Another Christmas, Another Tantrum

As the New Year begins, we are once again emerging from a Christmas season that was scant on those “tidings of joy” and heavy on predictable accusations that secular combatants were waging their annual war on Christmas and/or “taking the Christ out of Christmas.”

Among the equally predictable columns dealing with that very tired topic was a  essay in the Washington Post that–in my humble view–summed up the  basic elements of that seasonal conflict. As the author insisted, when she wishes people “Happy Holidays,” she isn’t dissing Christmas.

I’m not waging a war on Christmas. I like Christmas. But I am declaring my allegiance to one idea of America that opposes another: inclusive vs. exclusive.

I think that simple sentence sums up Americans’ currently incompatible worldviews. On the one hand, we have the MAGA folks who believe that the country was founded by and for White Christians, and that everyone who doesn’t fall within that category is essentially a guest–and for that matter, a guest who needs to show proper deference to the owners of the place.

On the other hand are citizens (including a majority of  White Christians) who believe that America was founded on a set of principles centered on liberty and equality, and that true patriotism requires allegiance to those principles–that identity is irrelevant to civic ownership.

I describe the two world-views somewhat differently, however. I call them “my way or the highway” versus “live and let live.” Two examples from this year’s Christmas Wars will illustrate what I mean.

In one recent skirmish, residents of exclusive America crowded a Tuscumbia, Ala., City Council meeting to protest a forthcoming Festival of Yule, which its organizer designed, she said, “for everyone to enjoy this time of year that is winter’s solstice and also an awareness of the origins of this holiday season.”
Opponents declared it, rather, “a sort of twisted anti-Christmas celebration” that threatened the city and the children. Speaker after speaker denounced the festival as a perversion of a holiday that was supposed to honor Jesus Christ, not the devilish Krampus….

After someone pointed out that people who were offended didn’t need to attend, the real issue emerged.

Clearly the problem wasn’t that they would be forced to attend or even that the festival replaced the traditional Christian one; the 12th annual It’s a Dickens Christmas Y’all would occur the following week. The problem was the very idea of inclusion.

The second example was the hysteria engendered by Cracker Barrel, when that chain introduced a non-meat sausage. (A world where Cracker Barrel is considered too “woke”is hard for me to get my head around…)

A similar dynamic was at work in August, when Cracker Barrel added plant-based sausage to its menu, sparking outrage among patrons furious that the restaurant chain would no longer be serving pork.
Oops, no, I got that wrong — the pork was staying. The issue was that among the 11 “meat options” would be a single choice for people who don’t eat meat.

In the essayist’s framing, changing “Merry Christmas”  to “Happy Holidays” in order to include people who might not be celebrating Christmas, or adding a solstice festival to a town’s calendar, adding more choices to a chain restaurant’s breakfast menu–or, in another example, having the temerity to produce a children’s movie with a Black mermaid  — are all being experienced as some sort of vague, unstated threat.

I get that it’s destabilizing to lose your monopoly on the culture — or to realize you never had it to begin with. To be informed by the Tuscumbia events calendar that the particular kind of Christmas you’ve celebrated your whole life is not the winter holiday, but a winter holiday.

You can still celebrate however you want, though. When inclusion wins, nobody actually loses.

That’s where the sane logic of the essay misses the mark. The objectors do lose–they lose the ability to dictate who matters and who doesn’t. Inclusion means they have to share–and they’re furious. 

Reassuring these increasingly frantic people that adding options doesn’t deprive them of anything is utterly useless. They aren’t worried about being deprived of a preferred choice–they are furious that other people will be able to celebrate or eat or greet differently, and that such differences will not automatically be seen as indicia of inferiority.

The Christmas Wars, like the rest of the culture wars, don’t simply pit folks who are inclusive against those who are exclusive. They pit the folks who want to demonstrate dominance and ownership against a variety of Others who have the gall to consider themselves entitled to civic (or gastronomic) equality.

Let us all hope for a New Year in which their hysteria subsides.


  1. One who speaks softly with humility and a sense of wholesome humor aligned with majority goodwill among abundant choices does not need a microphone to be heard and/or make a difference. Happy New Year.

  2. The reality is quite simple. The Puritans were not Christians, they were Calvinists following John Calvin & Oliver Cromwell both of whom were hell bent on destroying Christianity in England and elsewhere. Their descendants can be found in in the Baptist “churches” and others of their ilk.

  3. The first time through this essay, a smile came to my face. A good way to begin.

    So many silly people doing such silly things. As though denying someone else their happiness will make the denier happy. As though wearing a red hat is a substitute for maturity and responsibility.

