Bringing the War on Christmas Into your Very Living Room

I did a little (very little, very short) newsroom debate on Fox 9 with a guy named Tom who appears to represent conservative Christians regarding the question of "Does Christmas have place in schools?" I quickly add that even though that was the planned focus of the discussion, it was quickly revised to be "Oh, no, not just Christmas, but Kwanza and Hanuka and stuff too." That particular bit of backpedaling is, of course, ingenuous and annoying, because nobody from Hanuka or Kwanza is trying to force their religious holidays into public schools, only the conservative Christians. So if we were to have an ecumenical touchy-feelie "all the religions are equal" thing in the schools, you know it would consist mainly of Christmas, a nod to Hanuka, and a few snarky remarks about Kwanza. And it would probably not address in a valid way the 30 million Americans who are basically religon-free. You know this because that is how it always turns out.

Anyway, I have the following thoughts on the issue which run far beyond what Tom and I had time to talk about, and here they are.

1) It's probably illegal to "put" Christmas in public schools. It is a religious holiday, and we have this thing called the United States Constitution. Listen. You can have my guns, but only if you pry them from my cold dead hands.1 Similarly, you can have my First Amendment Establishment Clause too, but only when you pry it from the Cold Dead Hands of the United States Courts and a number of organizations dedicated to protecting the Constitution. The whole idea of "putting" Christmas in the schools is simply undo-able, and efforts to force the situation are only going to cost the victims (the school systems targeted) in legal fees, and they don't have the spare change for that.

2) Yes, yes, I get it: Christmas is a part of culture, lots of people who are not religious celebrate it, even the famous atheist Richard Dawkins goes carolling, bla bla bla. Yeah, I know that. I was in on that way back when. In my family, growing up (a Catholic family) we had people over for Christmas who were not Christians, In fact, they were Jewish, and often Gay. We had Gay Jews opening presents left for them under the Christmas tree, and using our bathroom, and everything. The people at my Catholic Church and Catholic school were rather antisemitic, as were others in my orbit, and totally anti-gay, but my household certainly was not, and in this sense, Christmas was a cultural tradition more than a religious holidays.

So, does this mean that when the American Family Values Association or the Catholic League force some hapless school district to "celebrate" a cultural version of Christmas that there will be no religious connotations? You might think that. And, if you do think that, send me your email. I want to talk to you about some swampland in Florida and a bridge I'm selling.

In truth, it is already possible to have Christmassy stuff in schools, but it is tricky. There was a court fight about this nearly ten years ago out east, when a school put up a Christmas tree and some elves and a Creche. In the end, they had to get rid of the Creche because it was a clear religious icon, but they could keep the elf.

I call this the Creche-Elf line. The paganistic or non-Christian aspects of Christmas vs. the very serious religious iconography. The thing is, it is hard to know where the Creche-Elf line really is, and it can be crossed in subtle ways that may not be predicted. Do conservative Christians really want to force school administrators to walk the Creche-Elf line and risk law suits? Well, yes, they do, because they want this to be a fight. So when the Christians come to your door shopping their allegedly cultural version of Christmas, ask them to leave, check your wallet, and lock the door behind them.

3) They don't have time. Putting aside the question of legality and ethics, the last thing our troubled, underfunded, overworked, highly stressed school system needs is powerful special interest groups showing up and telling them about more stuff to teach. They already have too much stuff to teach. Leave them alone.

4) Enough is enough. Right now, the Christmas season is starting. It's exciting. It's fun. We're working on our Christmas lists and checking them twice. Relatives are coming into town to visit. We're going to get presents!!! Yay!!!

But try this on for size: Go around on, say December 23rd and ask people if they've had enough. Ask them if there was enough Christmas stuff out there for them this year. Ask them if the music coming out of trees on the streets and the bells ringing at the grocery stores and the TV shows and specials and movies and all the decorations and other Christmas-focused stuff in the stores was insufficient. Ask them if they need more. Ask them if they would like more Christmas smeared all over the walls, ceiling and floors of places it currently does not have a large presence. Go ahead. Ask them. They'll probably slap you. Enough is enough.

5) The War on Christmas is not real. My buddy Tom, who in the green room claimed to have never heard of the "War on Christmas" (ahem) noted that by keeping Christmas out of schools and making people say "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas" we were creating a hostile message for children, who would then get the wrong message. Or whatever. (Tom did land one very good punch in our discussion when he said that "The Grinch is now the Overly PC School Administrator." I love that. That "overly PC school administrators" is saving the school from law suits and following the law,and being a good American. If that's the Grinch, we need more Grinches. But I digress.)

