as they say, the American way. We are a nation of people of all faiths and no faith. In public schools, students are allowed to hand out religious-themed holiday cards and literature. And if they aren’t allowed to do that, guess who steps in to represent them and defend their rights? That evil organization that so many believe to be a big player in the “war on Christmas,” the ACLU.
Sometimes, the anger expressed by so many people about the nonexistent “war on Christmas” makes school administrators and others too cautious, occasionally to the point of stepping on people’s rights. In 2003, a group of students at Westfield High School in Massachusetts were suspended for handing out candy canes that had Christian messages attached to them. The ACLU intervened on their behalf, filed an amicus brief and succeeded in having the suspensions revoked. But an article by Jerry Falwell on the far-right website Newsmax.com states:
The fact is, students have the right to free speech in the form of verbal or written expression during non-instructional class time. And yes, students have just as much right to speak on religious topics as they do on secular topics — no matter what the ACLU might propagate.
The ACLU propagates no such thing. The ACLU has no conflict with students, or anyone else, expressing their religious beliefs — it fights to support that right! Anyone who tells you the ACLU is anti-Christian is either misinformed or is deliberately trying to misinform you. That accusation is repeated so often that I think it’s fair to say it is a blatant, intentional lie. And the idea that the ACLU is one of the organizations waging a war on Christmas is ludicrous! In 2002, the ACLU filed a brief supporting the right of the Church of the Good News to run ads criticizing the secularization of Christmas and promoting Christianity as the “one true religion” when the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority refused to post the paid advertisements and declined to sell any more ad space to the church. I ask you — why would an organization that’s trying to abolish the Christian celebration of Christmas do that?
The organization vigorously defends the religious rights of Christians and people of all faiths in America. Here are a few examples of that from the year 2005 alone:
Louisiana: When Mormon prison inmate Norman Sanders was not allowed access to Mormon religious texts and services, the ACLU sued the Department of Corrections on his behalf.
New Jersey: When second-grade student Olivia Turton was prohibited from singing the song “Awesome God” in a volunteer after-school talent show, the ACLU filed a motion to submit a friend-of-the-court brief on her behalf.
Oregon: When students at a Seventh-day Adventist school made it to the state basketball tournament and were going to be forced to play tournament games on Saturday, their sabbath, the ACLU filed suit against the Oregon School Activities Association on their behalf
Michigan: Joseph Hanas, a Catholic, was ordered by the court to go through a drug rehabilitation program run by a Pentecostal group that required him to read the bible seven hours a day, declare his salvation at the altar, and be tested on Pentecostal principles. The group confiscated Hanas’s rosary and told him Catholicism was evil. When Hanas refused to complete the program and was criminally punished, the ACLU filed a federal lawsuit on his behalf.
That last example points out a very important fact — sometimes America’s freedom of religion has to be defended against Christians. That does not mean the ACLU is anti-Christian, it means the ACLU is opposed to any infringement of an American’s freedom of religion, including infringement being committed by Christians.
Just in case you’re thinking that the United States is a Christian nation and everyone should respect, if not personally observe, Christian holidays, I’d like to point out one little problem with that: The United States is not a Christian nation and never was. The majority of Americans are Christian, there is no doubt about that. But that means this is a nation of Christians, not a Christian nation — there’s a big difference. Iran, for example, is a Muslim nation because there is no line drawn between the government of Iran and the Muslim religion — that country is governed by religion. The United States government has no religion. It recognizes no religion but protects the rights of all religions. Our founders were brilliant men. They did not approach the establishment of this nation lightly. Had they intended to establish a Christian nation, it would be abysmally negligent of them not to include that in the United States Constitution. It would be more than negligent — it would be absurd. They had no such intention. The Constitution does not mention the words “god” or “Jesus Christ” and makes no reference to Christianity or the bible or the ten commandments. The only reference to religion in the Constitution specifies no particular religion; it simply bars the government from enforcing or prohibiting the practice of any religion.
The Constitution neither requires nor prohibits any particular celebration of Christmas. It doesn’t even mention Christmas. In 1789, the first Christmas under the United States Constitution, Congress was in session on December 25. Christmas did not become a federal holiday until 1870.
