Oh, it’s that time of year again.
A bunch of ‘Murikan Christians bitching about how there’s this so-called “War on Christmas” mucking up their lives. They claim there’s all kinds of ways their so-called holiday is being trampled upon by “social justice warriors” and “political correctness” and how “progressives” and “libtards” are trying to undermine their traditional celebration.
Funny thing is, the complaint is rarely about the over-commercialization of Christmas as a capitalistic secularization that undermines the solemn Biblical implications of the Birth of Christ.
Rather it’s always about politicizing one’s personal, irrational and often unsubstantiated opinions, mutating to the generic use of “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” into a trampling their deeply held beliefs, and turning even the simplest of decorations and holiday displays into potentially divisive political statements.
Only in the United States, where a majority of identify as some Denomination of Christianity and a plurality identify specifically as of Denomination Mainline Protestantism, would individuals feel there was a war on a holiday whose theme begins to proliferate social interaction as early as the day after Labor Day and completely dominates nearly every aspect of cultural norms beginning on the commercially devised Black Friday culminating in full month of full on Christmas debauchary.
And, the Republican Right worries about the left being a bunch of snowflakes?
Even if one isn’t Christian, Christmas is a ubiquitous cultural phenom with such a far reaching influence that overshadows the more identifiably American holiday Thanksgiving and the American culturalized rendition of Halloween. It’s been so overzealous in its need for attention that Crazy Eddie used to celebrate it in July and it’s not uncommon to find trees and trimmings in Sears and other retailers as early as post-Independence Day.
The Conservative, Religious Right has never been able to defend this wholly fictious “war” well because it is mired in hypocrisy. The conundrum being, of course, that the Americanized Secular version of Christmas as a Cultural Celebration is, in many cases, already in direct contradiction with many of the Religious teachings associated to the theological roots of the holiday. Simply put, to be Christian celebrating Christmas and to be an American who celebrates Capitalism means your two identities are inherently at odds. One cannot espouse the traditional, humble values of the Birth at the same time as openly embracing overt, greed-driven commercialization that drives modern US society. And, even within the Religious teachings supposedly being at the forefront despite the aforementioned duality the Denominational disparities make it difficult to really know what religious Christmas should be universally acknowledged. Basically, universal cultural appropriation occurred to create the social celebration it’s became along the way.
The reality is the version of Christmas these Christian Crusaders long to defend is a narrow set of self-interpreted American Cultural Norms. They want to oppress other’s with this self-radicalized set of norms using a nostalgic, rose-colored, revisionist history of the 1950s iconography as the basis to which we need to revert back. This, of course, is ridiculous because what these politically driven commentators want to return to never existed in the first place.
What’s more, Christmas is but one manifestation of this retro desire. It’s but one corner stone in a long running cultural war that fundamentally began during the Goldwater “Southern Strategy” era and was furthered by the Reagan “Moral Majority” movement that set out to push a specific sub-set of White Christian “values” in an us-versus-them supposition. The “War on Christmas” is a symptom of this victim mentality they harbor and there are many treatises on why many of them, despite being in a majority, wish to perceive themselves as oppressed.
Much of it has to do with an intentional misrepresentation of history that subsequently has resulted in a new generation of historical ignorant plebs regurgitating falsified talking points. Specifically, in this case, nearly everything they reference as “wanting to go back to” is already a highly bastardized version of Christmas to begin with.
Thus, lets go back to the “beginning” and find out about Christmas:
The birth of Christ is only covered in two of the four modern renditions of the Gospels and both Luke and Matthew take different approaches on the subject. Furthermore, not all of the references made by either can be historically corroborated and most scholars emphasize the inclusion was about the fixation of certain theological traits than in any attempt at historical accuracy. As Christianity became a more formalized religion the importance as a celebration in the Liturgical Year grew in importance, however even as last as the 3rd Century the date of the celebration had yet to be formalized. Eventually, a number of contributing factors landed the celebration of the Birth on-or-about 25 December for most of the celebrating Denominations.
What that celebration entails, again, varies greatly based on Denominational lines and historical path. For some, there’s a direct lineage from the first Roman celebrations, as early as 311. For others, the Epiphany occurring 6 January holds greater importance. For others still, neither the Birth nor the Epiphany hold as great a weight as that of the Advantal feast in the preceding forty days. And yet other denominations, such as a number of Protestant sects, Jehovah’s Witnesses and others, have rejected the importance of the celebration of the Birth completely.
Thus, like everything else about Christianity, Christmas varies greatly across a spectrum of regional socio-cultural beliefs and historical political influences resulting in divergent theological interpretations. For those that found some meaning in the time in-and-around the Birth much of what the the spiritual aspects of the season entails is rooted in each Denomination’s own interpretation.
And, outside of the strict adherence to the Word there’s some synchronization of the both the Gospels and other cultural influences creating an almost folklore around the Birth story.
