The War on Christmas

The War on Christmas

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The War on Christmas begins around the same time each year, when stores start peddling plastic Christmas trees and giant Santa Claus inflatables. Depending on which media talking head is speaking, the war is either a subversive effort by left-wing liberals to erase all traces of Christianity, or a histrionic, right-wing attempt to force religion down every American’s throat. But most people don’t realize Christians battled one another over the holiday centuries before news media kept the War on Christmas in the headlines.

Puritans Cancel Christmas

The Puritans were Protestant English Reformists who gained distinction in the 16th and 17th centuries. After King Henry VIII broke away from the Roman Catholic church and created the Protestant Church of England, Puritans sought to further reform his newly-founded church.

For centuries, people had been celebrating Christmas by going to church, closing businesses, singing carols and enjoying goblets of wassail with family and friends. Since most people of medieval England had little to celebrate, they looked forward to the Christmas season and a break from daily hardships.

The Puritans, however, felt life should be lived solely according to the Bible. In their opinion, the Bible didn’t reference celebrating Christ’s birth at all, let alone recommend drinking and merrymaking; they lobbied to ban Christmas.

In 1642, King Charles I agreed to a request from Parliament to make Christmas a subdued period of fasting and spiritual reflection instead of a boisterous holiday. In January 1645, Parliament produced a Directory for the Public Worship of God, laying out new rules of worship.

Sundays were set aside for worship, but all other church services, festivals and religious revelries—including Christmas—were banned.

Christmas in England is Restored

Parliament didn’t stop there. In 1657, they made it illegal to close businesses on Christmas or attend or hold a Christmas worship service.

But the English people decided they wouldn’t let go of their festivities without a fight. Riots ensued, and many people celebrated Christmas privately in their homes if not their places of worship.

After Oliver Cromwell, a staunch Puritan, ordered the execution of King Charles I and became Lord Protector in 1653, he upheld the ban on Christmas, despite its unpopularity. But when the monarchy was restored in 1660, so was Christmas.

Puritans Ban Christmas in the New World

Some Puritans, unhappy with the Church of England, emigrated to the New World and settled in Massachusetts. They embarked on a hard life shaped by their staunch Christian beliefs and brought along their conviction that Christmas was a holiday for sinners and shouldn’t be observed.

Celebrating Christmas was discouraged but didn’t become a punishable offense until 1659. By 1681, colonial revelers could no longer be fined but were charged with disturbing the peace if caught celebrating in public.

The Puritans managed to force Christmas underground in much of New England, but they couldn’t compel other New World colonies to do the same. Christmas celebrations were commonplace in Virginia, Maryland and other colonies where immigrants brought their holidays traditions intact from the Old World.

Still, the Puritans held Christmas at bay, decade after cheerless decade, until Massachusetts finally made Christmas a legal holiday in 1856—almost 200 years after it was banned. President Ulysses S. Grant made it a federal holiday in 1870.

Black Friday

The enormous popularity of Clement Moore’s 1823 poem, “A Visit from St. Nicholas”—with its famous opening lines, “Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse”—was arguably the catalyst for meshing the religious and secular sides of Christmas.

As Christmas became more popular over the years, it also became more commercialized. Christians and non-Christians alike put up Christmas trees, anticipated visits from Santa Claus and shopped for gifts to buy for family and friends.

And buy they did: To meet the demand, many retailers began hawking their holiday wares before Halloween candy left store shelves.

Black Friday, the Friday after Thanksgiving and official kick-off of the Christmas shopping season, gave way to stores opening their doors on Thanksgiving evening. Not to be left out, online retailers created Cyber Monday to entice online shoppers to buy more.

Buy Nothing Day

Estimates vary, but U.S. consumers are now estimated to spend more than $655 billion annually in holiday retail purchases—$1.3 billion on Christmas trees alone.

But this shopping juggernaut had its detractors: A Vancouver artist, fed up with the mass consumer orgy of Christmas, created Buy Nothing Day, which is also held the Friday after Thanksgiving.

Started in 1992, it encourages people to skip the Black Friday madness, put away their credit cards and not fall prey to Christmas consumerism and overconsumption in general.

The Modern-Day War on Christmas

Despite the commercialization of Christmas, it was still considered mainly a religious holiday for much of the 20th century. Over the last decade or so, secularists, humanists and atheists became more vocal about the separation of church and state.

Multiple lawsuits were filed by private citizens, the ACLU, and other organizations against federal and local governments to remove nativities and other Christian symbols from public places. Legal action has also been taken to remove Christian references, songs and the word “Christmas” from school plays and programs.

Many Christians, however, consider this an attack on their freedom of speech and religious freedom. They assert America was founded on Christian principles and Christmas is a federal holiday celebrating the birth of Christ, so Christian Christmas displays should be left alone no matter where they reside.

Cable News Highlights War on Christmas

When some popular retailers stopped using the word Christmas in their promotional materials and supposedly instructed their employees to avoid saying, “Merry Christmas,” it lit a fire under many Christians.

It also fired-up several cable news hosts such as Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity, both of whom many believe took charge of the modern-day War on Christmas and made it a grass-roots campaign. As word got out, hordes of Christians signed petitions and boycotted the stores, forcing some to change their stance. Other stores continued to use general terms to refer to December 25.

When conservative Pat Buchanan called the secularization of Christmas a hate crime and pastor Jerry Falwell accused leftists of wanting to create a godless America, many liberals claimed the War on Christmas was rubbish. They claimed no one was taking away Christians’ right to celebrate, however, they drew the line at religious public displays.

Proponents on both sides of the debate got plenty of air time, keeping the war in the headlines year after year. The rhetoric amped-up in July 2017 when President Donald Trump announced during a speech at the Celebrate Freedom Concert, “…I remind you that we’re going to start saying ‘Merry Christmas’ again.”


America’s First War on Christmas. PRI.
Christmas in Puritan New England. Salisbury Historical Society, New Hampshire.
The Puritan Beliefs. Gettysburg College.
What’s Really Behind War on Christmas? CNN.
Are you celebrating Black Friday or Buy Nothing Day? USAToday.
Buchanan, Falwell joined in war-on-Christmas hype: “We are witnessing … hate crimes against Christianity.” MediaMatters.
Trump brings up the war on Christmas—in July. Washington Post.

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The real history of the "war on Christmas"

By Jarret Ruminski
Published December 24, 2013 12:45PM (EST)

Sarah Palin (AP/J. Scott Applewhite/Rose-Marie Henriksson via Shutterstock/Salon)


Do you ever feel that Christmas, the most celebrated and supposedly sacred holiday on the American calendar, has long since lost its spiritual core and become little more than a soulless annual smörgåsbord for the consumer capitalist giant? If so, then you're not alone. For years now, the Gallup polling firm has repeatedly concluded that a majority of Americans, sometimes as many as 85%, feel that Christmas has become too commercialized.

