Surrendering the ‘War on Christmas’

‘Tis the season of war- the ‘War on Christmas’.

This is the time of year when, traditionally, conservative media outlets employ that phrase to describe what they see as a supposed marginalization of Christmas and a relentless attack against Christmas symbolism, greetings, displays, and spirituality.

Their goal in calling this out, they say, is to restore Christmas to its rightful position as a Christian holiday in a Christian America. They seek to do away with the secular trappings of Christmas, as well as any supposed encroachment from other holidays such as Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or simply more secular expressions of the holiday season.

This year, these ‘Christmas warriors’ got an incredible boost in the form of a powerful new general… actually, a new Commander-in-Chief: the President himself.

Speaking at the Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C. last October, President Trump declared:

We’re getting near that beautiful Christmas season that people don’t talk about anymore. They don’t use the word Christmas because it’s not politically correct. You go to department stores and they’ll say ‘Happy New Year,’ or they’ll say other things and it’ll be red, they’ll have it painted. But they don’t say — well guess what? We’re saying merry Christmas again. Merry Christmas. So, merry Christmas everyone.

So… Where to begin?

With all due respect to the President and the rest of the ‘Christmas warriors’, I think that if you can get from 1 November to Christmas Day in the US and honestly feel that Christmas display, music, TV shows, media, and greetings are somehow being suppressed, you are delusional…

Not to mention the fact that all the talk of defending Christmas from marginalization vanishes right after New Year, despite the fact that Christmas is not yet over.

According to the Christian liturgical calendar, the season of Christmas runs from Christmas Day through to the Feast of the Baptism of John the Baptist on 9 January. Indeed, Orthodox Christians don’t even start celebrating Christmas until 6 January, the Feast of the Epiphany. Yet all over the nation, right after New Year’s Day, Christmas decorations disappear from public buildings, banks, post offices, and schools; carols and Christmas songs are dropped from radio playlists; Christmas shows are axed from prime time; even most Christian media doesn’t mention Christmas after the first of January…

And the ‘Christmas warriors’- including now the President of the United States- don’t care… I wonder why…

Oh, never mind…

Of course, the ‘War on Christmas’ is absurd, as is any notion of Christianity in the US being marginalized or in danger of disappearance.

Christianity is extraordinarily influential in America; 83% of the both houses of Congress are professing Christians (if you factor in Mormons, it rises to 87%); the Supreme Court is 67% professing Christian (6 out of 9; the three remaining are Jewish, so the ‘Judeo-Christian’ corner is fairly well-defended); every single US President since the foundation of the nation has been a professing Christian; and 73% of the country overall are professing Christians.

Those kinds of numbers don’t point to Christianity in America being- or becoming any time soon- a marginalized or persecuted minority…

The ‘Christmas warriors’ don’t care about those statistics, or at least conveniently ignore them, because the ‘War on Christmas’ rhetoric is only one factor in the larger project of maintaining the social and political dominance of one manifestation of Christian culture- Evangelical, conservative, overtly American, consumerist, and white.

‘Christmas warriors’ aren’t interested in equality; the ‘War on Christmas’ is about dominance and control.

That’s why, to them, fighting against the ‘War on Christmas’ is indeed a ‘war’. It is a ‘zero-sum’ battle where every Hanukkah menorah, greeting of ‘happy holidays’, the mere mention of Kwanzaa  or- God forbid it fall in December- Ramadan is an attack on Christmas and Christianity.

The ‘War on Christmas’ is a war for supremacy…

That’s probably why President Trump has declared himself an enthusiastic ‘Christmas warrior’. The Trump Presidency is rooted in ‘supremacy’- making America ‘great’ again; America ‘first’; the President’s personal obsession with ‘winning’; endless belittling of anyone or anything deemed slightly less than ‘American’, anything judged to be weaker, anything less white, anything black, brown, or foreign.

The ‘war’ on Christmas is all about supremacy- Christian traditions, symbols, and public display above all other traditions. It’s not that the followers of other holiday traditions have no right to exist-

they do;

but they may never assume that they are on an equal footing with Christmas or Christianity. The ‘Christmas warriors’ are the arbiters and judges of what can be said and done during December, and they will let those others know when they have encroached onto Christmas’s turf.