What we know today as Christmas, even in the religious celebration, goes well beyond the inner sanctum of liturgical celebration. As with many Christian Feasts the celebration of Christmas became heavily intermingled the existing cultural identity of a society. Be it borrowing from Jewish celebrations which can include Hanukkah,Tu Bishvat and others, integrating of traditional Roman celebrations such as Dies Natalis Solis Invicti and Saturnalia, usurping of Celt, Norse, Anglo-Saxons, Gauls and other celebrations of the Solstice and related winter festivals and adopting secular cultural identities of societies as they developed over the centuries, including influences far beyond the original European, Middle Eastern and North African roots.
Most of the cultural celebration revolving around the Christmas season outside of the Word dominates what is defined as Christmas by the 16th-century which is part of what spurred aspects of the Protestant Reformation and subsequent splintering of Theological Beliefs. Which is why it’s important to note the Puritians, Christians who have an influence on the Colonial American cultural identity, actually began one of the first actual “Wars on Christmas” by eschewing much of what they perceived as paganism and heresy in it’s celebratory importance and subsequently banning any celebration of Christmas.
Furthermore, it’s important to note the appropriation of festivities is very fluid and encompasses nearly every aspect of modern Christmas. One could write an entirely separate thesis on Santa Clause, for example. While the origins of decorations and their cultural integrations is another, And, from yet another perspective on how the Industrial Revolution began to change the aspects of Gift Giving as an important social part of the experience. These aspects, which are now engrained in the Americanized Secular version of Christmas are hardly derived from it’s original, spiritual roots.
Of course, with all this religious disagreement on when, what and why to celebrate about the Birth and all these outside influences playing part in how it is being celebrated it’s no wonder that the holiday lacks a unified definition at this point. Which is what makes this whole American “War On Christmas” fiasco. There’s no single version of Christmas FOR them to save in the first place. There’s hundreds of renditions of it throughout history both spiritually and culturally.
Unable to rectify this conundrum, many so-called Christmas Warriors will bring up the fiction of the United States being a Christian nation, and thus, our obligation to adhere to our Christian roots even despite deep theological differences in Denominations. We “must” celebrate it as our forefathers had because Christmas part of our American Identity.
The irony here cannot be lost as the Puritians in Colonial Times were ardently against the celebration of Christmas, going so far as to outlaw it until it was lifted by governor Edmund Andros in 1681, and even then the some anti-Christmas sentiment remained throughout the New England region well into 1800s. The Mid-Atlantic Colonies, particularly the Moravian and Wachovia regions, had a slightly more enthusiastic view of the holiday due to stronger central European roots, but by the pre-Revolutionary years it was already falling out of favor too due to the overall rebellion against the Protestant Crown. General George Washington took advantage of the Colonial apathy toward Christmas by using the holiday to his advantage against the more celebratory Hessian troops during the Battle of Trenton.
And, that’s without even getting into the diversity of the Founding Father’s religious and spiritual beliefs, or implications of the inclusion of a separation of law and religion in the First Amendment, or the letters and other publications by them discussing the separation thereof.
What they are really referring to though is conceptually the influence of a Tudor Christmas. But, even that is not without fault as it was primarily imagined by writers of the era, particularly Washington Irving’s 1820 “The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent” and Clement Clarke Moore’s “A Visit From St. Nicholas” in 1822 as well as Charles Dickens’ 1843 novel “A Christmas Carol” and Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “The First Christmas in New England” in 1850. By the time these works helped “revive” the “Spirit of Christmas” the nation itself was over 50 years old and well on its way to developing a cultural identity of its own.
It wasn’t until the 1850s and 60s that the movement to create a national holiday around Christmas came about at the city and state level. It was formed into a Federal Holiday June 28, 1870, nearly 100 years after the nation’s birth as part of a spate of new National Holidays created.
And, further still, many of the customs the modern United States associates with the holiday didn’t even become established until much later in its own history and nearly all with a secular tilt to them. For example, the common trope about saying “Merry Christmas” actually originates from this era, first in Dickens novel, then in 1875 with Louis Prang’s introduction of the first American holiday cards.
Seems so far that neither the traditions of religion nor the nation’s founding are really consistent with what is supposedly being attacked by the so-called “War on Christmas.”
One of the key points driving the perception of a “War on Christmas” is the diversification of American Culture over time. Heavily White Christian enclaves were, and many still are, insulated from the influence of a diverse society and thus they suffer from greater culture shock when introduced to something new.
For example, Roman Catholic celebrations, such as Saint’s Days, were not widely accepted by the more prominent Protestant leaning establishment until the post-war era as Irish- and Italian- fraternal organizations helped mainstream the cultural Catholic influence. Remember, it was a big to-do when JFK was elected as Catholic after a highly xenophobic election cycle in 1960.