Nonetheless, Americans' yearly griping over the Christmas season's transformation from solemn observance of the birthday of Christ into an orgiastic sacrifice to the pagan retail gods hasn't exactly expunged commercialism from the season. Year after year, Christmastime provides an excuse for thousands of parka-clad citizens to pitch a post-Thanksgiving Black Friday tent on retail pavement in their materialistic quest to get their greasy digits on the latest crappily made electronic hardware put together in questionable conditions overseas.

The fear of Christmas' commercialization is also connected to concurrent fears that the holiday is being thoroughly secularized by angry hoards of lawsuit-wielding atheists, liberals and, apparently, Radio Shack. Catholics (but not all Catholics) and evangelicals alike fear that the commercialization of Christmas is a form of secularization that dilutes the holiday's Christian meanings. Hence, religious conservatives have turned their notion of a "War on Christmas" into an annual ritual through which they can express their endlessly expanding persecution complex. The Fox News Network, a 24-hour media dispensary of white conservative outrage, has for years made the idea of a "War on Christmas" an integral part of their attempt to score high ratings from lily-white reactionaries petrified by the thought of American culture shifting its focus away from "Leave it to Beaver" land. Heck, one of Fox News' former anchors, John Gibson, even wrote a book on the "liberal plot" to destroy Christmas (for a hearty laugh, read the book's Amazon reviews).

Never one to miss the chance to part conservatives from their cash, former Fox News commentator, half-term governor of Alaska, and perennial punch line Sarah Palin recently published her own "War on Christmas" screed, in which she defiantly reclaims Christmas' Christian heritage from the angry claws of a host of boilerplate boogeymen, especially atheists and liberals, who, according to Palin, are interchangeable. Palin's book is also available in a four-hour audio format read by the former governor herself, which should give U.S. agents at Guantanamo Bay a new tool to coax information out of would-be terrorists. Despite the heavy marketing campaign that accompanied Palin’s book, it debuted to reviews as chilly as the winter air and flopped on release, suggesting that perhaps there yet remains some last shred of karma in the universe. Whether Palin recognizes the irony of complaining about the commercialization of Christmas while also trying to capitalize on that commercialization via book sales remains to be seen, but don’t hold your breath.

So, has Christmas really been unmoored from its truly sacred origins and recast as a cash-register-feeding tribute to the gods of the marketplace? The short answer is "no." In an American context, Christmas has always been a decidedly commercial holiday, and it was created as such by Americans who sought to reconcile paradoxical feelings that framed capitalism as a system that reduced human virtues to a series of vacuous commodity exchanges, but also facilitated the economic and social freedoms that eventually defined American culture.

As historian Stephen Nissenbaum writes in his book, "The Battle for Christmas: A Cultural History of America's Most Cherished Holiday," Christmas' commercial trappings date all the way back to the 1500s via old European traditions that cast the winter season as a time of excessive celebration and symbolic inversion of traditional social orders.

In agricultural societies, December was the only time of the year when fresh meat was available after the slaughter, and the lack of refrigeration meant that meat had to be consumed quickly. Meat consumption, when combined with the end-of-the year availability of alcohol, turned the Christmas season into a season of excess. "Christmas was a season of 'misrule,'" Nissenbaum writes, "a time when ordinary behavioral restraint could be violated with impunity." Servants could act as masters and the rich would bow to the poor, and such "misrule" and inversion of social orders entailed all types of debauchery, from binge-drinking, to gluttony, to sexual deviancy. It's no wonder that early American Puritans rejected Christmas as an anti-Christian, pagan-influenced, immoral booze-fest.

The association of Christmastime with "excess" survived into the 19th century, an era that forever fused the Christmas season with excessive luxury via capitalist consumerism in the collective American psyche. As Nissenbaum notes, 19th-century Americans lived in a transitional time, during which old seasonal rhythms were losing their influence over social behavior. "Urbanization and capitalism were liberating people from the constraints of an agricultural cycle and making larger quantities of goods available for more extended periods of time," Nissenbaum observes. But the memory of old seasonal rhythms, with their emphasis on excess and celebration, died hard, and these old memories helped assuage the fears of a growing 19th-century American middle class that capitalism would supplant traditional virtues of frugality and citizenship with the hollow calls of luxury and excess.

In the midst of the great 19th-century Market Revolution, buying luxury goods became more possible, but remained suspect among Americans who had not yet fully equated consumer capitalism with civic duty. But, as Nissenbaum describes:

Christmas came to the rescue. For this was one time of the year when the lingering reluctance of middle-class Americans to purchase frivolous gifts for their children was overwhelmed by their equally lingering predisposition to abandon ordinary behavioral constraints. Christmas helped intensify and legitimize a commercial kind of consumerism.

In 19th century America, a new urban middle class developed along with a transformation within the American home. Domestic spheres became nurturing havens of refuge from the increasingly commercialized and heartless capitalist public marketplace. Yet, even as middle-class Americans criticized the growth of a consumer society, they couldn't escape the fact that it was that very society that gave them steady incomes and the purchasable middle-class comforts that turned homes into shelters from the commercial world.

The growth of middle-class domesticity also involved a reshaping of the holiday season into a more child-centric celebration. Before the 19th century, children had been treated as smaller versions of adults. The mid-19th-century culture of domesticity, however, made kids "the center of joyous attention," during which at least one aspect of Old World Christmas traditions, the temporary inversion of social hierarchies, was preserved. In an echo of Christmas celebrations that saw masters dote on servants, American parents, traditionally the authority figures, bestowed gifts upon their normally dependent children. As Nissenbaum notes, "a commercial Christmas thus emerged in tandem with the commercial economy itself, and the two were mutually reinforcing." Indeed, it’s difficult to conceive of an American Christmas without consumerism.

Among the first retailers to cater to the need for gifts for children at Christmas were publishers and booksellers. By the 1830s, book producers had created a new holiday gift unto itself: the “gift book,” which was a modestly priced collection of poems, stories, essays and pictures that was published at the year’s end to coincide with the holiday shopping season. Gift books were immensely popular with kids who received them under the bedazzled domestic pine. Even Christmas trees, as historian Penne Restad reminds us in "Christmas in America: A History," were used to encourage holiday consumption. American Protestantism at the time viewed “financial success as an indicator of faith,” and the various trinkets, toys, and other miscellaneous gifts that were “stored beneath an imposingly decorated Christmas tree created a powerful icon of the emerging American Christmas.” That icon was decidedly commercial: the Christmas tree served as a gathering place for the consumerist exchange of purchased items, and this tradition lives on today, giving the American economy a major boost every holiday season.

