As this column is written, the seasonal aisle at Kmart has Halloween merchandise, but Christmas promotions are starting to turn up in the mail. And if Christmastime is coming, then the war on the war on Christmas can’t be far behind. In fact, it will be raging by the time you read this.
It all started last year with the publication of a book (The War on Christmas, by Fox News anchor John Gibson) that was endlessly hyped and cross-promoted by right-wing talk-show hosts and Christian Right fundraisers. From a few examples of nativity scenes pulled from schools and the spread of the omnipresent and offensively bland greeting “Happy Holidays,” conservative culture warriors conjured the specter of a conspiracy to cancel Christmas in favor of a secular, generic “winter holiday.”
The 24-7 media hammer banged “the war on Christmas” into the mid-American brain. By mid-December it had achieved the status of an urban legend. I heard it several times, from ordinary people, in several different contexts. “You know, you’re not allowed to say ‘Merry Christmas’ anymore. It’s not politically correct. You could be sued.” I confess to having made myself obnoxious last year by insisting, with prosecutorial fervor, that near-strangers identify to me the times they personally had been denied the right to say “Merry Christmas.” Of course, they hadn’t. But the facts don’t matter when this sort of juggernaut gets rolling. The point of such myth-making is to create imaginary facts that are just as useful as real ones. And the “war on Christmas” is now one of them.