That’s why the ‘War on Christmas’ is deeply aggressive and offensive to other faiths and traditions. This was lucidly explained in Andy Ostroy’s essay, ‘One Jew’s Take on the War on Christmas’:

I dread this time of year. I dread it because I’m a Jew floating in a sea of religious insensitivity. I live in a country where many fight for school prayer, provided it’s their religion’s scripture. Where people fight to allow religious symbols in public spaces, provided the symbols belong to their chosen faith. Where people ask ‘what’s wrong with retailers posting “Merry Christmas” signs in their windows?’ But can they imagine how Jews feel then? If Christians are uncomfortable with the generic “Happy Holidays,” guess how Jews feel seeing the very non-secular “Merry Christmas” everywhere we turn… I do not hate or resent this beautiful holiday. What I resent is being told that, unless I want it incessantly crammed down my Jewish throat for 30+ days each year, that I’m waging a war against it. 

(The full piece can be read at https://www.huffingtonpost.com/andy-ostroy/one-jews-take-on-the-war-_b_4350751.html)

Let me be blunt: the ‘War on Christmas’ is wholly ‘anti-Christmas’, and by extension anti-Christian.

At the heart of Christmas is the idea found in the Greek term ‘Kenosis’ (κένωσις), from which we get the word  ἐκένωσεν (ekénōsen) used in Philippians 2:7 which states that Christ ‘emptied himself’ (NRSV) or ‘made himself nothing’ (NIV).

The theological point is that the Son of God, the second member of the Triune Godhead, at his birth laid aside that essential Divinity and became a human- weaker, simpler, more vulnerable; a human life completely receptive to God’s Divine will.

Out of this comes a ‘kenotic ethic’, the understanding that Christians must embrace Christ’s example and empty themselves and open themselves with the same level of humility, personal sacrifice, and devotion to God’s divine will.

Supremacy of any kind- national, ethnic, racial, cultural, political, or religious- is utterly incompatible with the person of Jesus… or the celebration of his birth, his ‘emptying’.

Put simply, the only way to have a celebration of Christmas that the ‘Christmas warriors’ envision is to remove Christ from it.

In such a supremacist environment, the acknowledgment of other faiths and traditions- even in the small act of saying ‘happy holidays’- is an act of theological and spiritual resistance.

Indeed, it is ironically truer to the true meaning of Christmas in that it models Christ’s ‘kenosis’, his emptying himself of power- than loudly or aggressively declaring ‘Merry Christmas’ as an act of cultural or political point scoring.

So, as Christmas approaches, I would invite you all to embrace the true, ‘kenotic’ meaning of Christmas;

Interact with people of other faiths in a spirit of equality, respect and love;

Wish them blessings and happiness as they celebrate their traditions;

Celebrate Christmas- all 12 days of it. Keep your decorations up until the Feast of the Epiphany on 6 January… and give Christmas greetings- particularly to the ‘Christmas warriors’ in your life- all the way through;

Give generously;

Resist supremacy in all its forms.

And when it comes to the ‘War on Christmas’, do the Christ-like thing:

Surrender.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

Jon Hatch is a theologian, educator, and post-conflict expert. He blogs at http://reflectionsforthursdays.blogspot.com/

  • Brian O’Neill

    The strangest thing about Christmas in America is how most people only get one day off.

    When you look at all the American Christmas movies you get the impressive that it’s a massive holiday. But a lot of people are back to work the next day. Crazy.

    Much better here where everything basically shuts down for 2 weeks (except the poor retail workers).

  • Marcus Orr

    Christmas wouldn’t quite be Christmas without the traditional thinly veiled attack on American Christians from dear old Mr Hatch.

    The “War” as he calls it was started by secularists who wished to strip the religious aspect completely out of the holiday. Christians are simply reacting in a defensive fashion to this secular offensive. But trust Mr Hatch to get things upside-down.
    But it is Christmas, and I don’t want to be Scrooge, so Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and Season’s Greetings to all !

    https://dougwils.com/s7-engaging-the-culture/the-night-before-whatsit-2.html

  • Brian O’Neill

    I think we can all agree that there is no more oppressed minority in the world than rich white American Christians.

  • Marcus Orr

    “rich” “white”
    I wouldn’t want to introduce racial aspects or class envy into any discussion, I’ll leave those underhand tactics to your good self, and I’m not sure either what any of that has to do with the secular humanist offensive against Christmas.