There was only one successful “war on Christmas” in America’s history. It was a war fought by a group of people who were so offended by the celebration of Christmas that they banned it by law and fined anyone who was found engaging in any kind of recognition of the holiday. For 22 years, this group succeeded in abolishing Christmas. This, by the way, was a group of Christians. Puritans in Massachusetts banned Christmas from 1659 to 1681 because they found no biblical support for the holiday, strongly disapproved of its pagan origins and did not like the raucous partying that took place every Christmas. The law stated that anyone found “observing, by abstinence from labor, feasting or any other way any such days as Christmas day, shall pay for every such offense five shillings.” From Andrew Santella’s Slate article, “The War on Christmas, the Prequel”:
After the English Restoration government reclaimed control of Massachusetts from the Puritans in the 1680s, one of the first acts of the newly appointed royal governor of the colony was to sponsor and attend Christmas religious services. Perhaps fearing a militant Puritan backlash, for the 1686 services he was flanked by redcoats. The Puritan disdain for the holiday endured: As late as 1869, public-school kids in Boston could be expelled for skipping class on Christmas Day.
While the 17th-century Quakers did not resort to legislation, they rejected Christmas and refused to do anything to celebrate the holiday. That continued into the early 19th century, when all but a few Pennsylvanians still ignored the holiday.
From Santella’s article:
Observance of Christmas, or the lack thereof, was one way to differentiate among the Christian sects of Colonial and 19th-century America. Anglicans, Moravians, Dutch Reformed, and Lutherans, to name just a few, did; Quakers, Puritans, Separatists, Baptists, and some Presbyterians did not. An 1855 New York Times report on Christmas services in the city noted that Baptist and Methodist churches were closed because they “do not accept the day as a holy one,” while Episcopal and Catholic churches were open and “decked with evergreens.”
We have gone from a time in our past when many Christians rejected Christmas, even to the point of making the celebration illegal, to a time when Christians are angry because people aren’t uttering the correct greeting at Christmas time. But those Christians are angry for no reason other than the fact that some people in the media have told them they should be angry.
The “war on Christmas” is a myth. No one is trying to abolish the Christian celebration of Christmas. Your holiday is safe. The fact is, it’s not your holiday — you simply celebrate it for your own religious reasons. Like most Christian holidays, Christmas grew from pagan roots. Long before anyone ever heard the name “Jesus Christ,” this part of the year has been a time of celebration around the world.
The Norse celebrated Yule from the winter solstice through the month of January. Their celebration included the burning of a large log; the celebration lasted as long as that log was burning.
Germany honored the pagan god Odin at this time of year. They feared Odin because he was said to fly through the air at night, watching everyone, and he would determine who was naughty and who was nice, then reward the nice and punish the naughty. He was believed to lead a giant Yule hunting party through the sky, riding his flying horse, Sleipnir. The mythology of Santa Claus owes a great deal to Odin. According to Phyllis Siefker, author of Santa Claus, Last of the Wild Men: The Origins and Evolution of St. Nicholas, children would set out their boots filled with straw, carrots or sugar for Sleipnir to eat when he came by. Odin would reward the children for feeding his horse by leaving them candy and gifts. Sound familiar?
In the winter, Romans honored Saturn, the god of agriculture, with an enormous hedonistic blowout of a party that included a bounty of food and drink. The social order was turned upside down during this festival — slaves became masters for a month, and peasants were given rule of the city. The upper classes celebrated the birth of the god Mithra, who was believed to have been born of a rock.
Even the Christmas tree, which many mistakenly associate with Christianity today, is entirely pagan. A common thread in all the pagan winter celebrations was the significance of plants and trees that remained green all year. Celebrants decorated their homes with trees and hung boughs over their doors and windows. A large evergreen was often put in the town or village square so people could dance around it in celebration.
Druid priests used mistletoe in their ceremonies because it represented the birth of a god — and that god was not Jesus Christ. Many worshiped the sun as a god and believed that winter came because that god was ailing. They celebrated the winter solstice because it meant the sun god would soon return, and evergreens were seen as a promise of that return. The greenery also represented the promise that crops and orchards would soon flourish again.
Many early American Christians knew this and refused to use holly, mistletoe or other greenery in their celebration of Christmas. Today, many Christians wrongly believe the Christmas tree is a symbol of their religion and get angry if anyone calls it anything other than a Christmas tree.
Are you beginning to see how ridiculous all of this is?
