war on christmas

Shannon Mullen 12-10-2015

Image via Shannon Mullen / Asbury Park Press / RNS

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas here. But Hanukkah? Not so much.

In this town of about 90,000 residents, including a large Jewish enclave, a complaint over a menorah set up beside a decorated Christmas tree in Town Square has triggered the menorah’s removal and upset numerous residents and at least one downtown merchant, who says township officials acted rashly.

For decades, Lakewood’s display has featured a Christmas tree and a small menorah. No one has complained until now, township officials say.

Image via Starbucks / RNS

When it comes to outrage, the Internet abhors a vacuum.

The latest missives in the continuing culture wars have come from different sides of Christianity over, of all things, the new design of the Starbucks red cup. This year’s rollout saw a plain red cup, rather than the decorated cups of Christmas past, and one guy got mad.

Joshua Feuerstein is an “American evangelist, Internet and social media personality.” He used to be a pastor, but has had some success now as a maker of YouTube videos, which put his raspy voice and confrontational manner to good use.

A few days ago, Feuerstein went to a local Starbucks wearing his Jesus shirt and carrying a gun (because Starbucks hates the Second Amendment, he claimed). He told some unwitting barista that his name was “Merry Christmas,” so that they would have to write that Christian message on his cup, and then uploaded a video to Facebook encouraging his followers to do the same: “I think in the age of political correctness we’ve become so open-minded our brains have literally fallen out of our head,” he said. 

J. Brent Walker 12-05-2014
Photo via Masson / Shutterstock

Photo via Masson / Shutterstock

Like much of the pre-Christmas hype that used to come only after Thanksgiving, cries of a “War on Christmas” began early this year.

This time,  public school policies concerning religious holidays got caught in the crosshairs. Charges have been leveled in response to the Montgomery County, Md., Board of Education’s vote (7-1) to remove any mention of religious holidays on days that school is out. The action came after a complaint from a Muslim group that its holidays were not recognized as an occasion for school closure.

We live in a country that rightly prevents government endorsement of religion while protecting religious exercise. Indeed, public schools must accommodate the religious needs of the students without advancing religion itself.

In this spirit, the following policy guideline on excused absences for religious reasons was endorsed several decades ago by a slew of education and religious groups, including the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, and has enjoyed the widespread approval and acceptance by school officials and religious liberty advocates alike:

Tom Ehrich 11-19-2014

Photo courtesy of kurhan via Shutterstock/RNS.

I’ve decided not to worry about the earlier-than-ever start to Christmas commerce this year.

Shortly after Halloween, with hardly a nod to Thanksgiving, stores and advertisers began going full-bore on the supposed “Christmas package,” namely, gift-giving, family fun, decorating, and entertaining.

It’s sad — this annual effort to derive profits from a facsimile of a 1950s Christmas — but other things are a lot sadder: an elusive economic recovery, continuing gun violence, racial violence, religious extremism, mounting rage, and intolerance at home and echoes of the Cold War in Europe.

Let commerce tread the line between gauche and tacky — merchants have salaries and suppliers to pay, after all. We have a troubled world to care about.

The path to that care doesn’t go by way of Wal-Mart or Budweiser. It is God’s path, and it goes by way of anticipation, promises, prophetic vision, a birth, a life, a death, and over all of it a sustaining grace that cares little for our seasonal receipts but cares intensely about our lives.

Maybe it’s good that commerce has declared its independence from religion and decorum. That clears the way for faith to have its parallel season — not in competition with commerce, but as the deeper reality that commerce can never attain, the deeper meaning we yearn for.

Adam Ericksen 12-26-2013
Photo: Africa Studio/Shutterstock

Photo: Africa Studio/Shutterstock

Now that Dec. 25 is over, the real war on Christmas can begin.

Because, you see, that other “War on Christmas” that begins in late November and ends on Dec. 25 is a manufactured war. That war is fabricated by a television network that, despite the Bible’s repeated message at the birth of Christ to “not be afraid,” wants Christians to live in fear of some secular agenda to destroy Christmas. After all, there’s nothing like fear and a manufactured war to raise television ratings.