    But this is only their latest phase. These are the people who made Donald, not the other way around. And soon he will be gone and they will need to find some other way of coping with their fears.

  4. I don’t think most culture warriors are actually church going christians. I suspect like a majority of Americans, the only time they step inside a church is a for a wedding or a funeral. I suspect the most vocal are in love with idea of christianity and the christian holidays.

    I also suspect there is something else going on here. This seems like it is off topic, but an article in the NYTimes was talking about the recent election and the “red dribble”. The article talked about doing a proper political poll now days is expensive. It is hard to reach a representative sample of people and it takes time and money. There were not a lot of non-partisan “proper” polls done. Those that did get done were pretty close to the mark, like predicting the democrat would win by 15% and they won by 14%. But in the void of proper polls, partisan players jumped into the void, mainly republican partisan players. Suddenly it looked like there was going to be a “red tsunami”. People began to doubt the earlier polls. There was even one “company” doing polls that consisted of two high school juniors hoping to polish college résumés and the worst part about it was all of these junk polls got traction in the right wing media ecosphere. They got so much traction that it bled over into the main stream media.

    So my point is it’s not churches or christians waging these culture wars. It is the right wing media ecosphere. They are perfectly happy passing on misleading and unvetted information for the sole purpose of manufacturing outrage. It get attention and attention means ratings and clicks and votes and dollars. There seems to be a good percentage of the population that doesn’t want to think for themselves, and these guys have found their audience. It is a shame that so many Americans buy into this twisted view of the world.

  5. Keeping Christ in Christmas is something that is done, or not done, in your heart and your mind. Just as the celebration and true meaning of Hanukkah is kept, or not kept, for Jews. It won’t be found in the big box sales ads, the TV commercials or the arguments from those who require Merry Christmas as the only meaningful greeting in December…sometimes beginning before Halloween.

    In the 1950’s I babysat for a Jewish family; Cathy was about 5 years old and Jay was about 7 and an old soul. They had a beautiful Christmas tree in their living room; when I asked Jay why they had a Christmas tree if they are Jewish, he said it was to celebrate the holidays with all of their friends. He also said he liked Hanukkah better because he got gifts for 8 days. At 7 years of age he understood the meaning of the season when religious holidays happened to share the time of year; he had been taught that the meaning of both should be a time of sharing family and friendship with all those you love.

    I expect 2023 Happy New Year will simply mean “Let the games begin!” as the new Congress returns to session with only the date of the year changing. The continuation of the fruitless investigation of Donald Trump and his MAGA cronies, the demands for full investigation of Rep. elect Santos’ lies and questionable wealth will go on through his two year term, Marjory Taylor Greene will move into a more powerful position in the House and McConnell will retain his hold on the Senate from his minority position as we try to remember writing the date 2023 rather than 2022 as if it will change conditions in this nation and the world beyond.

    “Let us all hope for a New Year in which their hysteria subsides.” We are still allowed to hope!

  6. Agree with Dan: “ So my point is it’s not churches or christians waging these culture wars. It is the right wing media ecosphere. They are perfectly happy passing on misleading and unvetted information for the sole purpose of manufacturing outrage. It get attention and attention means ratings and clicks and votes and dollars. There seems to be a good percentage of the population that doesn’t want to think for themselves, and these guys have found their audience. ”

    Those in my family circle (includes MAGA Baptist who seldom make it to church, but always pass judgment on everything) are perfect examples. If not for FOX , they would be blissfully unaware of everything that is supposed to offend them, and of all the things “those people “ are putting over on “us”.
    Since my stepdad passed, mom now has streaming tv, not 24/7 FOX, and she’s so much less worried about the state of things, and so much more willing (dare I say, able?) to discuss events, as she hasn’t been told what to think yet.
    There may be hope, but it requires shutting off the extreme right, and left, screaming at those less able to think for themselves.

  7. Thank you for this, Sheila 🙂
    ” A world where Cracker Barrel is considered too “woke” is hard for me to get my head around…”

  8. Recently, just as an ecumenical gathering was commencing, a secretary rushed in shouting, “The building is on fire!” The Methodists gathered in a corner and prayed. The Baptists cried, “Where is the water?” The Quakers quietly praised God for blessings that fire brings. The Lutherans posted a notice on the door declaring that fire was evil. The Roman Catholics passed the plate to cover the damage. The Jews posted symbols on the doors hoping the fire would pass. The Congregationalists shouted, “Every man for himself.” The Fundamentalists proclaimed, “It’s the vengeance of God!” The Episcopalians formed a procession and marched out. The Christian Scientists concluded that the fire would burn itself out. The Presbyterians appointed a chairperson, who was to appoint a committee to look into the matter and submit a written report. The Unity students proclaimed the fire had no power over them. Some atheists in attendance didn’t believe there was a fire. The secretary grabbed the fire extinguisher and put out the fire. The Mormons, having arrived 15 minutes late, missed the fire completely!