Anyway, the Conservative Christians, led (by the nose, it would seem) by Bill O'Reilly, have declared that there is a war on Christmas because people say "Happy Holidays."

And they've bee busy. Here's a short list cribbed from Teh Wiki that summarizes how this particular issue has played out in ways that you can verify at the mall next time you go shopping:

  • [in 2005], After threats of boycotting, the Sears Holdings Corporation ... altered their marketing policies from using the term "holiday" to using the term "Christmas." The change of policy included the distribution of "Merry Christmas" signs to stores nationwide, and the changing of all instances of the term "holiday" to "Christmas" on their website and in stores.
  • Kmart [owned by Sears and thus under the same pressure] opened the 2006 Christmas season with their slogan "Where Christmas comes together", and several commercials acknowledging Christmas, including one with the tune to "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing".
  • In 2005, Wal-Mart was criticized by the Catholic League for avoiding the word "Christmas" in any of their marketing efforts. ... This caused some backlash among the public, prompting some groups to pass around petitions and threaten boycotts against the company, as well as several other prominent retailers ... in response to the public outcry, Wal-Mart announced that they were amending their policy and would be using "Christmas" rather than "holiday". Among the changes, they noted that the former "Holiday Shop" would become the "Christmas Shop", and that there would be a "countin' down the days to Christmas" feature.
  • In 2005, Target Corporation was criticized by the American Family Association for their decision not to use the term "Christmas" in any of their in-store, online, or print advertising. The AFA initiated a nation-wide boycott of the Target Corporation, resulting in over 700,000 petition signatures, all of which were individually sent to Target customer service. Within a week of initiating the boycott, the AFA received an official letter from Target which indicated that they would begin incorporating the term "Christmas" in their advertising: "Over the course of the next few weeks, our advertising, marketing and merchandising will become more specific to the holiday that is approaching - referring directly to holidays like Christmas and Hanukkah. For example, you will see reference to Christmas in select television commercials, circulars and in-store signage." In a 2007 interview with Chief Executive Magazine, the CEO of Target, Bob Ulrich, stated that Target's usage of "holiday" instead of "Christmas" was a mistake. "Frankly, we screwed up", he said.
  • When it was revealed in November 2006 that Wal-Mart would be using the term "Christmas" in their advertising campaign, an article about the issue initiated by USA Today pointed out that Best Buy Corporation would be among the retailers that would not be using "Christmas" at all in their advertising that year. Dawn Bryant, a Best Buy spokeswoman, stated: "We are going to continue to use the term holiday because there are several holidays throughout that time period, and we certainly need to be respectful of all of them." The American Family Association launched a campaign against Best Buy's policy. In reaction to the same policy, the Catholic League placed Best Buy on its 2006 Christmas Watch List.
  • Around the same time that Best Buy Corporation was noted for having avoided using "Christmas" in their 2006 advertising, Gap, Inc. (which owns Gap, Old Navy, and Banana Republic) was also criticized for avoiding use of the term. An unnamed Old Navy manager was quoted as saying: "We have a lot of Christmas gifts in our stores, but the word Christmas is not used here. Everything is holiday." After mounting criticism about the issue, Gap, Inc. set up an option within their corporate telephone answering line that was specific to "holiday advertising questions".
  • In late October 2008, US hardware retailer The Home Depot was criticized by the American Family Association for using terms such as "holiday" and "Hanukkah" on their website, but avoiding the term "Christmas". The retailer responded by saying they will be adjusting their website to make references to Christmas more prominent. It was later claimed by that the AFA's characterization of Home Depot's advertising was false, as the retailer's advertising had initially included several references to the word "Christmas".
  • On November 11, 2009, the American Family Association called for a "limited two-month boycott" of Gap, Inc over what they claimed was the "company's censorship of the word Christmas." In an advertising campaign launched by Gap on November 12, the term "Christmas" was both spoken and printed on their website at least once, and was part of a television ad campaign sung as: "Go Christmas, Go Hanukkah, Go Kwanzaa, Go solstice... go Christmas, go Hanukkah, go whatever holiday you Wannakuh". On November 17, AFA responded to this campaign by condemning the ads for references to the "pagan holiday" of solstice, and declined to call off the boycott.2 On November 24, Gap responded to AFA's initial boycott, stating that they will launch a new television commercial on Thanksgiving weekend that will have a "very strong Christmas theme", featuring its Supermodelquins using the greeting "Merry Christmas". The AFA then ended their boycott of Gap.