That’s a manufactured war because, as Diana Butler Bass has brilliantly pointed out, the season from late November to Dec. 24 isn’t Christmas. It’s Advent. If anyone were waging a war on a Christian season during the early part of December, it wouldn’t be on Christmas. It would be on Advent.

The real war on Christmas begins on Dec. 26, but no major television network will tell you about it. The real Christmas season, known as Christmastide, begins on the evening of Dec. 24 and lasts 12 days, ending on Jan. 5.

A Christmas manger scene with figurines including Jesus, Mary, Joseph, sheep and Magi. Photo courtesy Shutterstock. Via RNS.

Nine in 10 Americans will celebrate Christmas this year, but a new poll shows that increasing numbers see the holiday as more tinsel than gospel truth.

This year more than ever, Americans prefer that stores and businesses welcome them with the more generic “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings” than “Merry Christmas,” according to a survey released Tuesday by the Public Religion Research Institute in partnership with Religion News Service.

And for one in four American adults (26 percent), Dec. 25 is simply a cultural holiday, not a religious holy day.

Tom Ehrich 12-10-2013

Christmas manger image courtesy gst via Shutterstock

I’d say the moment is ripe for “Christ in Christmas” — the real Christ, of course, who shunned the privileged and aligned himself with sinners and outcasts, whose heart went out to sufferers like the homeless of Rome whom a new pope risks serving.

I’d say the moment is ripe for new life being born in stables and forced to flee the powerful and greedy. We have seen Mammon’s insatiable maw, power’s absolute corruption of the human soul, and thugs murdering the many in order to protect the few — and we know our need of something better.

So, yes, it’s time for Christ in Christmas. Time for new life, time for hope, time for the faithful to say yes to God. Time for peace, not war. Time for repentance, not comfort at any cost. Time for justice and mercy and the even-handed goodness that God promised.

This, of course, isn’t what zealots mean when they vow to “defend” the faith from a culture’s “war on Christmas.” They want a free-fire zone where moralizers can denounce all but the like-minded, and churches with huge budgets can frighten or seduce worshippers into donor mode. They mean using Jesus’ name to impose the very cultural and political oppression that Jesus escaped once as a child but couldn’t escape as an adult.

Evan Dolive 12-10-2013

Americans spend $450 billion on Christmas; $20 billion would give water to the world for a year. ronstik/Shutterstock

The American Family Association has been tracking major companies to see how they promote Christmas. It came up with the “Naughty or Nice” list where it has examined different company’s websites, circulars, commercials, and stores noting how many times they use the word “Christmas,” if at all. According to the association’s website, “If a company has items associated with Christmas, but did not use the word “Christmas,” then the company is considered as censoring “Christmas.” Its research has uncovered that if you shop at Radio Shack, Barnes & Noble, Family Dollar, and Foot Locker (just to name a few) then you are part of the problem and thus should be placed on the “naughty list.”

The American Family Association believes that there is a full out “war on Christmas.” Well, I would have to say that it is correct but not for the reasons it postulates.

Christian Piatt 12-12-2012
Photo: National Christmas Tree, © Robert Crow / Shutterstock.com

Photo: National Christmas Tree, © Robert Crow / Shutterstock.com

I sat behind a couple of folks on a plane to Seattle this morning who were discussing their distress about a so-called war on Christmas.

“Memorial Day is a holiday,” said the man in a santa hat with disgust. “July 4th and Thanksgiving are holidays. Christmas is, well, Christmas!”

“Absolutely,” nodded the woman next to him. “It’s just more evidence of this war against Christmas.”

On the way off the plane, a flight attendant made the grave mistake of wishing the man happy holidays. He stopped the line of outgoing traffic behind him (including me) to correct her. She demurred, looked toward her feet and smiled sheepishly.

We Christians have a long and storied history of playing the martyr, whether there’s actually anyone persecuting us or not.