Christmas, then, forever legitimized the consumerist ideology in American society. Far from becoming too commercial, Christmas has always been inescapably commercial. Even the much-lamented early arrival of "Black Friday" and the Christmas shopping season dates back to the 19th century.

In the 20th and 21st centuries, no example better highlights Americans' paradoxical rejection and embrace of holiday consumerism than the 1965 television special, "A Charlie Brown Christmas." As J. Christopher Arrison writes over at Culture Ramp, "weary disillusionment with the commodification of the holiday season is a central theme" of the "Peanuts" special: "Charlie Brown bemoans little sister Sally’s requests to Santa (“How about tens and twenties?”) Lucy’s unrequited lust for real estate and his dog Snoopy’s attempt to win money by costuming his doghouse with tacky lights." For many Americans, the special's central moment comes when blanket-toting Linus van Pelt delivers a heartfelt soliloquy on the real (Christian) meaning of Christmas -- a truthful blade cutting through the commercial cloak that has been draped over the holiday.

American Christians, especially conservatives, have long celebrated Linus' monologue, and "A Charlie Brown Christmas" in general, as a lone, exemplary mainstream affirmation of Christmas' true religious meaning in an otherwise secularized and commercialized society. It's all the more ironic, then, that "A Charlie Brown Christmas" is the ultimate example of the symbiotic relationship between Christmas and consumerism in America.

The TV special was sponsored by the Coca-Cola company, and, as Arrison notes, the original airing featured multiple Coke product placements. In the opening skating scene, Linus flies directly into a Coca-Cola sign, which was replaced with a "danger" sign in later broadcasts. In another scene, the Peanuts gang launches snowballs at a Coca-Cola can. Coke's website even has an article, the "Secret history of Charlie Brown's Christmas," that details the company's integral involvement in the creation of the timeless holiday special. Such a history wraps multiple layers of irony around Linus’ claim that Christmas had become "too commercial."

So, does the inseparable history of Christmas and commercialism mean that Christmas has no spiritual meaning and that consumer capitalism is necessarily bad? Of course not. Despite its pagan roots, Christmas remains for many observant Christians a major celebration of their faith, and the giving of gifts during the season can be traced back to the Magi's giving gifts to the infant Christ. Moreover, one need not be religious to appreciate the Christmas season's festive celebration of family, goodwill toward fellow humans, and eye-pleasing decoration of pine trees and suburban Chicago houses. And there remains the obvious fact that rampant spending in a consumer-driven capitalist economy bodes well for America's overall economic health.

While there are multiple, valid criticisms to be made of the hollowness of consumer capitalism, the fact remains that it's the linchpin of the American socioeconomic order. Pretending that Christmas has been, or should be, separate from the American capitalist system is both foolhardy and at odds with American history. Of course, this doesn't mean that you should go out after Thanksgiving and buy another TV that you don't need to watch a million crappy channels that you don't want. Christmas commercialism is a long-established American tradition, but don’t let buying things for your friends and family supplant actually enjoying the presence of your friends and family. Family togetherness, more than anything else, should also be an American tradition, even at Christmastime.

Taking the ‘Christ’ out of Christmas

According to National Socialist theorists, women–particularly mothers–were crucial for strengthening the bonds between private life and the “new spirit” of the German racial state.

Everyday acts of celebration–wrapping presents, decorating the home, cooking “German” holiday foods and organizing family celebrations–were linked to a cult of sentimental “Nordic” nationalism.

Propagandists proclaimed that as “priestess” and “protector of house and hearth,” the German mother could use Christmas to “bring the spirit of the German home back to life.” The holiday issues of women’s magazines, Nazified Christmas books and Nazi carols tinged conventional family customs with the ideology of the regime.

This sort of ideological manipulation took everyday forms. Mothers and children were encouraged to make homemade decorations shaped like “Odin’s Sun Wheel” and bake holiday cookies shaped like a loop (a fertility symbol). The ritual of lighting candles on the Christmas tree was said to create an atmosphere of “pagan demon magic” that would subsume the Star of Bethlehem and the birth of Jesus in feelings of “Germanness.”

Family singing epitomized the porous boundaries between private and official forms of celebration.

Propagandists tirelessly promoted numerous Nazified Christmas songs, which replaced Christian themes with the regime’s racial ideologies. Exalted Night of the Clear Stars, the most famous Nazi carol, was reprinted in Nazi songbooks, broadcast in radio programs, performed at countless public celebrations–and sung at home.

Indeed, Exalted Night became so familiar that it could still be sung in the 1950s as part of an ordinary family holiday (and, apparently, as part of some public performances today!).

While the song’s melody mimics a traditional carol, the lyrics deny the Christian origins of the holiday. Verses of stars, light and an eternal mother suggest a world redeemed through faith in National Socialism–not Jesus.

The War on Christmas - HISTORY

Kena Betancur/Getty Images People dressed as Jesus and Santa run through the streets of New York during the annual Santacon bar crawl.

Though the War in Afghanistan is the longest in our country’s history, there’s one American “battle” that’s been even more drawn-out. And it’s happening right here at home.

It’s the never-ending War on Christmas, and it’s back for 2016.

And while many associate this tiresome debate with Starbucks, Bill O’Reilly, and cashiers wishing them politically correct “Happy Holidays,” the crusade’s roots actually stretch back much further.

With a cast including angry Puritans, cross dressers, and Henry Ford, here’s a timeline to help you learn about the war not taught in school:

According to Saint Augustine, people have been doing Christmas wrong for more than 1,500 years! Around 400 A.D., the saint said as much when he begged early Christians to give alms instead of holiday presents.

Christmas has actually been under siege in what is now the U.S. since the first permanent European settlers arrived in the 17th century. When boys of Plymouth attempted to celebrate the nativity with a friendly game of baseball, Governor William Bradford broke up the game and insisted they get back to work. Puritans at the time related idleness to indulgence, which they viewed as heretical.

A few years later, in 1659, the Massachusetts Bay Colony outlawed Christmas celebrations and feasts. Anyone caught having too good a time was fined five shillings.

Puritans were so riled up about the holiday that they tried to rid the world of Christmas in the 19th century.

Arguing that the Bible never specifically mentions December 25th, they saw no religious justification for a holiday that — even way back then — people used as an excuse to get drunk.

In addition to the binge-eating, binge-drinking, and flashy parading that still de-spiritualize the Christmas of today, festivities in the 1800s also included brawling, vandalizing, burglarizing, and men dressing up like women.