This ... the holiday greeting problem ... is actually their main point, the raison d'être for pushing Christmas into schools (to regain the respect it has lost because of The War and all). I mean, really, the AFA appears to be a bunch of thought police with rather thuggie tactics. Makes me want to avoid shopping at the stores that caved so easily.

I may be utterly unique in this world, but I learned to say "Happy Holidays" not to disrespect Christians, but to avoid disrespecting Jews, Atheists, etc. When I see my Sister in Law, for instance, I'll say "Merry Christmas." When I see my Mother in Law, for instance, I'll say "Happy Hanuka." When I see my wife, I'll say "Hey, wait a minute, were you picking up Huxley at daycare or was I supposed to do that!!!??!!" (Oh, sorry, digressing again.) And, when I see a mixed group of people, I'll say "Happy Holidays."

Hot off the presses:


1If I had guns. See this.

2Thus demonstrating that the "Oh, we'll do Hanuka and Kwanza and all the other holidays and stuff too" argument is a lie.


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Schools seem to like to have stuff to celebrate. I think if there were a critical mass of kids who knew anything about Hanuka or Kwanza in their school they would be celebrated alongside Halloween, Ground Hog Day and Winter Carnival.

I got to admit I was blown away by the amount of attention paid to groundhog day. I felt like I was breaking a magic chain by pointing out rodents cannot predict the weather.

If you are wondering about Winter Carnival ... It's a Quebec city event that gives French teachers all across the country a reasons to send the kids out to play in the snow during school hours.

Christmas celebrations were a given; this was a catholic school after all. I was the evil mother asking loudly ... so when exactly is sit-at-your-desk-and-study day?

No matter what the talking heads on TV rant about, school celebrations are just a way to mix it up in the classroom.
My children do not believe that rodents predict the weather, nor do they dress up as snowmen ahead of lent.

Deleting "Christmas" from advertising is just a marketing ploy to subliminally persuade non-Christians to buy gifts.

As someone who finds the whole Christmas hoopla insane I wish non-Christians would respond by insisting that they are well able to gift their loved ones all 12 months of the year. Therefore they object to being targeted with "seasonal" stuff all through December.

I agree that the WOC is a sham. Happy Holidays is the polite way to go. So ... Happy Holidays and to all a good night!

Laden wins on points and better makeup.

This country was founded on Christianity. Your atheistic tenencies can be kept out of it. Evenn muslims are better to have in a holiday.

By Delfina Cuomo (not verified) on 07 Dec 2010 #permalink

Well done, Greg!

Delfina, huh?

Christmas is already in the schools, and other religions are as well, in various electives, civ and history and social studies classes. The American Family Council is looking for something they already have.

By Charlotte (not verified) on 07 Dec 2010 #permalink

Delfina, this country was founded on secular values. (This means religion is a personal choice.) The Founding Fathers would be turning over in their graves.

Despite belief neither in Christ nor Freya, I have no more problem with "Merry Christmas" than I do with "Thank God it's Friday." The only time Christmas was outlawed in North America was by the Puritans, who recognized that it was a Catholic appropriation of a pagan holiday. My vote: leave Christmas in the schools, and leave the religion out of it.

now we are going to bury you... And the lesson from all of this? DOUBLE!

What do you want, you little fuckers? more of these idiots

keep that comment moderation on, you little idiot...


No, sorry, not even close. The United States was founded in opposition of British authoritarianism. Read the Declaration of Independence and you'll find that out of all the reasons the cited for rebelling against the crown, religion wasn't one of them.

Of course, you could be referring to the Puritan colonists in Massachusetts (i.e. "the Pilgrims). I would point out to you that despite years of jingoistic, Christian propaganda, the Puritan colonists weren't looking for religious tolerance, they were looking to set up a theocracy. Look up the history of the Puritan's treatment of Quaker colonists in America (the Puritans hung one in 1681), and don't forget the read up on the Salem Witch Trials. Also, compare the Puritans with Roger Williams, the founder of the Rhode Island Colony and a Baptist theologian who advocated keeping church and state separate.

By Akira MacKenzie (not verified) on 07 Dec 2010 #permalink

Unfortunate that time didn't permit your dissection of his idea that Christmas is 'the foundation' of the season we're celebrating.

Disturbing that she echoes that "it's freedom of religion, not freedom from religion" line.

And too bad they gave him both the first and last word.

By Rich Wilson (not verified) on 07 Dec 2010 #permalink

Why is everyone so afraid to wish me a Happy Winter Solstice. This country was founded on principles derived from Greek and Roman philosophy. This P.C. crap is getting out of hand.


