Episode 44: Declaring War on the "War on Christmas"
The preamble for this episode isn’t quite as personal or as long as many of our other episodes.
The truth is, I wanted to talk about this particular topic because I love rehashing stupid, old cultural shit that has happened in the U.S. with you, brother. And since it’s currently the time of year where this discourse tends to come up, I figured I’d bring it here to our podcast where we often address discourse that pops up all around us.
Let me take us back in time a little bit, to a moment that people tend to forget as being a very bad time in our lifetimes and in American history. Let me take us back to 2004 to be exact. In 2004, Conservative Fox News pundit Bill O’Reilly still had a nationally broadcasted show where he could lambaste and lament any and all cultural and political shit he wanted with little to know criticism from the general public. For whatever reason, that year, Bill O’Reilly decided there was a “war on Christmas” because certain corporations had instructed their employees to use the more seemingly more inclusive phrase “Happy Holidays” during the month of December. On that original broadcast, O’Reilly named corporations like Macy’s — yes, that Macy’s, the corporation that sponsors and funds the Christmas-centered Thanksgiving Day parade every year — as complicit in an attempt to end Christmas and take away the U.S.’s status as a “Christian Nation.” In his rant, O’Reilly claimed that ““Secular progressives realize that America as it is now will never approve of gay marriage, partial birth abortion, euthanasia, legalized drugs, income redistribution through taxation and many other progressive visions because of religious opposition. But if the secularists can destroy religion in the public arena, the brave new progressive world is a possibility.” For as long as O’Reilly remained on the air, he would bring back this conversation every year as December began and add different corporations to his list of places that were contributing to this so-called “War on Christmas.” At one point, he even introduced a list of corporations who were “Christmas-friendly” simply because they didn’t switch to “Happy Holidays” or whatever. And he wasn’t the only one. Other Conservative Christians got on the train, of course, with Pat Buchanan claiming that anyone who refuses to say “Merry Christmas” is committing a hate crime against Christians. By December of the following year, the same year the Bush family put out their annual Christmas cards wishing the recipients a “Happy Holiday Season,” the War on Christmas had already taken over broadcasts everywhere from Fox News to Comedy Central.
You probably remember this. I know I do. Fortunately for us, this discourse seemed to have fizzled out for a while. But then, in 2016, at a rally in the middle of June, our old friend Donald Trump brought it back. And like everything that’s been happening the last 6 years, it truly came back with a vengeance. That year, the “war on Christmas” was all over the 24 hour news cycle again, all over Twitter and other social media sites, and it seemed like, once again, the discourse would never end.
So, you might be thinking, why are we giving into the discourse? Well, we’re not. I’m not here to argue that “Happy Holidays” is a better and more inclusive greeting during this time. I simply don’t think it fucking matters. When you really get down to the heart of it, “Happy Holidays” means the same shit because the word holiday stems from the Old English word for “holy day”....and “holy day” at this time of year means CHRISTMAS. I’m here to talk about other shit. Mostly, I’m here to talk about the function these culture wars actually serve.
Fact Blast 5000
Before we get into all that, though, let’s get one thing straight. This “War on Christmas” bullshit didn’t start in the new millennium. In fact, it started much, much earlier than that. Specifically, it started in the 1920s with that old lunatic, Henry Ford. Like O’Reilly, Ford believed there was a war on Christmas being waged in the U.S. but unlike O’Reilly, Ford didn’t have to be worried about saying the quiet part of this accusation out loud. In a set of anti-Semitic articles published in a column titled “The International Jew: The World's Foremost Problem,” Ford published and most likely wrote, “Last Christmas most people had a hard time finding Christmas cards that indicated in any way that Christmas commemorated Someone's Birth. People sometimes ask why 3,000,000 Jews can control the affairs of 100,000,000 Americans. In the same way that ten Jewish students can abolish the mention of Christmas and Easter out of schools containing 3,000 Christian pupils.”
30 years later, the John Birch Society picked up the torch over the fight of the “War on Christmas,” publishing an anti-United Nations pamphlet warning Americans that the UN was trying to replace their beloved Christmas traditions with “international celebrations of brotherhood.” The pamphlet explained, “"The UN fanatics launched their assault on Christmas in 1958, but too late to get very far before the holy day was at hand," the pamphlet explained. "They are already busy, however, at this very moment, on efforts to poison the 1959 Christmas season with their high-pressure propaganda. What they now want to put over on the American people is simply this: Department stores throughout the country are to utilize UN symbols and emblems as Christmas decorations." To me, it seems as if the John Birch Society — and a lot of people at this time — truly believed the UN was some socialist internationalist operation looking to destroy not only Christmas but also religion in general. In the pamphlet, they went on to claim exactly that: That the supposed “war on Christmas” was “part of a much broader plan, not only to promote the UN, but to destroy all religious beliefs and customs."