Photo: Christmas consumerism illustration, © pryzmat / Shutterstock.com

Photo: Christmas consumerism illustration, © pryzmat / Shutterstock.com

Are you put out that a community nativity display was nixed by a city council? Did a checkout clerk greet you with "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas"? Maybe Christmas music annoys you when the Advent fast hasn't even arrived?

Not me. I am not compelled to "reclaim" or "rescue" Christmas from the many who ignore and the few who despise its magnificent origins.

How can I be anxious or offended? I am in too much awe of its startling truth: that a baby is God, gasping for air, clasping for mother's milk, flailing his small limbs in a feed trough; taking on my frailty, contingency, vulnerability, that I might partake in his everlasting nature.

The baby is now Lord of all things visible and invisible, forever "one of us," still bearing his now glorified, nail-scarred flesh at the Father's side, making all things new for all persons, hallowing the far-flung cosmos — matter's maker now made matter, redeeming every atom and every stoney heart. This reality overpowers me with its brilliant mystery.

Mark Sandlin 11-30-2012
Photo: Nativity Scene, © Zvonimir Atletic / Shutterstock.com

Photo: Nativity Scene, © Zvonimir Atletic / Shutterstock.com

Ah  I LOVE this time of the year!

Some people wait with bated breath for duck season, some for deer season, but for me it is all about Christmas season. That's right, I'm one of those lefty liberals that have declared a War on Christmas. Yes! Sign me up for the War on Christmas!

But maybe not for the reasons you might imagine.

While I am signing up to help in a War on Christmas, I'm not on, what by default gets called, the “non-Christian” side. I’m also not signing up for the side that news pundits falsely purport as the “Christian” side. If anything, I’d make the argument that the dominant face of Christianity, as it is seen on television and promoted through news programming, is itself far from what Christianity is supposed to be. It is a sort-of white-washed, sanitized version of Christianity that every year presents an increasingly cleaned up version of the Christmas story to the viewing public.  

Jack Palmer 12-23-2011
Christmas lights in London's Trafalgar Square, St. Martin's in the Field behind.

Christmas lights in London's Trafalgar Square, St. Martin's in the Field behind. Via http://www.wylio.com/credits/Flickr/839615

I’m not sure we can quite get our heads around the latest ‘war’ being waged in the United States – the ‘war on Christmas’.

Visions of the 101st Airborne heading towards the North Pole abound. Anti-reindeer defense weapons, covert elf anti-merriment operatives and a unilateral ban on all copies of A Christmas Carol (in its various media iterations)? Is that what we have come to?

Surely — and thankfully — not, but given some of the rhetoric that is thrown around in the media at this time of year, you might be forgiven for thinking so!

Given that most reporting about religion in the UK and Europe usually includes the phrase “an increasingly secular country," you might think that the "war on Christmas" back on the old sod is even more sustained and sophisticated than in the United States.

Picture heavily fortified nativity scenes being assaulted by atheist flash mobs chanting “HAPPY HOLIDAYS!” if you will.

Well, I’m sorry to tell you that I’ve yet to witness such a terrifying scene on the streets of London.

Cathleen Falsani 12-20-2011

Forget about that creche on the town green or the menorah outside the public library that the nice folks from Lubavitch Chabad will light for the first time tonight.

Now the Special Ops Humbug Unit of the War on Christmas has come for ... our flowers. Well, our shrubbery, technically.

Jim Wallis 12-15-2011
Jim Wallis

Jim Wallis

The real Christmas announces the birth of Jesus to a world of poverty, pain, and sin, and offers the hope of salvation and justice.

The Fox News Christmas heralds the steady promotion of consumerism, the defense of wealth and power, the adulation of money and markets, and the regular belittling or attacking of efforts to overcome poverty.

The real Christmas offers the joyful promise of peace and the hope of reconciliation with God and between humankind.

The Fox News Christmas proffers the constant drumbeat of war, the reliance on military solutions to every conflict, the demonizing of our enemies, and the gospel of American dominance.