By gocart mozart (not verified) on 07 Dec 2010 #permalink

I say happy holidays because I also have friends of different or no religion. Plus I'm too lazy to say Merry Christmas and happy new year, so I shorten it too happy holidays.
And how many times must we go through this. America was not founded as a Christian country. Show me where it says America is a Christian country in the declaration of Independence or Bill of Rights. If you think because it says "in the year of our Lord" you're reaching and you know it, since the very first right is the government not having an establishment of religion clause. Of course America is a mainly Christian country by practice. That's obvious.But it's not the state religion is it?

Delfina, there's a reason your dead Jew on a stick isn't mentioned anywhere in the Constitution, the Articles of Confederation, the Declaration of Independence or the Bill or Rights. It's because this country was founded on freedom of religion and an abhorrence to official religion.

By Occam's Meataxe (not verified) on 07 Dec 2010 #permalink

"And how many times must we go through this."

The War on Christmas and the War on the War on Christmas are traditionally celebrated in America from the Friday after the last Thursday of November until December 25th, every year.

The War on the War on Christmas is really becoming a jeer-ished holiday tradition by now.

Any sane person would start from the obvious assumption that retailers simply use whatever wording maximizes their sales - after all, they pay people to find that out for them. Completely unreasonable to suggest any other motives.

But O'Reilly & Co. see an opening to help their followers to feel a little bit better about themselves (for which they always pine, understandably so), so they start out by suggesting that the retailers have another, heinous, not profit-related hidden goal - they are doing it in order to not offend minorities!!! In a wingnut world, not trying to offend minorities simply isn't an acceptable motive - after all, The LOrd commands you to offend (at the very least) minorities.

So first the wingnuts get to feel the emotional high of righteous indignation, and then they can soon bask in the afterglow of victory, since on this issue the retailers usually 'cave' quite readily to even a trickle of calls/emails - after all, for them the whole point was keeping customers happy to begin with.

It works like a charm, reliably and predictably every year.

By Phillip IV (not verified) on 08 Dec 2010 #permalink

Frankly I don't care about offending anyone. I say Happy Holidays becasue there are many of them this time of year including Hanukka, Christmas, New Year's Eve, Kwanza, Rosa Parks Day, National Cookie Day, Walt Disney's Birthday, St, Nicolas Day on 6 Dec along with Ira Gershwin's birthday, Pearl Harbor Day, Human Rights Day, Frank Sinatra's birthday, Boston Tea Party anniversary, etc., etc. When I say Happy Holidays I'm wishing you a happy day every day of the season. On Christmas Day I will also wish you Merry Christmas, but that is only good for that one day.

The fourth Thursday of November.

I say nothing, not wanting to be too false.
My monotone community overwhelms me with celebrations and barely legal displays and greetings that presume I am like them (I look like them), and it gets pretty hard on me.
They might not understand my season for killing one more deer, steelhead fishing, harvesting of late vegetables, and lots of slaughtering of animals that are getting inefficient to keep longer (lambs, rabbits, turkeys, ducks and chickens - it's been bloody lately), trading overkill, overgrow or overbrew and sharing some meals.
They'd probably think I don't get it, and they might be right.

Excellent post, Greg. It's amazing how inclusion of many gets spun as persecution of some.

And check out Dennis Markuze making a special holiday appearance...

"My monotone community overwhelms me with celebrations and barely legal displays...and it gets pretty hard on me."

That happened to me when I went to New Orleans.

It's Happy Holidays where I work. My work puts me on the campus if a large well-known software company. It is impossible to keep up with country where each person is from
(we have them all - Eritrea, Armenia, Khazakstan, Burkina Faso, Togo, Aghanistan, get the idea). The people that work directly with me every day I pretty know where they are from, which religion, whether they are devout about their religion. But for the hundreds of company employees our office interfaces with each day, there's really no way to greet each of them culturally-specifically, and when you get it wrong, you run the risk of really offending people.

Myself, I left behind the admittedly highly secularized version of Christianity I grew up with, but still the word "Christmas" has no semantic charge for me. I still say Merry Christmas out of sheer habit as much as anything. So I have trained myself over the years to say Happy Holidays.

It is more appropriate in a multi-cultural workplace, school, or government office.

That having been said, I also think it's not culturally insensitive to just admit that in America the Winter Holidays were Christainized because that was the most popular religion in the USA.

I am not offended when I go to India and see Ganeshas everywhere. I don't demand that the society cater to me because I am not a Hindu. They don't have culturally-neutral way (for example) to refer to Diwali. Why should they?

So put me in with the majority that considers this distinctly a non-issue, as well as sorry that Bill O and the rest don't have real lives so they have to make this stuff up.