  • Food First

    America is a country where the work ethic is strong compared to Europe where the holiday has extended almost to 2 weeks for a large percentage of population especially for the so called proffesions who basically just leach on us mere mortals not very Cristian or any other religion

  • William Kinmont

    Not mine , on way in now to an emergency c section. Haven’t had 2 full days off for last 20 christmases

  • Aodh Morrison

    “rich”, “white”?

    Isn’t Christianity in the land of the Yankee Doodle also quite the thing with poor African Americans, particularly in the southern states?

    Personally I’ll let the ‘God fearing’ look after themselves. The bigger problem for me is the rampant commercialism of nearly everyday of the year.

    Consumerism and the fetishising of ‘growth’ is killing the planet. Worry about that rather than attacking or defending religious philosophies.

  • Food First

    Good on you I Milk cows to let the supermarkets conduct price wars who is able to sell for the lowest price which means most Dairy farmers work 24/7 & obtain 50% of their profit from E U subsidies

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Aodh, have you encountered my old friend Rev. Billy and his “Church of Stop Shopping”? My mother in law was his first financial patron back when he was organising the “Solo Meo” stand up festival in San Francisco back in the 1990s. His anti-commercialism crusade is well worth a look, as are his links with similar workin Belfast. Sorry I can’t post a link at present.

  • hgreen

    The grabber defending Christmas. Murika is a sick joke at the minute.

  • hgreen

    Many American christians don’t behave like Christ. Their repugnant views and hypocrisy deserves to be attacked directly and not in a veiled way.

  • In fairness

    Merry Christmas to one and all.

  • Marcus Orr

    “Many American Christians don’t behave like Christ”

    Stating the obvious, and completely irrelevant to the point I made, which was that the offensive first move in the “War” on Christmas in the US was started by the secularists.

  • The Night Rider

    Another low ball anti-religious screed. I say low ball, because you Mastercard Marxists, in pursuing an atheist agenda, pursue the safe yet trivial — attack whiny Christians, instead of attacking murderous members of certain other religions. You’ll sooner fight the good fight about Catholicism in schools across Europe than you will dare to open your mouth about trucks being used to run eight year old girls in streets. Yes, comrades… fight the good fight for gay rights, slam the DUP with their low ball homophobia, but keep your mouth shut about certain other communities who make the DUP look like angels, by violently maligning anyone who dares to be openly homosexual in their own communities, now popping up around Europe. Violently so.

    One thing I can’t stand are people like the author of this sixth-form socialist tripe being hypocritical cowards.

    Easier to attack the hens in your own coop than the foxes in the garden.

  • The Night Rider

    Yeah the problem with cowards like you is that you’re very willing to attack malignant Christian ‘bigotry’, but you will be totally silent with respect to murderous, homophobic, ethno-religious murder and abject hatred from certain other religions.

    Obnoxious DUP innuendo? Terrible! Dark ages homophobia, incompatible with European values, dark ages arranged weddings etc popping up across European cities… comrade Brian stays totally silent! Hilarious!

    What’s the point of being a warrior for social justice when you only run with what’s en vogue?

  • Fraser Holmes

    Indeed, but growth has lifted millions upon millions of people in Asia out a life of poverty and hunger, and looks to be set to do the same in E.Africa with the help of Chinese capital. Do you tell a young African couple with a couple kids – sorry growth is not good, it’s back to subsistence farming and hunger for you.

    It’s not that I don’t agree with you, it is – what can be done about it?

  • William Kinmont

    The supermarket system is coming to veterinary too .The corporates are about too squeeze the independents out . I don’t consider I have clients they are friends so I I have to go out to them at Christmasthe call has a bit of holiday spirit about it. Corporates only see clients and figures.

  • hgreen

    Nah, by their own actions they’ve damaged their own traditions. Don’t blame the secularists.

  • hgreen

    MasterCard Marxists v pussy grabbing christians.

  • Food First

    Government coludes on this awarding contracts like T B testing to the big boys who then keep the best ( large dairy farms ) & the small farms are left as crumbs for the local practice which over the years have provided a better service then the N H S I know if I ring my vet he will be on the premises within 30 mins 365 Days a year if this kind of service is lost animals will suffer & the Personal links between farmers & vets will be sacrificed

  • Salmondnet

    ” pursue the safe yet trivial “. Exactly so. Christian-baiting, at least in Western Europe, is more or less risk free. The contrast with the prudently abject cowardice with which Islam is treated by liberals of all political allegiances would be funny if the consequences were not so serious (on this side of the Irish sea the foxes are already in the coop).
    I write as an atheist who is extremely glad to be such in a (for the time being) Christian culture, so a happy Christmas to all. Enjoy it while you still can.

