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.
For us and many others, Christmas was a reason to do all those things Charles Dickens popularized in A Christmas Carol. It was an excuse to get together, be a family and demonstrate our love for each other. It was an excuse to decorate and buy presents and be happy. Jesus was optional. But, again, throughout the history of the holiday, to observe or not observe Christ pretty much always was been.
Oddly, Fox News doesn’t bother railing against rampant secularism, calling for a strict religious observance of the holiday like a gaggle of fundamentalists. And it doesn’t jump all over capitalism for turning the holiday into an annual “selling-of-the-crap” juggernaut. Instead, it’s all over-blown, isolated stories about people complaining about nativity scenes at city hall.
Lost in their hollering is the fact that if city hall doesn’t have a holiday observance, it doesn’t stop the millions of other observances going on at the same time. It doesn’t affect celebrations at your church, your house or the mall. In fact, it has no effect on what you do personally about Christmas at all. There is no anti-Christmas Gestapo coming to your house to chop down your Christmas tree if the government doesn’t do something Jesus-related for the holiday. And why would Christians—especially those who are into Fox News and are wary of government anyway—care what the government does for Christmas?
This country was founded on getting the state out of our religion, not creating a religious state.
So, I’m going to celebrate Christmas. Because I can. Because I always have. Because it is my favorite holiday. And whether you like the holiday, openly despise it or are largely indifferent, none of that will matter to me. Someone’s lack of Christmas does not affect my bountiful Christmas of gorging on cookies and going to office parties. None of that changes me forking over an inordinate sum to fly home to St. Louis to see my parents and sisters.
You can worry about the “war” that will clearly look silly in 200 years when Christmas turns back into a drunken, pagan orgy. Or you can enjoy the holiday—religious or not—with those you love.
Choose love, people. It’s better for your mental health in the long run.