Pearl Harbor and the War on Christmas

Yes, there is a connection …

The Imperial Japanese of World War II and the Nazi Germans of the same era held one thing in common: You were with them or you were nothing. Non-Japanese prisoners were treated very poorly. The lives of non Japanese who did not swear allegiance to the emperor were not valued at all. For instance, when the Japanese exited Manila near the end of the war, they killed hundreds of thousands of Philippine people. The Nazi’s slaughtered millions of Russian prisoners, those they considered “unfit” or otherwise different from them, and of course, attempted to totally exterminate the Jews, killing six million of them. These two nations together with other minor “axis” powers caused a war that makes more recent wars pale in comparison. No matter how bad the situation in Iraq may have ever seemed, there are numerous individuals battles that happened during World War II with higher military and civilian death tolls than incurred during that entire conflict, plus Afghanistan. It was truly horrendous, and it was ultimately caused by a set of socio-political ideologies that fed opportunistically on bad economic times, ignorance, and fear .

I mention this for two reasons. One is that today is the anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, which is the historical moment that brought the US into the war. I also mention it because we are approaching Christmas season and the War on Christmas is presumably in full swing right now.

Let me be clear on this: The “War on Christmas” is a falsehood. It is a construct of the right wing, in particular, promoted by Bill O’Reilly of Fox News. It is a way that certain political factions (mainly these days known as teabaggers) can play the victim when others suggest that we respect the United States Constitution by keeping religious observance out of public institutions. One of the great sub-falsehoods of the War on Christmas is that saying something like “Happy Holidays” is an affront of some sort. That is certainly not how I remember it. When I was a kid, I learned that “Happy Holidays” was a convenient way of shortening “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.” Later, I learned that Happy Holidays was a convenient way of including Hanuka, which was celebrated by lots of people in my New Yorkish social circle, and eventually, my in laws. But now, Bill O’Reilly is telling us that “Happy Holidays” is a political statement meant to annoy Christians.

Well Bill, it isn’t. But if I somehow annoy you by accident, I’ll take that as a freebie.

But that is actually a digression. The point I want to make is more specific. Part of the argument that Christmas should be insinuated into the activities of public institutions, such as public schools, is that Christmas is really a “cultural phenomenon” and we are pretty much a “Christian Culture” anyway. I have even heard it said that “Christianity is the dominant culture” … so we should just accept that and participate in it …. it’s not a religious thing, its a cultural thing.

Well, to some extent that’s true, but I must say that I cringe when I hear a term like “Dominant Culture.” Dominant? In that if I have a difference with a member of the Dominant Christian Culture over something, that I have to back off and just go along because I’m subdominiant? Meaning that when various factions come to the table over some important issue, the Christians get more votes? Meaning that the fact that Christmas is already everywhere all the time since before Thanksgiving every year that we have to find places that are relatively Christmas free, like public school classrooms, and smear it all over the walls and ceilings there too?

The parents of my generation suffered through that great war, the one that involved the attack on Pearl Harbor, because two groups of people decided that they were the Dominant Culture. I don’t mean to Godwin the War on Christmas or anything, but really, isn’t the current ubiquity of Christmas enough? Isn’t it enough that when Julia and I went to Macy’s the other day to get a Hanuka present, and asked the people who worked in the “Holiday” gift section where the Hanuka stuff was, we were met with either blank stares or twisted smirks, but no indication as to where the Hanuka stuff was (which, apparently, wasn’t)? Does it not matter that a Facebook friend of mine has a friend who actually thinks that “Happy Hanuka” is Yiddish for “Merry Christmas”? Does it not matter that it is considered normal to pipe religious songs that are only viewed as valid by part of our society into every non-governmental public space in the country, including out on the street? Is it not enough that Christmas, a religious day of observance, is a federally recognized holiday? Is it not enough that it is considered routine to spend taxpayers’ dollars on erecting giant dead trees with large carbon footprints owing to the lights in the public town squares? Is it not enough that those green and red sweaters with the reindeer and snow flakes actually exit in real life and not just in movies like Bridget Jones Diary?

As we remember Pearl Harbor and World War II, let’s also recognize that when enough time passes since the horrors of one or another “Dominant Culture” coming to power, it is easier for it to happen again. There are people, forces, groups, organizations that want to dominate this culture, racially, religiously, value-wise, or in some other way. Christmas season, culturally speaking, is often a time of hope. This year, let’s hope that our fellow citizens increasingly recognize the dangers this presents, and shun those individuals and organizations.

Merry Christmas to All and to All a Good Fight!

Comments

  1. #1 Chris
    December 7, 2010

    Loved it, and I can relate to a lot of that! Jewish in-laws and all. Thanks again!

  2. #2 Eric Lund
    December 8, 2010

    I had vague recollections of an old song called “Happy Holidays”, and sure enough, Google tells me that there was such a song, written by Irving Berlin and first performed by Bing Crosby in the movie Holiday Inn (1942). (Several other artists have recorded the song as well; the version I remember might have been by Perry Como.) Berlin and Crosby were the same people behind “White Christmas” (also used in Holiday Inn). So the next time somebody objects to the phrase “Happy Holidays”, ask them what they have against these two icons of 1940s American music and the generation that fought WWII.

  3. #3 gwen
    December 8, 2010

    You know, now that you mention it, Hanukkah decorations etc used to be more common around here, until Billo started screeching about the mythical ‘War on Christmas’. It is like the stores quietly stopped carrying them..especially in the more conservative areas around here. In the Democratic areas, I can still find cards, dreidels and other things to complete a Jewish celebration. For some reason though, it is okay to have gefilte fish 365 days a year, but in the ‘Jewish’ section of the grocery.

  4. #4 Cat's Staff
    December 8, 2010

    I was at the local Hennepin County service center a few weeks ago and very religious music was being played. If I closed my eyes I could have thought I was in a church with hymns being sung. So it’s not just in non-governmental public space.

    Maybe we should start a “Secularists for Christmas” movement and complain when stores don’t use the term Christmas because we want it to increase the secular nature of Christmas time by having all these stores cheapen it with their merchandising that starts before Halloween.

    It just struck me that it’s interesting that Christians don’t want gay people to be able to use the term ‘marriage’ because they want to reserve that for themselves, while they want everyone to use the term Christmas, even when it’s for activities that have nothing to do with the religious (Christian) origins of Christmas.