    Happy and blessed new year.

  9. Cracker Barrel is too woke -too funny.

    It does remind me of something I read once about Genghis Khan. He issued an edict compelling all Muslims and Jews to each pork. Not eating pork meant that they thought they were superior to the rest of the Chinese.

    Of course, these culture warriors are partially right on two points.
    First, the elevation of the importance of celebrating Christmas (Easter being the theologically most important Christian holiday) in England was in response to too many Brits celebrating pagan solstice festivals (also why a lot of the symbols of Christmas are straight out of Prince Albert’s Germany).
    Second, if KNOW that you represent the ONLY true America/Christianity/whatever else, then any “inclusion” threatens your existential beliefs of knowing the only true way. So Sheila’s last point about the essayist missing the mark is on the mark.

  10. They preach about Christ while they sell snake oil to their true believers. Have a great new year.

  11. Good one, Lester!

    Those with a closed mind can hardly see that Christianity has wide open doors. As Sheila said, it’s “my way or the highway” thinking. That is ego!

    This attitude runs through their entire lives in everything. It’s all about identity and ego.

    They don’t even question that Jesus was a middle-eastern man if he even existed. Instead, they envision a European-looking God and Jesus. They’ve changed these higher power identities to conform with themselves, yet condemn anyone who believes in a power greater than themself without an identity or one different from theirs.

    Closed minds.

    Why wouldn’t they flock to their favorite TV channel whose marketing caters to their closed minds?

  12. Thank you Lester. Your posting says it all. Happy… whatever. Merry… (insert your favorite whatever here). May all your blessings be blessed (if that’s what you want).

  13. Up until about 1958, the public celebration of Christmas in Scotland had been prohibited. Right up until now, it is a lesser celebration in the nominally “Christian” nation. Fine with me. As previously noted, this mess is not about religion, it solely is about cultural dominance over others, with the religious overtones having been pasted on during the 1970s in the US. Following the mass defection of the Dixiecrats in the 1960s to the Republican party, the only group which was necessary to co-opt were the evangelical Christians, who already believed that they were the only ones who had a pipeline to their god.

  14. Have you been following the orchestrated drama about Kirk Cameron’s event at the Indiana State Library as he promoted his new children’s book?

    Fox 59 wrote an article about his publisher Brave Books’ exaggeration of audience size. Brave Books commented on Twitter: “This is a message to every library in the United States: In 137 years of the Indianapolis Public Library’s history, NEVER ONCE have they had over 2,500 people show up to a single event. UNTIL TODAY.” My friend reminds me to never read the comments, however, I made the mistake of reading the posts on the Fox 59 Facebook page about this article. The culture war in Indiana is alive and thriving.

    James F. McGrath writes about this incident in his blog on December 29, 2022.

    Truth and facts do not seem to matter. This reminds me of TFG’s lie about the attendance on his inauguration day, and why lie about something so petty that can be easily fact-checked?

  15. The Quran teaches, “There is no compulsion in religion [2:256],” “Your religion is yours, and my religion is mine [109:6].” How about that!

  16. I know many of those people and you are correct in your observation, their fear is loosing what they never had, control over who everyone should be like them and if they are not, then they are not Americans but a lesser human than themselves.

  17. I liked Lester Levine’s comment, to which I would add this: I’m a Unitarian Universalist, and the way we would likely deal with it sounds very close to the Presbyterians–the whole committee bit. As for Sheila’s words about Cracker Barrel being anything resembling “woke”–next you’ll be telling me that Chik-Fil-A’s “woke”.

  18. The article about those who attended Cameron’s event at the Central Library, an event that seems to have been deliberately arranged to be controversial, showed a majority of young white women in the crowd. I wonder how those women will feel when they attempt to get reproductive health care, obstetrical care or even birth control and find that there are few if any medical professionals available for them in their communities.

    Rural Indiana is rife with zombies, mindless and heartless, who believe they are under threat of losing their endowed “Christian” privilege. They have already lost. They just haven’t discovered just what exactly they have lost and how hard it will be to get those losses back. In the meantime, the rest of us are suffering the chaos,fear and disruption these ideologues/christofascists create.