  • William Kinmont

    The testing factor has stagnated things for years but that’s about to reach the open market.
    24/7call out service will almost be a thing of the past in 2/3 years. its not possible to provide it economically it has to be subsidised by other work, the corporates won’t entertain this.

  • Food First

    Large animal practice has been in decline for 30 years at least most group practice in our area have seen substantial growth in the small animal sector & whether traditional partner practices have used this to subsidize the large animals parts of businesses is not clear to a farmer who when he gets his bill against a background of tight margins thinks its large enough
    These branches of vetenary practice are distinct ( most large animal vets are not interested in small animal practice)
    Perhaps a new business model is needed ( I don’t think the cooperates are interested in farm vet day to day service)
    These vets have strong relationships with their customers & these loyalties are not without cost which most farmers will be prepared to pay for a 24/7 service
    Insurance might be a possibility whith customers paying an annual premium dependent on the number & types of animals covered
    On the practice side their is scope for extensive cost cutting ( Town centre premises not needed )
    Also the vetenary University’s are able to play a roll impressing on Government of Regulation the welfare issues involved
    Farmer & vets are joined at the hip & the welfare of the animals is the no one priority

  • lizmcneill

    Corporate power is strong, not work ethic.

  • Toye native

    I think you will find America is only Christian by name, America is only about 20-30 percent born again Christian, so the other 40 percent of Christians you talk about are not Christian for the true believers,
    They are so far away from the true Christian teachings, they become easy target’s for the liberal movement.
    So there is problems in America for the born again Christian, no Christian talk allowed in schools in America, it’s actually hard to be an evangelical Christian in America, the only one who stands up for the evangelical is Trump

  • Aodh Morrison

    Likewise. I agree with your point.

    What is to be done? I wish I knew, but surely at the very least the developing world can do growth better than the West?

    I’ve been to China three times; back in the day it looked and felt a better place as the curse of the mass-transport internal combustion engine option hasn’t arrived in large numbers. Nor was a flick on, flick off culture evident. Perhaps I was only able to view it from the perspective of a privileged traveller, yet still it looks very different now.

    Yes I can today appreciate that vast numbers of Chinese people have been lifted out of poverty and they are much better for it. A similar situation is forming in the Third World. My concern is that the future they aspire to is the one they see in the Western ‘present’. That’s not good for the earth in my opinion.

    Yes I know all the arguments, primarily that it’s rather hypocritical (if not uncomfortably close to colonial) of ‘First Worlders’ to lecture those seeking a more comfortable life by saying something along the lines of ‘you shouldn’t have what we have, think of the planet (never mind that we didn’t)’.

    The iniquity of the divide between rich and poor, fed and hungry must be addressed. Yet the planet is suffering and I’m not so sure it can go on if Western consumerism and growth is mirrored in China, India and sub-Saharan Africa.

    I don’t think the West can kick its buying lifestyle; and the ‘solution’ is certainly not to deny others what we have in terms of human comforts. It’ll take people way more clever than me to come up with the answer(s).

    Rather puts our local squabbles into perspective, doesn’t it?

    Anyway, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

  • Brian Westley

    “Sensors detect sarcasm, Captain.”

  • Brian Westley

    Hey, it’s the old dishonest Christian whine that atheists don’t go after Muslims. Check out the FFRF or the Friendly Atheist some time.

  • NotNowJohnny

    American Christianity has very little to do with Christ.

  • Oggins

    My sister in law gets 10 days of annual leave plus the bank holidays.. nuts

  • Oggins

    When Christians stop having wars and killing other Christians, and religions I think we will speak out.

  • radical_jonny

    ‘Old’? I’m 50! It’s the new 30, young people tell me! But thanks for the ‘dear’:-)

  • Old Mortality

    The practice of imposing a public holiday on the day after Christmas is, I think, peculiar to these islands and is the root cause of this daft extended shutdown. With most retailers now re-opening on 26 December, it is thankfully being eroded. Some local authorities now even have bin collections on Boxing Day. All public holidays are an anachronism anyway and should be abolished with the days lost being added to employees annual leave entitlement.

  • Fraser Holmes

    It will end in tears, you mark my words!
    Happy Xmas to you too.