Henry Ford — car-maker and anti-Semite — said that Jewish people spearheaded the so-called War on Christmas. In his four-volume manifesto against American Jews, he wrote that “the whole record of the Jewish opposition to Christmas…shows the venom and directness of [their] attack.”

Though it’s no longer OK to be blatantly anti-Jewish, the new connection Ford drew between anti-Christmas sentiment and anti-American sentiment managed to stick.

Hitler and Stalin both tried their darndest to put a stop to Jesus-birthday-joy.

According to William Crump’s “Christmas Encyclopedia,” the Soviet dictator — in accordance with the government’s state atheism — replaced Christmas with “national family day,” insisting that children receive their gifts on New Year’s Day from Grandfather Frost.

In Germany, children were taught a new rendition of Silent Night:

Silent night, Holy night,
All is calm, all is bright.
Adolf Hitler is Germany’s star
Showing us greatness and glory afar
Bringing us Germans the might.

Youtube Conservative political commentator Bill O’Reilly often discusses the War on Christmas on his show, The O’Reilly Factor.

The 1990s were the first decade in which Americans became convinced of the idea that “political correctness” was impeding their First Amendment Rights.

“The notion of political correctness has ignited controversy across the land. And although the movement arises from the laudable desire to sweep away the debris of racism and sexism and hatred, it replaces old prejudice with new ones,” President George H.W. Bush said in 1991.

Seizing on this fervent fear, writer Peter Brimelow began to decry the modern siege on Santa. On his website, VDARE, Brimelow pointed to new war mongers, including the Department of Housing and Urban Development — which had the audacity to name a party, “A Celebration of Holiday Traditions” — and — which wished customers a “Happy Holidays!”

Brimelow’s website — which calls itself the “voice of the Historic American Nation” — has since been classified as a hate group.

And while the impassioned ramblings of that old white man were not enough to get people riled up, John Gibson’s 2005 book, The War on Christmas: How the Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday Is Worse Than You Thought, seemed to do the trick.

He put schools on blast for calling vacation “Winter Break” and asked the Post Office to stop plotting against him with their secular snowman stamps.

Over the centuries, a constellation of actors have attempted to “sabotage” Christmas in one way or another: people who are not Christian enough, people who are too Christian, Jews, Nazis, and, of course, latte-loving liberals.

Today, prominent Republican voices keep the fight to save the holiday going. “If I become president, we’re gonna be saying ‘Merry Christmas’ at every store,” President-elect Donald Trump said while campaigning in Iowa last year. “You can leave ‘Happy Holidays’ at the corner.”

And with that, apparently, the war is over.

Gerardo Mora/Getty Images Donald Trump – a firm believer in the War on Christmas – embraces the American flag.

For more Christmas history, check out the surprising origins of the Christmas tree and these strange, old Christmas ads that will make you happy it’s 2016.

The “War on Christmas” in Early America

As an historian of early America, I suspect I am not alone in sighing a little bit to myself when hearing the often heated rhetoric about the “War on Christmas” emanating from right-wing and evangelical media outlets at this time of the year. That, of course, is because the real war on Christmas was not waged by 21st-century godless, liberal secular humanists and the ACLU but by 17th-century New England Puritans, particularly the clergy.

Saturnalia was a pagan Roman festival held annually from December 17-25. Its customary celebrations were both chaotic and violent and, hence, were popular amongst lower-class Romans. In the fourth century, as the Catholic Church sought to bring the pagan masses into the Christian fold, the Church adopted the final day of the festival as Jesus’s birthday, which the New Testament does not indicate and on which, until this time, there had been no widespread consensus. The Church effectively killed two birds with one stone. Throughout the centuries, the most violent aspects of the celebration (which, allegedly, may have included human sacrifices) fell away, but the customs of near-lawless revelry persisted, and indeed defined the celebrations in the early modern period.

At the start of the early modern period, the holiday was not yet the priority it has become, as Easter dominated the Catholic calendar. But the Reformation had a significant impact on the perception of Christmas, both positively and negatively. The holiday celebration customs were continued by the Church of England. The often uninhibited revelry of the holiday (which Puritans derisively referred to as “Foolstide”) appealed to the English lower classes while the gentry celebrated with “eating and drinking, [and] banqueting and feasting.”

In addition there was a distinct class aspect to one of the customs, in which the poorest man in the town was named “The Lord of Misrule” and treated like a gentleman.[1] Another custom, known as “wassailling” involved lower-class persons going to the homes of wealthy individuals and “asking” for food and drink, which they would then use to toast that individual. Due to the penchant for disorder, immodesty, gluttony, and the (temporary) breakdown of the social order, it should come as no surprise that in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, English dissenters began to take a very dim view of the holiday. Indeed, the hotter the Protestant, the stronger the aversion to Christmas. But their opposition to Christmas was not just due to the overtly social nature of its celebration. Puritan faith derived wholly from scripture, and, in 1645 and again in 1647, the Long Parliament declared the abolition of all holy days except the Sabbath, which was the only day described as such in the Bible.[2]

And so the first English dissenters who settled New England in the early seventeenth century were, like their brethren back home, decidedly anti-Christmas. Puritans were keenly aware of the holiday’s pagan origins, as Increase Mather wrote in A Testimony against Several Prophane and Superstitious Customs, Now Practiced by Some in New England: [3]

In the pure Apostolical times there was no Christ-mass day observed in the Church of God. We ought to keep the primitive Pattern. That Book of Scripture which is called The Acts of Apostles saith nothing of their keeping Christ’s Nativity as an Holy-day.

Why should Protestants own any thing which has the name of Mass in it? How unsuitable is it to join Christ and Mass together? [. . .] It can never be proved that Christ’s nativity was on 25 of December.

[They] who first of all observed the Feast of Christ’s Nativity in the latter end of December, did it not as thinking that Christ was born in that Month, but because the Heathens’ Saturnalia was at that time kept in Rome, and they were willing to have those Pagan Holidays metamorphosed into Christian ones.

By mid-century, the Puritan “City on a Hill” was already losing its spiritual homogeneity and the combination of new settlers and a new generation less committed to Puritan strictures forced the Massachusetts General Court to take action. On May 11, 1659, the following was entered into the General Court’s records:[4]

For preventing disorders, arising in several places within this jurisdiction by reason of some still observing such festivals as were superstitiously kept in other communities, to the great dishonor of God and offense of others: it is therefore ordered by this court and the authority thereof that whosoever shall be found observing any such day as Christmas or the like, either by forbearing of labor, feasting, or any other way, upon any such account as aforesaid, every such person so offending shall pay for every such offence five shilling as a fine to the county.