The Holidays are supposed to be all about Peace on Earth and Goodwill to Men (oops, I meant "men" in it's broader usage as "humanity" - OMG now I'm in deep doo-doo with the feminists!)

So let me get this staright: Happy Holidays, Peace on Earth and Goodwill to Humanity.

Because if I slip up and say "Merry Christmas and Goodwill to Men" I'll get labeled as a bigoted sexist prejudiced facist hater Nazi. And who wants that?

Aww... I was going to go all War on War on Christmas Not Going Far Enough, as the term "Happy Holidays" is offensive in its own right. The term Holiday (or Holy Day) was originally for allowing the working classes/peasants to take time off from their productive activities in order to make the right religious observations on the right days.

So as an atheist I was prepared to take great offence at being told I need to wish people to Have a Happy Socially Mandated Observation of Whatever Delusional Superstition That Gives You Some Unsupported Sense of Meaning to your Life Day.

But then I checked the Wikipedia definition of Holiday "The word "holiday" comes from the Old English word hÄligdæg. The word originally referred only to special religious days. In modern use, it means any special day of rest or relaxation, as opposed to normal days off work or school. The word derived from the notion of "Holy Day", and gradually evolved to its current form."

Ah facts, always getting in the way of a sense of outrage. Ok, since evolution is involved, and I can use it as an excuse to goof off, I will let it slide.

Donny, something tells me nobody's going to be the least bit surprised that you can't keep track of your dates. You have fun with that.

Donny #25

These nutty morons that call it a "holiday" parade or a "holiday" sale or a "holiday" anything will not be getting my hard earned money no matter how rough their economic situation is.

So you will be letting your ideology trump a free-market decision to spend money at the cheapest supplier of goods and/or services? That sounds communist to me.

Given your lack of charity or happiness to others during this holiday season, I think that in the interests of accuracy you need to drop the "Merry" part from your greeting.

Who has a phobia of Christmas? That would be terribly uncomfortable for that week I spend each year baking Christmas cookies. Donny, you're letting your imagination scare you again.

Some of these comments have reminded me of one of my favorite holiday games....Spot The Douche. Spot The Douche is especially fun to play on Christmas or even National Anthem in Winter Day.

Oh Stephanie, I hear Greg has picked out an especially nice metal studded collar for you for the Christmas-Equinox-Kwanza-Hunakkah-New Year party. Oh crap, maybe that was a secret.

My God given (not government given) rights as an individual sovereign citizen allow me to do that. Any questions or do I need to explain individual freedom and sovereignty to you?

Sure, please do explain to me exactly how god grants you rights and individual freedom. As for sovereignty, if you find yourself disagreeing with god on any point, can you remove god from that position of power and replace with another one?

Actually, I have changed my mind after reading #32. Please don't answer my questions. After all, this is Greg Laden's Blog (it even says so at the top) so I have no real right to request answers to off-topic questions. I apologise for the confusion.

So, in the spirit of the occasion, I wish a heartfelt Merry Christmas all, or Happy Holidays or Some Other Generic Greeting if appropriate, and good wishes for happiness in all your futures.

Donny, you are a deeply confused person if you think that atheists are afraid of Christmas. If you bothered to read what has been posted, the use of holidays is to be respectful and inclusive of non-Christians, not out of some pervasive fear of Christians or Christmas.

Will you indicate that you have the slightest capabilities of comprehension and acknowledge this? Or will you demonstrate your complete denial of reality, stick your fingers in your ears and scream, "LALALALALALA I can't hear you!!!"

Donny's hilarious... Can we keep him?

There was a court fight about this nearly ten years ago out east, when a school put up a Christmas tree and some elves and a Creche. In the end, they had to get rid of the Creche because it was a clear religious icon, but they could keep the elf.

The tree is really a religious icon too... I'm not sure about elves.

Dunc, exactly. That's why most smart school admins don't push to the limit that the court, a relatively low level court, sort of set.

Donny is getting coal in his stocking for Christmas. God is going to personally deliver it wrapped in an American flag.

Dunc wrote:

Donny's hilarious... Can we keep him?

As long as you paper-train him and promise to take him out back when he needs to... you know... go.

The only way to win the War on Christmas is to finally prove the truth and force religious leaders to cease and desist from their lies and exploitation. I have published comprehensive proof that the symbology of these canons is based on advanced science and natural observations that completely exposes pivotal ancient lies. Here's my latest press release on the topic.

Seven Star Hand Unveils Death Blow in War on Christmas

Telling lies about me for two millennia has dire consequences, and now I intend to collect on what is due.

Here is Wisdom...