For many years Christians have waged a persistent and spirited war on Christmas. They have struggled, with significant success, to transform a holy day for people of faith into a secular holiday for all citizens of our nation to observe. However, there are signs that the Christians are in retreat, recognizing that their efforts to establish Christmas as a universal holiday observed by all Americans have been unsuccessful.
These Christians have willingly presided over the transformation of the sacred celebration of their Lord’s birth into a festival of free-market consumerism. By joining their faith with consumerist impulses and market forces, they sought to place Christ at the center of the American experience. It was seen as a victory for the faith that retailers would look forward to Christmas and promote Christmas shopping to make or break their year, making Christmas the most important part of their business cycle – and thus, of the American economy. No longer would Christmas be just a holy day for the faithful to celebrate in homes and in churches, but now it would be promoted for weeks and months on Main Street and in shopping malls, on the radio and the television, spreading the word about Christmas sales and gift ideas.
Even though the Gospel of Luke reports that Jesus brings good news to the poor and sends the rich away empty, to fully participate in Christmas America-style, an upper-middle class income or higher is really necessary, because Christmas in America is about the gifts. (Frankincense, gold and myrrh didn’t come cheap, bucko.) And so Christians established Christmas as a holiday that can truly be shared in its ideal form only by those who are well-off, further thrusting Christ into the center of the American yearning for wealth and material goods. Associating Christmas with the spending of money was a particular coup d’etat since Christians had already succeeded in the unlikely feat of making millions believe that wealth itself is a sign of God’s blessing on the faithful.
Despite all these historical successes at inserting the Baby Jesus into the center of America’s consumerist culture – and thus at the heart of American life – these days many Christians note with great lament that America’s annual mid-winter gift-giving ritual increasingly has little to do with the Baby Jesus. Fewer and fewer stores display traditional Christmas scenes in their Main Street windows, angering many Christians that images of their Lord and Savior are no longer used as marketing gimmicks to get people to buy useless junk made with child labor in China. So too with signs and jingles. “Happy Holidays” and “Season’s Greetings” takes Christ right out of the center of this consumerist blitz, where so many Christians think He belongs.
Christians shouldn’t be too sullen, however. They can still look at the various successes they have had at establishing Christmas as a centerpiece to American culture:
- Christmas is a national holiday, which usually involves several pretty good basketball games on TV.
- There is no junk mail on Christmas, because there is no mail delivery at all on that day!
- You can park at a parking meter on Christmas and not have to insert a quarter.
- For six weeks the radio won’t stop playing that [insert expletive] Christmas music.
- Very few businesses are open on Christmas, making that day particularly stink for non-Christians and Christians alike who really need to get a gallon of milk or some diapers at the store.
- Most people still call that pagan-derived tradition of killing a tree, putting it up in your house, and decorating it with plastic balls a “Christmas” tree.
- Christmas shops, selling all kinds of red and green and snow-covered junkola, are a growing segment of the retail market.
- Schools are closed for a week or more around Christmas, even if they don’t use that word much any longer.
Weary from generations of battle, fewer Christians wage war on Christmas these days, though skirmishes do break out from time to time, most notably around what to call the dead evergreen tree in the town square, or what songs public school kids can sing at a taxpayer-funded concert. Many are retreating from this war, no longer insisting that Big Box Retailer send Christmas Greetings to shoppers. Instead, these Christians are increasingly choosing to celebrate the birth of their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ at home and in their churches.
UPDATE: I posted a follow-up, My “War on Christmas” Snark, offering a brief look at the origins of Christmas in America, and highlighting the ambiguity we’ve had about Christ and Christmas over the years.
11 thoughts on “The War on Christmas”
This is exactly this type of cynicism and Screwtape-ish logic that is dragging mainline Christianity into the gutter … albeit kicking, clawing and donning a twisted mantle of elitist victimization thinly veiled as ire against generations of apparently pitiful, unenlightened saints. These saints, according to “experts” like yourself, are the ill-intentioned, misinformed mothers and fathers who handed down the True Faith now being questioned and scorned. And yes, some of them gave even you your faith foundations in Sunday School. Shame on you, shame on the progressive revisionists, so-called leaders of the mainlines; who believe they alone are the recipients of some special anointing giving them unique insights into what God really means rather than what hundreds – yes, thousands – of years of theologians, martyrs and everyday schmucks who just happen to believe the teachings of the Bible. I’ll pray for you and yours, and hope that God clears the smog and bitterness from your caustic spirit allowing the bright, clear light of Christ to shine and rule in your life. As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.
So God became incarnate in a human being just so we could shop at Kmart? And if we preach that the church will grow? Hmmm.
Whew! The spittle from “anonymous” got all the way over here. And all that just because you were advocating Christians “choosing to celebrate the birth of their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ at home and in their churches.” Darn you, heretic!
Seriously (for those whom a loving God did not bless with a sense of humor), a well-done piece, and its message can’t be said too often. Blessed Advent!
Wow. What does the way Americans generally celebrate Christmas have to do with the Bible? I don’t buy that your comment has anything at all to do with Christmas. It sounds to me like you are opposed to change in the Church, as if it is a perfect institution that must never be reformed. Churches are human institutions and they all get out of whack from time to time. God bless the leaders who have the courage to change what’s wrong.
I love how you question the faith of those you criticize, and throwing the “bitter” card in there is the cherry on top. Perhaps it’s time for you to leave mainline Christianity behind and join a reactionary church. It sounds like an Independent Fundamental Baptist church would be a good fit for you. Go and be happy.
Ditto what Brucewmcc said. Thank you for this, which I think is a terrific piece. You’ve put your finger on something important.
No, I think to be fair, Anonymous has a fair point. I, too, am having Cynic Fatigue; understandable as this kind of “flip” is, it’s really preaching to the choir, isn’t it? I respect and really agree that Commercialmas is a gross departure from the old celebrations of the Incarnation; but there’s a great power to charm and attract by stating, with some Christian warmth and hope, that idea in the final sentence.
Thanks all for your comments.
I wrote a follow-up to this piece, My “War on Christmas” Snark, with a little less snark or cynicism, and an attempt to look at the ambiguous relationship America’s Christmas has had with Christ all along.
Just subscribed – I’m a classmate of Eugene Koene and I agree with what you’ve said.!
Chris – this is masterful work. Thanks.
anonymous – you’re lucky Chris is a kinder blogger than most. at my place, if you’re not courageous enough to put your name on your bile, you don’t get it posted publicly.
I think religion is nonsense and believers have only themselves to blame if nonsense gets twisted into ever-more grotesque shapes.
The idea that nonsense two thousand years old, claiming to be the fulfillment of another book of nonsense even older should be allowed into our political and economic lives is ridiculous.
You and the fundiegelicals are fighting over who gets to be captain of the iceberg as it melts away.
The best way to win the war on Christmas is to finally prove the truth and force religious leaders to cease and desist from their lies and exploitation.
Seven Star Hand Unveils Death Blow in War on Christmas
Telling lies about me for two millennia has dire consequences, and now I intend to collect on what is due.
Here is Wisdom…
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