Mather, “A Testimony…” (click to see full-size page)

Despite being told to repeal the “penalty for keeping Christmas” as early as May of 1665 for its “being directly against the lawe of England,” the law was not stricken until 1681, followed by renewed pressure from Charles II.[5] But even though the legal war was over, the cultural war on Christmas continued. In 1686, the unpopular royal governor of the new Dominion of New England, Sir Edmund Andros, required an armed escort at a Christmas service he sponsored (somewhat brazenly) in Boston. Indeed, Christmas was not celebrated widely in New England through the eighteenth century, and, when it was, it was done privately. All this is not to imply that Christmas was celebrated broadly outside of New England. Even after the Revolution, the Congress was known to meet on Christmas Day, if they were in session. Throughout the nineteenth century, as well, there are numerous reports from all over the United States attesting to the lack Christmas observance, particularly by various Protestant and German Pietist sects.

A few days ago, Bill O’Reilly claimed that—thanks to him and Fox News—the “War on Christmas” had been won and Christmas had been saved for all the true Americans out there wishing to celebrate the “traditional American Christmas.” However, the history shows that waging a “war on Christmas” is one of the very oldest of all American traditions and is a far more American tradition than the current twentieth-century, commercial capitalist version of Christmas that Bill O’Reilly claims to have saved.

[1] This tradition had its roots in a Saturnalian custom of Masters exchanging roles with their servants.

[2] If there could be said to have been a war “over” Christmas, it would have been in the 1640s and 1650s as Oliver Cromwell and Parliament tried to enforce their ban on Christmas by attempting to stop public celebrations by Anglicans (and the few remaining Catholics) and force shop keepers to remain open. In many localities, the result was fighting in the street between the authorities and those intent on celebrating the holiday in its traditional manner. For more on the English context, see Chris Durston, “The Lords of Misrule: The Puritan War on Christmas, 1642-60” History Today 35, no. 12 (1985).

[4] Records of the Governor and Company of the Massachusetts Bay in New England, 5 vols., ed. Nathaniel B. Shurtleff (Boston: From the Press of W. White, printer to the Commonwealth, 1854), 4:366.

[5] Ibid., 5:212 For repeal, see William H. Whitmore, A Bibliographical Sketch of the Laws of the Massachusetts Colony from 1630 to 1686 (Boston: Rockwell and Churchill, City Printers, 1890), 126.

How Did The War On Christmas Start, Anyway?

Is it time for Christmas crusaders to wave a furry white flag? According to a recent survey conducted by Public Policy Polling, only 41 percent of Americans believe there is actually a War on Christmas — a marked decrease from 47 percent last year (and a huge decrease from the 68 percent of people who thought that was a thing in 2006). Funny, because it seems like the War on Christmas has been everywhere this year.

As with every holiday season, this December has certainly seen its share of controversies, from a lady being knocked out for wishing someone "Happy Holidays," to a nationwide debate on whether Santa is white. All the while, self-appointed champion of Christmas Sarah Palin can be found on nearly every talk circuit, promoting her book Good Tidings and Great Joy: Protecting the Heart of Christmas.

So if this is a war, when did it begin? Let's take a brief look back at the history of the War on Christmas:

'Working Girls' Started It

In a meeting on November 14, 1912, members of the Working Girls' Vacation Fund decided they'd had enough: the Working Girls were primarily Manhattan shop clerks, and didn't appreciate the expectation that they had to give extravagant gifts to their supervisors. (After all, the custom could often eat up to two week's worth of income.)

So the Working Girls banded together to form the Society for the Prevention of Useless Giving, which worked against giving gifts during the holiday season. The move was seen as more than just a little grinch-y, and the media was quick to use images of "war" and "army" to describe the women's crusade against pointless gifting. The rhetorical War on Christmas had begun.


Henry Ford, Mr. Model T himself, was known to throw the term 'War on Christmas' around — colored with some heavy anti-Semitic sentiments for good measure. A series of articles run by Ford titled The International Jew: The World's Foremost Problem stated: "Last Christmas most people had a hard time finding Christmas cards that indicated in any way that Christmas commemorated Someone's Birth." Jewish conspiracy, all the way, duh.


In 1959, the right-wing John Birch Society published a pamphlet titled "There Goes Christmas?!" which announced that "UN fanatics [had] launched their assault on Christmas in 1958, but too late to get very far before the holy day was at hand.” The purported battleground for this full-fledged attack on Christmas? U.S. department stores, where the UN was working to replace all religious decorations with universal celebrations of brotherhood.


For most of the 20th century, rhetoric about the War on Christmas remained peripheral at best. But then, 2004 happened, and Bill O'Reilly began running a recurring segment on Fox News titled "Christmas Under Siege."

The War on Christmas, O'Reilly claims, reached its apex when major corporations like Walmart told their employees to wish people "Happy Holidays" rather than a "Merry Christmas" (a move that lasted an entire year before Walmart said that they would return to using "Merry Christmas" early and often).

To worried Christians who saw a number of Americans moving away from religion, Christmas was the perfect battleground to wage cultural war. In his 2005 book The War on Christmas: How the Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday is Worse Than You Thought , political commentator (and then Fox News host) John Gibson wrote that "The Christians are coming to retake their place in the public square, and the most natural battleground in this war is Christmas.”

After ten years of worrying about Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays and decorations in stores and windows, O'Reilly had Sarah Palin on his show this year to discuss the War on Christmas (and also, moose chili). In their eyes, the battle was still alive and well — and needed to be fought.

THE RISE OF No One Caring

Unfortunately for O'Reilly and Palin, the rest of America was growing tired of the War on Christmas. In the last five years, the number of Americans who report no affiliation with religion (known as "nones") has risen from 15 percent to 20 percent of the population — and nearly one third of people under thirty report no religious affiliation at all. It's a shift that helps explain why more Americans are viewing Christmas as a cultural (rather than religious) holiday these days.

"The rise of the "nones" is very recent, really the last few years. It seems like the War on Christmas has been declining as the nones have been growing," John Brueggemann, a professor of sociology at Skidmore College who has written about the War on Christmas, told Bustle. "I think that Fox News is using this issue as a vehicle for trafficking in fear."

The Original War on Christmas

In 2012, Paul Collins wrote about the fascinating history of the Society for the Prevention of Useless Giving. The article is reprinted below.

Tell me, do you spend too much money during the holiday season? Do you drive yourself into tens of dollars of debt with the purchase of mere gimcracks and geegaws? Also, are you an upstanding lady ready to angrily shake your umbrella?

Then, gentle reader, you are a SPUG—or once would have been.

