Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The War on Christmas

It seems fair to say that in recent years there has been a move towards making the last month of the year more inclusive in terms of holiday related nomenclature. The basic idea seems to me a good one. Although most people in the US celebrate Christmas, a significant number of people celebrate other holidays like Hanukkah and Kwanza instead, so let's just say "Happy Holidays" when addressing broad audiences or if we're not sure what someone's holiday of choice might be.

This offends some people who value the Christmas holiday particularly highly, and some of those people have now called this difference of opinion a "War," which is a rather inflammatory word choice.

There are indeed some people on the left who are too easily offended by Christmas references, and that leads to silly things like Home Depot selling "Holiday Trees." It strikes me as odd for the left to be so terrified of a word. We don't want the FCC all up in our business about what we can say on cable, but let's make a stink about the wording on retail signage during December.

At the same time I find it equally odd that the right is so insistent on seeing their holiday of choice acknowledged by public and retail establishments. I recently heard someone declare that Home Depot was "anti-American" because of the Holiday Tree issue. If ever there was a barometer that the red-blue culture war has reached a fever pitch, it's the equivocation of being overly politically correct to being fundamentally, philosophically opposed to the very existence of the United States of America.

Militant atheists need to relax. If someone says "Merry Christmas," just take it as the act of kindness it was meant to be and wish them a happy something in return. If the school wants to have a Christmas pageant, consider how lucky we are to live in a place where schools are worrying about what to call the pageant instead of worrying about whether or not the water’s clean enough to drink or what to do with the kids who will become orphans before the end of the school day.

The fundamentalist Christians need to relax too. No one’s trying to spoil Christmas. Consider this thought: if Jesus came back tomorrow, with all the suffering currently going on in the world in the wake of so much disaster, would He be more concerned about the homeless and poor struggling through the winter months as heating costs climb through the roof, or about what verbiage was scrawled on the little orange signs at Home Depot? Just a thought.

And to all a good night.



Blogger SMA said...

Okay—it’s a little late, but the holiday season will be here again before we know it. So here goes.

I am an agnostic who attends a Unitarian church. I am not offended by wishes of “Merry Christmas” per se. What offends me is the assumption implicit in such a wish—that I must be a Christian. But what scares me is the concomitant narrow-mindedness of the wisher. What type of cocoon do people who wish strangers “Merry Christmas” live in for the rest of the year? Are they unaware that there are people in their community who have beliefs that differ from their own? Or are they simply insensitive to those other people. The “it’s Christmas for me so it’s Christmas for everyone I see” mentality scares the crap out of me—whether it comes from a place of malice or a place of ignorance. Why does this scare me? Because “Merry Christmas” is not the only way this narrow-mindedness rears its ugly head.

My son’s former music teacher (public school) concluded the end-of-semester band concert with a medley of Christian songs celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. The reason he gave for focusing only on one of the many religious and secular seasonal holidays was “because I can.” He went on to comment that he really didn’t care if he offended anyone. This was the same teacher who spent several class periods pondering why so many nations of the world hate Americans. I fear the answer to his question was too close to home for him to see.

Those who see a “war on Christmas” are frequently the same people who see same-sex marriage as a “war on marriage” or see questioning our leaders in government as treason. Sure it’s more convenient to just say Merry Christmas than to remember to say Happy Holidays. It’s also more convenient to cut ahead in a long line—but we don’t. So let’s try to do the respectful thing and wish strangers Happy Holidays. And to the Christians this offends, I encourage them to remember back when Happy Holidays meant Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. When you hear Happy Holidays, just pretend people mean that. Given the things you take on faith, this shouldn’t take much effort at all.

Blogger RedBlueProject said...

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Blogger RedBlueProject said...

I think the motivation for Christmas-centric wishes varies a lot depending on the individual. I'm sure there are some who are eager to impose their world view on others. But I think for a lot of people it's just second nature. If they grew up with Christmas and maybe live in a community that is heavily Christian, they're just used to it. But I think it's important to distinguish between people who are trying to exclude other traditions and people who might just not encounter non-Christians that much and not paint them with the same brush. If those in the latter group are met with the same kind of backlash as those in the former, what kind of message will it send to them? I guess I think of it as baring a positive witness for agnosticism.

If I lived in Saudi Arabia and everyone extended Ramadan wishes, I wouldn't be offended, I'd just chalk it up to the fact that most of their country is Muslim and take it as a nice gesture.

I've been in situations before where people at various retail establishments wished me "Happy Holidays" or "Merry Christmas" and a couple of times "Happy Hannukah" and then either corrected themselves or got these horribly embarrassed expressions on their faces and that seemed sad to me. We've become more hung up on semantics than the actual spirit of any holidays. (Holidays are always fun for me as an agnostic who used to go to church and apparently sometimes looks sort of Jewish. I think next year I'll make it a policy to only respond with "Happy Festivus" no matter what anyone wishes me.)

But I agree it's curious how everything becomes "The War on This" or "The Attack on That." It's never "Disagreement Regarding Issue Continues," it has to be some kind of aggression being exercised by one party against another. Seems like we have enough real wars and attacks on our hands without making up pretend ones.


Blogger SMA said...

That which you so easily chalk up to as essentially not knowing any better is a bit hard to believe in this day and age. If you live in an area with people of non-xian faiths, you probably know about them.

My point is that while it might take an effort to rid one's self of old habits, it's rude (at best) to be insensitive to the beliefs of others. If we want things to get better, we have to be willing to use our brains, and remember to do things differently.

The war seems to be on changing one's old ways. And it tends to be "conservatives" that hold on to the old ways--almost by definition--longer than anyone.

Things change so fast today, it seems like some have trouble keeping up. But rather than realizing it is they who are lagging behind the rest, they attack change and often try to demonize it.

It's clear that many in this country--and likely around the world--fear this rapid change. They want stability. Which is why the current administrations "stay the course" and "I stand by my statement/plan/fill in the blank" did as well as it did in the election.

The way I see it is that change is inevitable: you can either hang on and try to enjoy as much of it as you can; or you can kick and scream the whole of your life.

I'm in my 40s and sometimes yearn for simpler times--it's usually when I can't get my mobile to sync with outlook...--but things never go in reverse.

Blogger RedBlueProject said...

I'm not saying ignorance is an excuse for blatant or malicious insensitivity, only that we have to be very careful when we assign motives to large groups of people. Individuals in a group might do the same thing or vote the same way but for very different reasons. That seems to be the point where a lot of policy debate slips off course, when people say "All Christians want x because they hate y," or "Liberals oppose this simply because they fear that."

When people ignore the rights of others or refuse to acknowlwdge other belief systems that's obviously not cool. But a little compassion and empathy for the other side can go a long way in terms of getting a policy debate out of deadlock and really trying to understand the deeper issues.


Blogger SMA said...

Do you really believe that those who claim there is a "war on christmas" are trying to understand the deeper issues?

Have you ever read Moral Politics by George Lakoff?

It's a good read. Very enlightening, and very discouraging in terms of debate between conservatives and liberals--even taking into account the fact that there are degrees of each.

The net/net is that liberals tend to want to reveal the truth behind issues; conservatives tend to want to identify and acknowledge only those facts that support their existing point of view.

This makes true debate between liberals and conservatives difficult at best.


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