German, Polish, Belgian and Dutch Catholic communities helped spread the acceptance of Krampusnacht, better known as St. Nicholas Day, already a popular holiday in Northern European Catholic cultures and commonly interwoven with Santa Claus folklore. Italian and Iberian Catholics brought with them their interpretations of the Epiphany including various celebrations of Twelve Days of Christmas leading up to Three Kings Day. While Hispanic Catholics have added the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe which is a celebration of appearance of the Virgin Mary to Juan Diago after the celebration of the feast of the Immaculate Conception.
Additionally, a number of different variations of Orthodox Christianity began to achieve greater cultural prominence due to Eastern European and Eastern Mediterranean immigration during this era which provided a number of different celebrations of Christmas and the Epiphany becoming integrated.
Black Friday also has its origins around this time as a reference to the holiday shopping season. Some of the earliest mentions are actually labor related from the Journal of Factory Management and Maintenance in the 1950s. By the 1960s shopping circulars in Philadelphia, Newark, Rochester and New York City referenced the phenomenon and The city of Philadelphia even attempted at one point to rebrand the traffic nightmare surrounding the shopping event at “Big Friday.” Obviously it failed. National prominence came in 1975 with the The New York Times referenced it as the biggest Shopping Day of the year.
Also beginning the 1950s, a rise in the exposure to Buddhism by the Beat Generation helped the Day of Enlightenment, known as Bodhi Day, gain acceptance. It found a larger mainstream audience as other Buddist traditions gained acceptance through the 1960s and by the 1970s represented the third largest religion in the US (after “Christianity” and “Judiasm” or forth if accounting for “none/atheist”).
Maulana Karenga created Kwanzaa in 1966 as a post-harvest celebration of African-American culture. It was part of a larger movement to help create a post-slave/post-Jim Crow era identity for African-American blending a combination of Pan-Africanism and American cultures and acknowledge the nearly 12% of the population in the US identifying as having slave era African roots.
Solstice celebrations are generally thought of as neo-pagan and the rise of Wiccan adaptations of the beliefs have grown in popularity since the 1960s, particularly within the Hippie Movement. It can take on adaptations of Yule, Mōdraniht, Malkh, Dies Natalis Solis Invicti and other spiritual and cultural holidays centered around the hibernal solstice. However, many immigrants from Northern and Eastern Europe also celebrate Yule and related solstice festivities as part of a cultural rather than modern religious identity.
Another example is despite Christianity having roots in Judiasm and several major Jewish immigrations from the late 1800s through the mid-1900s, many Christians had little knowledge of the “winter” holidays in the Hebrew calendar. Hanukkah, for example, didn’t gain prominence in the American lexicon until the 1970s when Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson began promoting it.
In the 1980s, Sivaya Subramuniyaswami helped develop Pancha Ganapati, a modern five-day Hindu festival, celebrated primarily in North America in honor of Ganesha with a focus on spiritual discipline.
Driven by the spirit of conveying alternative celebrations to the commercialism of Christmas, Dan O’Keefe brought his own family’s decades old tradition of Festivus to the mainstream in the 166th episode of Seinfeld titled “The Strike” in 1997 Allen Salkin chronicled the development of the holiday with the book Festivus: The Holiday for the Rest of Us in 2005.
Speaking of 2005, the National Retail Federation’s division Shop.org invented Cyber Monday as a digital incarnation of Black Friday based on the shopping trends noticed in the preceding several years. By the end of the decade online sales were competing directly with brick-and-mortar driven heavily by the marketing of Cyber Monday as a holiday.
And, this is just a small sampling of the competing cultural and religious holidays occurring within a close proximity to Christmas.
The common theme to their introduction is they occur immediately following the so-called establishment of modern American Culture that generally occurred beginning in the post-Civil War Reconstruction Era and carry through the post-WWII Great Economic Expansion era. Much of what we take for granted as American Patriotism, and celebrations for events like marriages, and holidays like Christmas, and more was actually culturally created during this time.
So, it’s not hard to imagine how the introduction of all these new, competing definitions of so-called American Culture that began to transpire with the shifts in Post-War demographics began shape into the Culture Wars and eventually spawn the so-called War of Christmas that many traditionalists fear.
The reality is, the real war on the American institution of Capitalistic Christmas is to push back some of the commercialism that has led to the deterioration of American Thanksgiving and the obsession with overworking retail labor and NOT anything like the Culture War being pushed as a narrative by Republican politicians and Conservative talking heads. Competing holidays often compliment aspects of the commercialism of the season rather than devaluing Christmas.
As for the changes in the celebration of a religious Christmas, that’s been an ongoing century’s long debate within Christianity itself. And, again, many of the competing holidays either were originally templates for aspects of Christian celebration or have themselves drawn from the original altruistic and humble aspects of Christmas that are long since forgotten in the rest of it’s secularization in American Culture.