Here are some choice quotes from the discourse over the years that I think you and our brothers will love.
In Fox News host John Gibson’s book The War on Christmas: How the Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday Is Worse Than You Thought, he wrote “The Christians are coming to retake their place in the public square, and the most natural battleground in this war is Christmas.”
In an unfortunate response to all the War on Christmas crap, Jon Stewart threatened, on The Daily Show: “I’m your enemy. Make me your enemy. I, John Stewart hate Christmas, Christians, Jews, morality.”
It sounds crazy when you read about it. But then we let it come back year after year after year.
When you take these two historical examples and combine them with the O’Reilly, Buchanan, and Trump claims about the supposed “War on Christmas,” an obvious pattern emerges. First, you can see very easily that there is no “War on Christmas” — it’s a fucking farce. In fact, it’s a very loud and obvious Conservative dog whistle meant to incite anger against the left and to get them to rally around the right in a way that seems frivolous but is actually much more ill-intentioned.
OK, what is a culture war?
I feel like we can both rap on this a little bit, but before we do, I want to just give some perspective for our listeners.
This is how it is defined on Wikipedia: “A culture war is a cultural conflict between social groups and the struggle for dominance of their values, beliefs, and practices. It commonly refers to topics on which there is general societal disagreement and polarization in societal values. Its contemporary use refers to a social phenomenon in which multiple social groups, holding distinct values and ideologies, attempt to steer public policy in opposition to each other, thus a culture war now describes "hot button" or "polarizing" social issues in politics and public policy. These include wedge issues such as abortion, homosexuality, transgender rights, pornography, multiculturalism, racism and other cultural conflicts based on values, morality, and lifestyle which are described as the major political cleavage.”
I will say that, in my opinion, most of the things listed in that description are not part of what I would consider the culture wars. Culture wars are RARELY if EVER about REAL shit. They are almost always about a set of MADE UP concerns that seek to undermine the important conversations about progression in this country. The “War on Christmas” fits my definition of culture war perfectly.
There is no fucking War on Christmas
Christmas is all around us all the time. You can’t escape it. As soon as Thanksgiving ends, everywhere you go is decked out in Christmas decorations. Christmas music plays in department stores and on street corners and in CVS. This is an obvious fact that I feel like I don’t have to state. The War on Christmas is about the LOSS OF POWER. Specifically, it is about the fact that white, Conservative Christians always pretend like they are losing power in order to distract us from the fact that they have FUCKING ALL OF IT.
Michelle Goldberg writes, “In fact, there is no war on Christmas. What there is, rather, is a burgeoning myth of a war on Christmas, assembled out of old reactionary tropes, urban legends, exaggerated anecdotes and increasingly organized hostility to the American Civil Liberties Union. It's a myth that can be self-fulfilling, as school board members and local politicians believe the false conservative claim that they can't celebrate Christmas without getting sued by the ACLU and thus jettison beloved traditions, enraging citizens and perpetuating a potent culture-war meme. This in turn furthers the myth of an anti-Christmas conspiracy.”
Similarly, Daniel Denvir writes, “It’s the sort of culture proxy war that mobilizes the right-wing base while embarrassing the establishment—the paranoid angst that often flushes through right-wing corners of American political consciousness, from the nationalistic red scare of the early 20th century to John Birch’s Cold War fright.” What is the thing that is most threatening to Christian Nationalist ideals? Progress. Specifically leftist progress and especially any progress that resembles anything close to socialism or communism. How can you assert dominance in a society where the ability to dominate has been taken out of the question entirely? You can’t. So, you have to fight it with all of your might.
What’s most interesting to me is that the War on Christmas allows the Christian to pretend they’re fighting to defend something, when actually, they’ve technically already won. A long time ago. I certainly wouldn’t claim that we live in the most religiously devout nation in the world. We don’t. But I don’t think that makes my next statement any less true. We live in the most Christian nation in the world. The U.S. wasn’t formed and founded on just democratic and racial capitalist ideals. Those ideals were rooted in Christian Nationalism which still have a chokehold on us today.