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.