The Christian observance of Christmas as a celebration of the birth of Jesus didn’t begin until the fourth century when Catholic church leaders decided the birth of Christ should be marked as a holiday. With no date given in the bible for Jesus’s birth, they chose December 25 — which put Christmas smack in the middle of all the popular pagan celebrations. This was not accidental — quite the contrary, in fact. It served two purposes. By attaching Christmas to the pagan holiday season, Christianity took advantage of a time of the year during which everyone was already celebrating. Also, it allowed Christianity to absorb the pagan traditions and make them their own. From a History.com article:
By holding Christmas at the same time as traditional winter solstice festivals, church leaders increased the chances that Christmas would be popularly embraced, but gave up the ability to dictate how it was celebrated. By the Middle Ages, Christianity had, for the most part, replaced pagan religion. On Christmas, believers attended church, then celebrated raucously in a drunken, carnival-like atmosphere similar to today’s Mardi Gras. Each year, a beggar or student would be crowned the “lord of misrule” and eager celebrants played the part of his subjects. The poor would go to the houses of the rich and demand their best food and drink. If owners failed to comply, their visitors would most likely terrorize them with mischief. Christmas became the time of year when the upper classes could repay their real or imagined “debt” to society by entertaining less fortunate citizens.
Reread that first line. Christian leaders popularized Christmas by choosing the pagan holiday season in which to celebrate it … “but gave up the ability to dictate how it was celebrated.”
The “war on Christmas” is a myth that has been created and perpetuated by, among others, anti-Semitic white supremacists, religious bigots and an accused — and undenied — emotional rapist. Frankly, I’m having trouble understanding why anyone would listen to these people, let alone take them seriously. But they do. If you’re one of them, ask yourself these questions:
Why is it so important to these people that you be angry? Why are they so eager to convince you that your religion is being attacked when it isn’t, that your religious rights are being limited when they aren’t? Why are they inventing reasons to turn people against each other in this country?
I’m sure there are multiple answers to each of those questions, and I would be lying if I claimed to know all of them. But I can tell you this much with certainty: As long as you’re angry about the alleged “war on Christmas,” you’re watching their TV shows, listening to their radio shows, paying for memberships on their websites and buying their books and videos and merchandise — like the just-released book about the “war on Christmas” by Sarah Palin, who launched her book tour in Bethlehem this week — and they are getting filthy rich. To them, your anger represents dollar signs. Another thing to consider is the target at which these Christmas warriors are aiming your anger — it is political. If you can be convinced that your religious liberty is under attack — even if it isn’t — your political support and donations, your votes, your entire political outlook can be influenced and altered, and you can be manipulated into becoming active, making trouble for and weakening the political opponents of the people who want you to stay angry. If you don’t like my answers, don’t stop asking yourself these questions, because they’re important. Whatever the reason, the fact is that you are being manipulated.
On a November, 2005, broadcast of his Fox News show, Bill O’Reilly said, “Anyone offended by the words ‘merry Christmas’ has problems not even St. Nicholas could solve.”
This is probably the only time I will do it, but I agree with O’Reilly. I have friends who are Christians, Jews, Buddhists, pagans — I even know a couple of Satanists — and plenty of friends who are atheists. Not one of them has ever been offended by the words “merry Christmas.” If anything, it’s a greeting that makes them smile. Were I to encounter someone who was offended by “merry Christmas,” believe me, I’m the kind of person who would not hesitate to tell them to lighten the hell up. Anyone offended by “merry Christmas” has a serious problem more closely related to their emotional and mental state than to the holiday. There is something wrong with them. But you know what? I feel exactly the same way about anyone who’s offended by the words “happy holidays.”
The only people I know who are ever offended at Christmas time are Christians who get angry whenever they hear or see the words “happy holidays” or “season’s greetings.” The angriest people I know at Christmas time are not people who are being prohibited from celebrating the holiday as they choose — they are people who are trying to prohibit others from celebrating the holidays in ways they claim to find offensive. If you are one of those people, I have a question. Is your religious faith so weak that you need everyone around you to keep it alive with words of agreement? If so, the problem lies not with others but with you. And if you’re so angered by the simple, pleasant greeting of “happy holidays,” I have another question. It’s a question I ask with no ill intent. I don’t mean to offend or insult, I simply want to understand. The question is this:
What is wrong with you?