This year marks the 100 th anniversary of the founding of the Society for the Prevention of Useless Giving, a lost player in the history of political progressivism. Now largely buried in century-old newspapers, theirs is a heartwarming story that puts War back into the War on Christmas.

SPUG started with a bang at the Nov. 14, 1912 meeting of the Working Girls’ Vacation Fund. Founded a year earlier to help Manhattan shop clerks set aside a little money each week, the fund had quickly grown to 6,000 members, with savings of $30,000. But those savings faced a jolly nemesis: Christmas. Sapped by the extravagant gifts that female department store clerks were pressured into giving supervisors—often to the tune of two week’s worth of wages—the fund’s members took action.

“Have you ever thought that true independence often consists of having the courage to say ‘No’ at the right time?” fund co-founder Eleanor Robson Belmont asked a packed hall. A former actress and Manhattan grande dame, Belmont knew how to hold a stage—and this would be one her most dramatic performances yet. The best way of saying no, she proclaimed, was to band together: “Let the members of the Vacation Saving Fund feel they form a kind of group with strength to abolish any custom, even if be as old as Christmas itself, which is not for the benefit of mankind and has not the true spirit of giving behind it.”

“Start the Spug Club!” a woman yelled from the crowd, and as Belmont descended from the stage to the rousing tune of “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” a new organization had begun. Arranged in “Spug Squads” of at least five members each—enough to stand up to a shift supervisor—they were to wear distinctive white buttons bearing a festive holly spray around the word SPUG. One thousand women signed up on the spot.

Courtesy of the Library of Congress

“BE A SPUG AND STOP FOOLISH XMAS GIVING” the New York Times announced the next day. The society’s objection was not to Christmas, its founders explained, but to what it had become—a cause that found widespread sympathy in newspapers across the country. In return for the 10-cent dues pouring into headquarters at 105 West 40 th Street, women received buttons and a membership card with the society’s credo—“the group can accomplish what the individual cannot”—along with a space for their name and squad number.

Not everyone was pleased some branded them “glum spugs” and predicted “death by spugitis.” One fellow actress claimed Mrs. Belmont’s group was nothing more than a cover for tightwads. And advertisers responded in their usual way: by instantly co-opting the movement. “RUGS FOR SPUGS,” a Harlem furniture store crowed in the New York Evening World, adding its own explanation of the acronym: “Special Prices on Useful Gifts.”

But there was much more to SPUG than just an attack on useless giving. It was a distinctly women’s cause—a fact not lost on co-founder Anne Morgan, the daughter of J.P. Morgan. “The biggest thing about this really big thing is that it is the girls’ own,” she enthused. “They are doing it themselves.”

To some, that was just the problem. While Eleanor Belmont was emphatic that men couldn’t join the group (“They can be sympathizers, but not Spugs,” she explained), membership requests from men tired of Christmas debt kept pouring in. Enchanted by Belmont’s description of the society, Teddy Roosevelt finally put her into a particular fix. “Bully,” the Times quoted his approving exclamation. “Can’t I be a charter Spug?” By the next day Roosevelt was, as the Times put in a memorable headline, the “FIRST MAN SPUG.”

New York City alone already had 82 Spug Squads, covering department stores across the city, and within a week of Teddy Roosevelt joining, the city squads boasted more than 2,000 women members—and 500 men. It was becoming hard for store owners to avoid the issue. “They are the ne plus ultra of the progressives in the United States,” one newspaper proclaimed, and at meetings you could hear more than just Christmas being discussed—one rally speaker even proposed “an anti-marriage strike of all single working girls until a universal eight-hour labor law should be passed.”

The great challenge for a Christmas movement is to keep it going after the holiday, though—and as the first glimmers of the next holiday season arrived in November 1913, the Times announced that “The Spugs are on the warpath again.”

This time they boasted even more advocates, including the quiet support of some chastened department store owners. New York’s district attorney spoke to a SPUG assembly of 1,200 as part of a “War on Christmas Graft,” and muckraking journalist Ida Tarbell lauded the fight against “the vulgar habit of giving where when gifts are but a kind of bribe.” At a Washington, D.C. rally that made front-page news, the president’s daughter Margaret Wilson pointedly joined SPUG leaders onstage.

Yet cracks in the movement were beginning to appear. Advertisers used Spug sales and “Spug Directories” to sell everything from hats to magazine subscriptions, and some seemed determined to turn the movement’s anti-commercial and feminist origins on its head. One Montana clothing store announced, “The Whole Meaning of the Word SPUG—Not to Spend Less for Christmas, But to Spend Wisely.” Not be outdone, a Washington, D.C. retailer published a “New S.P.U.G. Notice to the Men” urging them “to give their loved ones Christmas money now”—preferably to buy their latest line of corsets.

The clearest sign of change came in the form of their famous name: To emphasize a spirit of true generosity, it was decided that SPUG now stood for the gentler-sounding Society for the Promotion of Useful Giving. Members were urged to join a Washington-area drive to help needy families in New York, they announced plans for a grand but useful Christmas party on Park Avenue, marked by the rather heart-rending headline “Will Make Useful Presents to Every Lonely Person Who Comes.” Some 13,000 New Yorkers showed up for bags of candy, a 40-foot Christmas tree donated by the state of Maine, and a dance floor emceed by one of the most dedicated of local Spugs, the city coroner.

Did Congress Meet on Christmas Day? Fact-checking the “War on Christmas”

L ast November, Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee, a moderate Republican turned independent, sent out invitations to the state’s annual tree lighting ceremony and referred to the central symbol as a “holiday tree.” As is typical with such cases, a firestorm of criticism erupted. Opponents insisted it be called a Christmas tree, complaining that any alternate label was political correctness run amok. Just the preceding January, Doreen Costa, a freshman Republican legislator, had sponsored a state resolution that the tree be known as a Christmas tree and not a holiday tree (it passed in the House). When, months later, Chafee ignored the non-binding resolution, Costa called the governor a Grinch and said that he was “as far left as you can possibly be.” Religious leaders weighed in, Fox News devoted considerable airtime to the controversy, and phone calls and emails poured into the governor’s office.

Though his critics argued the governor was ignoring American traditions, Chafee invoked the 1663 Colonial charter and the legacy of state father Roger Williams, the Baptist dissident noted for his advocacy of church-state separation. “I just want to make sure I’m doing everything possible in this building to honor Roger Williams,” Chafee said.

On December 6, 2011, Jon Stewart addressed the controversy in a segment titled “The Tree Fighting Ceremony” on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show. In his typically humorous way, Stewart teased about inconsistencies in the critics’ arguments. He noted the Puritans were opposed to Christmas, and he pointed out that, in early America, Congress stayed open on Christmas Day, suggesting modern Americans have exaggerated the day’s importance. Stewart joked, “When the country was founded, Congress had exactly the same attitude about the sanctity of Christmas celebrations that a 7-Eleven does today: ‘Yeah, we’re open.'”

