Ah, another year. Another “war on Christmas.”
If the likes of Fox News (and its acolytes Bill O’Reilly and Megyn Kelly) didn’t bang on those war drums every year to let me know that Christmas was under assault (in America, where 83 percent of Americans are Christians), I’d never know. Because for something “under threat,” Christmas seems pretty confident, robust and not going anywhere.
You’d think the fact that Christmas is inescapable every year for the paltry minority who don’t celebrate would make it impenetrable from any “attack.” Meaning, if the minority of Christmas nonobservers wanted something like a beer-can-made Festivus pole, we should laugh and move on. C’mon, that Festivus pole can’t hurt Baby Jesus. Baby Jesus is “our Lord,” and there is no Festivus beer pole a Festivus observer could ever make that would be high enough to threaten him in his celestial onesie. So what are we really talking about, if all of Christendom and one of the world’s largest holidays can be undermined with cheap aluminum and 16-year-old Seinfeld jokes?
But apparently it can be!—if you’re Fox News and other folks who bristle at people who say, “Happy Holidays” and act as if they’re losing ground in a war that was clearly decided long ago.
Christmas is a secular holiday. It’s also a cultural holiday and in some aspects, still kind of a pagan holiday. And for some Americans, it is increasingly less a religious one. But that has little to do with Festivus-pole-loving atheists. It’s more about how Christmas has always been an ever-evolving holiday.
For each generation, Christmas is whatever that generation needs it to be—from a drunken bacchanal to nonexistent, depending on which Christmas you revisit in history.
Christmas has its origins as a Roman Winter Solstice holiday. It was a celebration of Saturn, marked by overeating, drunken carousing, gambling and general debauchery. (In other words, it sounds like it was pretty fun.) Christmas then, depending on where you lived, fell in and out of popularity over the centuries, absorbing random pagan or regional traditions as it grew to become what we have now: Christmas trees, the Yule Log, mistletoe, Christmas stockings, Father Christmas, Santa Claus, gift-giving and “uniquely” American things like sporting events and giant ribbons on over-priced luxury vehicles in advertising campaigns.
(Mr. O’Reilly, if there ever was any “war” on Christmas, it was lost long ago—the war against the commercialization of the holiday.)
It’s fairly easy to celebrate Christmas and effectively do little to nothing to observe the religious aspects of the holiday. It boils down to simply not going to church, then doing just about everything else related to the holiday that is unrelated. Growing up, in our house at Christmas, other than the manger my mother put up and our father blessing dinner, was mostly a secular affair. We didn’t go to any religious observances, and my Baptist mom and Methodist dad didn’t talk much about the virgin birth.