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/

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