  19. “On the one hand, we have the MAGA folks who believe that the country was founded by and for White Christians”–I would modify to say White Christian males.

  20. Wonderful essay Sheila. And a Happy/Peaceful New Year. After reading the responses, I am still trying to wrap my head (and the few noodles within) around being rewarded with a four year graduate degree that reads as thus” “Master of Divinity.”

    I think I shall never understand it. Nor shall I ever be comfortable with it. Frankly, I have been laughing (mostly to myself) at the sheer absurdity of the thought, much less pronouncement, that anyone or anything can be a “Master” of anything, much less “Divinity.” It is ludicrous.

    Yet, as history proves without a doubt, this idea of “the divine” that can be “mastered” by limited ego-led carbon bipeds and, then, be manipulated by various political power-motivated beings/factions has caused unlimited (to date) misinformation, fear, suffering, horror, violence and destruction upon this world. Fact.

    Meek and mild?

  21. ” Inclusion means they have to share–and they’re furious” – This stimulates further thought.
    I think it is a more important dynamic than it seems. The bulk of the folks who are objecting volubly about ‘wokeness’, ‘happy holidays’, etc. actually have reason to feel wronged. They are just directing their anger at easily seen apparent but false targets/enemies.
    They have been taught to measure their quality of life in comparison to that of others, that life is competitive. The manipulators encourage and emphasize the notion that anything that improves the quality of life of anyone who is not me is a threat to mine. I am OK with sharing as long as it does not help the competition (those less privileged). Meanwhile the manipulators keep their thrones.
    How do we get across that everyone is us?

  22. There seems to be two main streams of thought in any argument. The only argument I bring is that Christ said to those that solidly offended His followers is “why do you oppose me”? Christmas is a day of celebration among many this time of year including Hanukkah. To my relatives who are Jewish I say happy Hanukkah and they say Merry Christmas. To people I deal with businees wise that say “Happy Holidays “, I know their employer is responding weakly to the culture war in my opinion, its not about inclusion vs exclusion, I say Merry Christmas because its my holiday snd give them a chance to respond back Merry Christmas or Happy Hannukah. Its exclusive to not allow people to state anything religious.
    Kirk Cameron did look into libraries use of their story hour in the past and if they had a story hour. He is doing what any person of faith should do if they have had a story hour of any kind and because he is religious is being excluded, push for being included as part of civic discourse.
    The problem with the culture war is that if people of faith stand up, they are systematically challenged. Is that being inclusive. No its not.
    There are those that over react, and you will find the crazys out there. But challenging people who are fighting for their right yo simply be seen in the public sphere, using tactics to call them crazy simply isnt civil.
    So many buildings were burned down over the last two years in uncivil discourse, nonprofit corrupt groups that sheltered finances for personal gain were simply taking money from communities that they said they were supporting, stores being looted because people are being told insurance companies can afford the looting causing a desert in ares that need groceries or services, thats the real problem. We are excluding the poor by destroying their communities systematically, causing layoffs by destroying energy independence in the last two years.
    Spend time this next year by giving to the poor at a faith based homeless shelter that serves 200 homeless in 2 hours, or time reading to students in school who are grade levels behind. Do what you can, but do it in love and approach heaven as described in the historical book called the Holy Scriptures without blame.
    Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and Happy New Year.
    Eat less pork for the sake of your health! 🙂

  23. The comments remind me also of an elevator conversion with a neighbor of mine, years ago. She wished me a Merry Christmas and I wished her the same. Of course, I am Jewish and she is Baha’i, which I subsequently informed her (I had a mezuzah on my door post and she had a more conspicuous quote from Abdu’l-Baha, son of the founding prophet).

    Neither of us was offended, as it should be.

  24. The popularity of secular Christmas-time songs has combined with mercantile interests to “take Christ out of Christmas.” No Christ-hating culture warriors were needed.

  25. Why have Christmas at all? It’s just another Fathers’ Day, commercial intent.
    The calendar of special days is hilarious, but not serious. Just ego stroking.
    One more stupid thing to be victims over.

    Woke sausage? Pork is people, you know.

    The best thing about the season is that the days are getting longer.

  26. I use both “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Holidays” pretty much randomly and without intention. I have never had an adverse reaction to either. People believe that they mean pretty much the same thing, merely good wishes for the season. How could that ever be interpreted as anything other than well-intentioned? The only reason that I can imagine is if they want to force their religion on people of other religions. I certainly don’t see any reason for me to accommodate that intention.

  27. Inclusion means (the objectors) have to share—and they’re furious.
    It’s exhausting.

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