The real Christmas lifts up the Virgin Mary’s song of praise for her baby boy: “He has brought the mighty down from their thrones, and lifted the lowly, he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich empty away.”

The Fox News Christmas would label Mary’s Magnificat as “class warfare.”

So if there is a war on Christmas it ‘s the one being waged by Fox News.

Ashley Baxstrom 12-13-2011
Still from Rick Perry's ad "Strong."

Still from Rick Perry's ad "Strong."

Here’s the thing. There is no war on Christmas – one has never been declared, except by those proclaiming themselves its victims. There is no liberal attack on “our religious heritage” – whatever people like Perry and O’Reilly might subjectively perceive that to be. It’s history, so it’s not like it can be challenged to a duel. What we do have are instances where individuals and organizations – yes, including bastions of godless progressivism like the ACLU or, you know, atheists – protest against violations of the first amendment in cases where the government or publicly funded programs act in a way that appears to endorse one particular religion over another. What we do have are new perspectives on the role religion (and not just Christianity, because other religions exist in America too, along with not-religion) played in the history of our nation. That’s not an attack. That’s coming to an understanding, that’s developing the course forward for our nation, together. And even then, guess what, it’s still a focus ON RELIGION, as opposed to say the democratic principles that might be something else the country was built upon.

Rick Perry doesn’t need to tell us he’s not ashamed to be Christian. We know he’s Christian. It’s part of who he is and fine, Rick, whatever – be Christian. What we want to know is what will that mean for the rest of us if you happen to receive the GOP nomination or (self-disclosing wince) win the presidential election? Does it mean that you will declare yourself victor over the war on Christmas, institute nation-wide days of prayer and thanks to Lord Baby Jesus or mandate the building of popsicle-stick nativities in every public school cafeteria? Probably not. But does it mean that you’re going to favor Christianity, over Judaism or Islam or Atheism (doesn’t freedom of religion mean freedom from religion as well)?

Jack Palmer 12-08-2011

‘Morning Joe’ Crew Mocks Perry’s War On Christmas Ad; Odd Couples: Gingrich Casts Wide Net To Evangelicals, Tea Party And K Street Lobbyists; The Real War On Christmas; GOP Presidential Hopefuls Make Bid For Jewish Vote; Republicans: Save Social Security!; Protesters Arrested In DC After K Street Shutdown; Obama To Congress: Don’t Mix Oil Pipeline, Payroll Tax Cut; Income Gap Stays Wide In District, Narrows In Suburbs.

Jack Palmer 12-07-2011

Rowan Williams Says Jesus Would Be Siding With Occupy Movement; Too Much Focus On Money Destroys The Environment, Says Cardinal; Presidential Politics And Religion (VIDEO); Bring Them Home—Now; The Ad War Heats Up: How Religion Is Playing In Iowa; Obama To Durban: ‘We Must Not Give Up’; Occupy San Francisco Encampment Cleared By Police In Overnight Raid.

Timothy King 12-06-2011
Trees and wreaths on display, circa 1941. Image via LOC http://bit.ly/u30Iyk

Trees and wreaths on display in a shop, circa 1941. Via Library of Congress http://www.wylio.com/credits/Flickr/2179177496

It is unclear how the adjective employed to describe a coniferous tree intended as public celebratory display became a “slap in the face” to the Christian community.  It’s especially curious considering that the use of the fir tree around the winter solstice is commonly traced back to Germanic pagan traditions, not Christian ones.

The display of a Christmas tree, a nativity (or manger, or crèche) or any other “stuff” on public property is made central to the celebration of Christ’s birth. Suddenly the profound and unique Christian mystery of the Incarnation — the profound truth of Emmanuel, God with us — is reduced to a set of cultural traditions and a demand for public officials to sponsor and endorse their particular brand of celebration.

When that happens, it’s no longer clear what the difference is between a Christmas tree, a golden calf or a two-story blow-up polyurethane Frosty the Snowman.