  • Old Mortality

    The whole concept of being born-again is a delusion – a mis-sold after-life insurance policy -which is inimical to true Christianity. It’s also a presumptious conceit which can lead to distinctly un-Christian behaviour. All born-agains should read Matthew 25 every day.

  • james

    Merry Christmas one and all! Let’s be thankful for all the blessings our Christian culture has bestowed upon us. We shouldn’t forget that our Western values and morals have been shaped largely because we are a Christian culture – thanks to the OP for (presumably unintentionally) reminding us to celebrate and preserve our Christian heritage.

  • John

    If we all stayed out of the shops, the poor retail workers could get off too.

  • jporter

    And yet the USA isn’t particularly productive in comparison to Europe.

  • jporter

    The largest and most destructive ‘war’ on the Christian Christmas is, and always has been, rampant consumerist individualism – being the polar opposite of Jesus’ teachings, how could it not be?
    Any intelligent observer can easily see just how Christian the US is.

  • jporter

    The real number one religion in the US is consumerism.

  • Toye native

    Matt 25 talks about the so called Christian and the true Christian, the true Christian who believes that what the bible teachers, the only way to heaven is through the Lord Jesus, and that he came and dies for our sins,
    The other Christian is only in name , they don’t know the Lord as savour.
    As I said America is only about 20-30 percent saved , or born again

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Even though i am agnostic i think it’s proper than Christians try to curtail the abuse of one its main festivals.

  • Cadogan West

    America is a real odd place. I would not want to live there nor visit it ever again. During my one and only visit for attending a conference in Boston, I stayed at a rather run down hotel which claimed to be very grand and old, the Omni Parker it was a bit like Fawlty Towers, some down and outs had decamped some blocks away which gave me a bad impression, it had a revolving door and inside a pattern carpet, I was late arriving and I was booked for a non smoking room, they got it wrong and had to rebook my room, it was not like the Dorchester or the Savoy or even the Shelbourne. The conference itself was mostly US Army applications eg new body armour, gadgets for testing water in the third world, some daft toys for Dementia patients. At the bar two women were discussing cosmetic ops etc, when they heard me order a drink in my plummy Stowe accent, they asked me what I thought of the Champagne bottles above the bar. (It was not Moet, DP, but Californian plonk).

  • tanyaj

    Thank you for this – as you say, the heart of Christmas as a celebration of the birth of Jesus is about emptying, about humility and compassion. It seems that we need to remember that this year more than ever.

  • David Crookes

    Happy Christmas, everyone. Slugger is part of my continuing education. I’m very grateful to you all, and especially to those of you who augment your postings with video links.

  • Brian O’Neill

    Indeed. They are there because we are there.

  • Old Mortality

    I had in mind v31 onwards which I suspect may one of the less familiar parts of the gospels for many born-agains.
    How do we know how many Americans are ‘saved’ since it a self-certified condition and may include many people who declare themselves as such for material expediency if they happen to live in areas where the majority is of that tendency.
    You may recall the incident where George Bush sr, as Reagan’s vp candidate went down to address a Southern Baptist convention. In an attempt to get started with a bit of humour, he said something like:”Gee, I must be the only person here who’s only been born once”. It was greeted by a stony silence. When George came to stand for the presidency a few year’s later, he let it be known that he too had been born again.

  • Marcus Orr

    The problem with that joke by George Bush snr is that given John 3 v3, to an evangelical saying that you’re not born again is the same as declaring that you are lost and going to hell. Understandable that that joke fell completely flat.

  • John

    Have we any room to point the finger?

  • SeaanUiNeill

    While I’ve had similar experience of US hotels and motels CW, it’s far from the only America. Even Boston can show a very different experience and my own stays with Harvard academics and others both in Cambridge and up at the New Hampshire lakes offered something much more civilised. Some very fine vintages, including a 1950sRomanee Conti, and some of the best private libraries I’ve encountered anywhere in the world. I have friends at Berkeley and Stanford also, and San Francisco is as exciting as any European capital.

    I way even astounded to encounter a Native American playing Chambonierre on a single manual copy of a seventeenth century Italian harpsichord at this he back of the Vintage Fret shop in Ashland, New Hampshire.

  • Toye native

    We don’t know how many born agains their are in America, if there was 30 percent of so called born agains in America, Matt 31 on ward’s talks about that 30 percent, If Jesus came back half of them will still be there sitting in church, they were not born again in the first place.