It was a pithy rebuttal to those who might charge that there is a “war on Christmas” in modern America. To cite history and show the lowly place Christmas Day held in the eyes of our founders was savvy. But was it true? Stewart’s claims drew the interest of PolitiFact, an online fact-checking project. Gene Emery, a reporter for Rhode Island’s Providence Journal, a PolitiFact affiliate, became especially interested in whether Congress met on Christmas Day. Stewart had used a video clip from the History Channel, which stated, “On Dec. 25, 1789, the United States Congress sat in session and continued to stay open on Christmas Day for most of the next 67 years.” As Emery wrote, “We were intrigued by the idea that members of Congress in the early days would be on the job most Christmas Days, even if Dec. 25 fell on a weekend. So we started digging.”

This is where I come into the fray. Emery found a statement on the History Channel’s website almost identical to the wording quoted in the History Channel segment Stewart used. Through a Google search, Emery also discovered the American Civil Liberties Union had cited similar points on their website: “Congress met on Christmas Day every year from 1789 to 1855, with only three exceptions.” And what did the ACLU cite as the source for that quotation? An article by someone named Bruce David Forbes (that’s me), published in 2007 in the journal Word and World, edited at Luther Seminary.

Emery also contacted Donald Richie, a Senate historian, who said he “had his doubts” about Congress meeting on Christmas Day. Emery then turned to government records and found that one claim was clearly wrong in 1789 Congress did not gather in chambers on December 25. The records also showed that, between 1789 and 1857, Congress declared a formal recess that extended over Christmas Day in only three years. In all the other years Congress was officially “in session” during Christmas, but that did not mean they met in the chambers specifically on December 25. In the years from 1789 to 1857, the records indicated that the House actually met on Christmas Day only once, in 1797, and the Senate met on Christmas Day only once, in 1802.

At PolitiFact, Gene Emery concluded “the assertion that Congress met virtually every Christmas during that period is completely False.” To Stewart, the ACLU, and the History Channel, he gave “a collective Pants on Fire!”—the site’s phrase for a statement that is “not accurate and makes a ridiculous claim.”

This little flurry of investigation left me both chagrined and curious. As a scholar, had I contributed to distributing misleading historical information? I wanted to double-check my own sources and determine for myself whether Congress met on Christmas Day until the 1850s.

First, I wanted to go further than Emery did in backtracking the claim. He apparently was unaware that my Word and World article is mainly a distillation of my 2008 book, Christmas: A Candid History. Following my own footnotes, my major source on this point was Tom Flynn’s book, The Trouble with Christmas, published in 1993. There I found language virtually identical to the claims made by the History Channel, including a reference to the year 1789 that I did not include in my book. In a phone conversation with a producer from the History Channel, I learned that they had interviewed Flynn for their television special. So, he was the major source for me and perhaps for the History Channel, but what was his source for the claim? Through personal email contacts and footnotes, I learned that Flynn relied in part on information Al Menendez included in his book, December Wars (1993), and in turn Menendez relied in part on Alvin Rosenbaum’s A White House Christmas (1992), with slight variations in each source. I am still seeking earlier claims.

After my additional research, I believe that much of the confusion arises from the words “sit” and “in session,” which may seem synonymous but technically are not. From 1789 to 1857, except for three years, Congress was in session during Christmas Day, but it almost always did not sit (i.e., actually meet in chambers) on Christmas Day. Congress did not start regularly calling a formal recess over the Christmas holiday until the late 1850s. A comparison can be made to today’s Congress: the legislature does not usually meet on Sundays, but a recess is not called every weekend. On Sundays, the House and Senate may still be in session, but they do not necessarily meet in chambers. Note that the History Channel’s statement says that Congress “sat in session” in 1789 the combination of “sat” and “in session” prompts the confusion, because Congress might be “in session” but not actually “sit” (i.e. meet) on a particular day.

So, did Congress actually meet in chambers on Christmas Day in their early years? No, almost never. Any imprecise statements by historians that suggest it, unfortunately including mine, are incorrect.

However, was Christmas “in session” on Christmas Day throughout its early years? Yes, almost always, because Congress did not begin regularly declaring a recess for the Christmas holiday period until the 1850s.

Thus, in my book and article, it was inaccurate to say that Congress met on Christmas Day from 1780 to 1855. If I had replaced the word “met” with “was in session,” the statement would have been more accurate.

But to the larger point, was Christmas downplayed in early America? Compared to today, yes. Jon Stewart was right that Puritans in the 1600s disapproved of Christmas. They believed that the earliest Christians did not observe the birth of Jesus, that Christmas was one of many Roman Catholic innovations that should be purged, and that Christmas festivals had become too wild and licentious. But Puritan legal efforts to suppress Christmas were only partially successful. In the American colonies, Christians were divided over the holiday. Most dissenters from the Church of England—including Presbyterians, Baptists, Methodists, and Quakers—had been influenced by the Puritan disapproval they tended to oppose, ignore, or de-emphasize Christmas. Meanwhile, those still within the Church of England, as well German and Scandinavian Lutherans, the Dutch Reformed, and Catholics, celebrated Christmas more fully. There was no national consensus about the importance of Christmas in early America. Celebrations happened, but the entire culture did not stop for December 25. Businesses often remained open and many government functions continued. It was not until the mid-1800s that Christmas became a more pervasive national celebration, not especially because of the influence of churches, but through a myriad of cultural influences, from Dickens’ Christmas Carol to the rise of Santa Claus.

Christmas was not always a holiday that virtually all Americans cherished. It grew to be that way, and not always for religious reasons. As Tom Flynn wrote to me, learning that Congress did not actually sit on Christmas Day in most of the early years is a significant detail, “but the larger message remains intact the Christmas holiday was treated much less seriously in the Republic’s early years.” Since the late 1850s, Congress customarily has declared a formal recess for the Christmas holiday, which in part is an indication of a major cultural shift. Today almost everything in the United States seems to stop on Christmas Day. It was not always that way.

Bruce David Forbes is a Professor of Religious Studies at Morningside College. He is the author of Christmas: A Candid History.

There is No War on Christmas

There is hardly a Christmas in memory upon which there wasn’t a war waged—or, at least, so it seems if one is tuned into American right-wing media. According to Bill O’Reilly in 2004, as a part of a plot to banish religion from the public sphere and bring forth a ‘brave new progressive world’, liberals were banning religious floats from parades and calling Christmas trees ‘holiday’ trees instead. Similar (but fewer) complaints have been made in the U.K.—say, about the use of the phrase “Winterval” instead of Christmas. But fear not, dear reader. The great and powerful Trump has singlehandedly won the war on Christmas by making it acceptable to say ‘Merry Christmas’ again—a phrase which, according to Trump, was never uttered publicly during the Obama years.

