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First Amendment: Don’t worry Santa, the “war on Christmas” isn’t real

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Charles C. Haynes
December 12, 2013

When I read that 52 percent of American adults say they believe in Santa Claus (according to a survey from Public Policy Polling), I wasn’t surprised to learn in the same poll that 42 percent also believe there is a “war on Christmas.”

 After all (spoiler alert), both are figments of the imagination.

 Belief in Santa, at least, perpetuates a spirit of joy and goodwill. But the “war on Christmas” narrative, by contrast, does little more than stir up anger and ill will.

 Like so much else surrounding the commercial Christmas, the “war on Christmas” has become a lucrative franchise guaranteed to boost ratings for talk show hosts and book sales for culture warriors.

 Much of the outrage—real or feigned—appears to be provoked by recent trends toward inclusion, such as employers instructing workers to say “happy holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” and re-christening the Christmas tree “holiday.” What storeowners or schoolteachers view as inclusive language, culture warriors condemn as part of the vast left-wing conspiracy to drive Christianity from the public square.

 Yes, I recognize that there are knuckleheads out there who mandate “holidays” and banish “Christmas” in ways that are unnecessary, silly and offensive to many people of faith. But do bungled efforts at “inclusion” rise to the level of an organized “war” against Christians? I don’t think so.

 In reality, the shift from the religious Christmas to a secular holiday is nothing new or planned. Cultural Christmas in America—celebrations that culture warriors insist we call “Christmas”—has had little to do with Christ for a very long time. From the emergence of jolly St. Nick in the 19th century to the economic engine of today, Christmas-sans-Christ has a life of its own in the popular imagination.

 Consider “Miracle on 34th St.,” a film made in 1947 and re-watched annually by millions or Americans. Like many of the other Hollywood Christmas movies, it has lots of Christmas spirit, gift-giving, warm-hearted family scenes—but nary a mention of the Reason for the Season.

 Hand wringing about Christmas without Christ is a time-honored tradition in American history, starting with the 17th century Puritans of New England. For our Puritan forbearers, December 25 feasts and celebrations were an abomination—a sinful holiday held on a day stolen from pagans, filled with trees, mistletoe and other pagan trappings that have nothing to do with the birth of Jesus (which almost certainly took place at another time of year).

 Before the advent of church-state separation, Christmas was suppressed in New England. The Puritan “war on Christmas” was the real deal.

 Consider the rich irony, then, of latter-day Christians fighting to keep the Christian label on pagan rituals. If Christians on the front lines of the Christmas wars really want to reclaim Christmas for Christ, they could start by giving the pagans back their holiday and trees—and advocate re-naming the shopping mall Christmas “happy holidays.”

 But truth be told, the Christmas wars are less about faith and Jesus and more about power and politics. For many of the folks upset about “happy holidays,” losing “Christmas”—however tacky the application of the label—is yet another sign of losing ground to a different, more religiously diverse America.

 For faithful Christians, however, loss of cultural dominance could ultimately mean gain for authentic religion. As “happy holidays” takes over in the marketplace, Christians can save “Christmas” for the Savior.

Charles C. Haynes is director of the Religious Freedom Center of the Newseum Institute, 555 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W., Washington, DC 20001; email: chaynes@newseum.org.



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