war on christmas

Why the "War on Christmas" Doesn't Translate Across the Pond

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.

The "War" on Christmas: And Then They Came for the Poinsettias

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.

The Real War on Christmas ... by Fox News

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.

A Very Perry Christmas

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)?

The Morning News: Thursday, Dec. 8, 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.

The War on Christmas: Hide the Baby Jesus!

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.