In reality, however, the so called ‘War on Christmas’ doesn’t exist. It never has.

Now, don’t get me wrong—there has been (what historian Stephen Nussbaum called) a battle for Christmas for centuries: a fight over how Christmas is celebrated. As Earl Count points out, December celebrations originate from pagan festivals (like Zagmuk and Saturnalia) which date back at least two thousand years before Jesus would have been born. And during the 300s, Constantine tried to Christianize these celebrations by declaring 25 th December (the sun god Sol’s birthday) to be Jesus’ birthday. But it never really worked people forgot the pagan origins sure, but throughout the middle ages (what came to be known as) Christmas was celebrated in mainly pagan ways: with drinking, feasting, and sex. It was so debaucherous, in fact, that the Puritans banned the celebration of Christmas all together.

Now, thanks to people like Clement Clarke More, Charles Dickens, and Queen Victoria, Christmas did make a comeback in the early 1800s—but when it did, it was again as secular drunken celebration. Thanks to capitalism, however, it was quickly domesticated into a holiday about giving gifts to your children (and, later, to nearly everyone you know). And once it was popular again, Christianity renewed its efforts to ‘Christianize’ it.[1] But despite what we now call it, ‘Christmas’ has never been celebrated, primarily, as a religious holiday. Christians lost that battle.

Once Christmas was popular again, however, it was very useful for vilifying one’s enemies. In the 1920s, for example, the anti-Semite Henry Ford claimed that Jews were waging a war on Christmas in his anti-Semitic tract, ‘The International Jew.’ In 1959 it was the communists that were targeted. The right-wing conspiratorial John Birch Society claimed that ‘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.’ And in 1999, it was right-wing pundit (and founder of the hate group Peter Brimelow complaining about liberals using phrases like ‘Happy Holidays’ and government Christmas parties being called ‘A Celebration of Holiday Traditions.’ Of course, the phrase ‘Happy Holidays’ is just a short way to reference all the holidays celebrated in December and January. It dates back to at least 1863, and was popular (and uncontroversial) in the ‘30s and ‘40s—especially after the song ‘Happy Holiday(s)’ appeared in the 1942 movie Holiday Inn. But today, it’s use is viewed as ‘political correctness gone mad.’

The idea that there is a liberal war on Christmas really took flight in 2005 with the publication of John Gibson’s book The War On Christmas: How The Liberal Plot To Ban The Sacred Christian Holiday Is Worse Than You Thought and with Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly becoming obsessed with the idea that December—and (along with Fox News) remaining obsessed with it pretty much every December since. But, in reality, none of the events that they saw as ‘shots across the bow’ in this war actually occurred. As I point out in the second chapter of my book The Myths that Stole Christmas, religious floats were not being systematically banned from parades. No school in Plano, Texas banned the colors red and green during Christmastime. [2] Ridgeway Elementary School in Dodgeville, Wisconsin didn’t change the lyrics to ‘Silent Night’ to eliminate all references to religion.[3] And while it’s true that Democratic Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee didn’t call the tree in the Rhode Island Statehouse a ‘Christmas tree’ in 2011, neither did the Republican governor Donald Carcieri from 2003 to 2010…and yet Fox News never made a peep.

It’s true, of course, that Walmart once encouraged (but did not require) its greeters to say ‘Happy Holidays’ (instead of ‘Merry Christmas’) because not all their customers celebrate Christmas. And there have been a number of lawsuits in response to courthouses or other government entities (like schools) putting up lone nativity scenes or otherwise favoring Christian ways of celebrating. But such actions do not constitute a war on Christmas. They are simply efforts to be more inclusive, and (in the latter cases) to protect against violations of the separation of church and state enshrined in the constitution. But there has never, ever, been any effort to make the celebration of Christmas, or the phrase ‘Merry Christmas’, illegal.

This, of course, hasn’t stopped people from trying to capitalize on the idea that there has. Rick Perry cited it as part of ‘Obama’s war on Religion’ in a 2010 campaign ad. Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich did something similar during the 2012 Republican campaign. And, of course, Donald Trump cited the ‘War on Christmas’ numerous times during his 2016 campaign. Indeed, he (and his family) have been taking a victory lap ever since (2017, 2018, 2019) by declaring that he ended the war by allowing everyone to say ‘Merry Christmas’ again. This is why, without any evidence at all, or any clarity about what he meant, Trump this year declared that liberals are now waging a war on Thanksgiving. Declaring that your political enemies are waging a war on things that are universally loved is just too useful for vilifying them.[4]

Before you fall for it, however, realize: in 2005, when he was raging about the liberal War on Christmas, Bill O’Reilly’s website was selling ‘holiday ornaments’ to hang on your ‘holiday tree’, and the Bush White House wished everyone a ‘Happy Holiday Season’ in their ‘holiday card.’ And today, despite all the rhetoric, Trump’s online store has a ‘holiday gift guide’, a ‘holiday collection’, and wishes people ‘Happy Holliday’s’ [sic], and avoids the term Christmas altogether. The same is true in Trump Tower, where the word ‘Christmas’ is nowhere to be found.

In reality, the only wars on Christmas that have ever been waged were waged by Christians, either to Christianize it (like Constantine) or shut it down (like the puritans). But just one look around this December will show that these wars were the most unsuccessful wars in all of history. [5] Not only is Christmas celebrated in mostly secular ways, but in our society (unlike in Trump Tower) Christmas is literally everywhere—taking over the calendar and our entire economy for over a month every year. If there was a war on Christmas…Christmas won.

David Kyle Johnson is Professor of Philosophy at King’s College (PA) and author of the book ‘The Myths that Stole Christmas: Seven Misconceptions that Hijacked that Holiday. His latest book, Black Mirror and Philosophy: Dark Reflections, is available now. You can find him on Twitter @kyle8425

[1] By, for example, falsely declaring Jesus to be the ‘reason for the season’.

[2] Other towns where this supposedly happened include Saginaw Township, Michigan and Orlando, Florida. None of the stories are true. All the schools in question proved as much by posting their guidelines online.

[3] In reality, a church choir director had changed the lyrics to make them easier for children to learn.

[4] Indeed, the stories that circulate about the war on Christmas are part of a larger, absolutely false, ‘Christian victimization narrative’ that tries to paint Christians as a persecuted minority.

Watch the video: The War on Christmas: A Measured Response (January 2023).

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