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.


‘Tis the Season…for Culture War Stupidity

According to the Christian Science Monitor,

Wishing students “Merry Christmas” is now protected in Texas public schools thanks to a recently minted Merry Christmas law, which allows students, teachers, and administrators to say traditional holiday greetings on campus….

The bill, signed into law last year by Gov. Rick Perry, allows religious scenes and symbols, like a nativity or Christmas tree, to be displayed on school property. It also allows schools to teach about religious holidays, including their history, and include religious references and music in school performances.

Well, isn’t that special?

Can we deconstruct this embarrassing piece of theater? To the extent this measure purports to allow things that would violate the Establishment Clause, it is totally ineffective. (There’s this pesky little thing about the U.S. Constitution–it trumps local laws.) Christmas trees are fine, but nativity scenes (unless surrounded by symbols of Chanukah and Kwanzaa and other artifacts of winter’s seasonal celebrations) remain legally off-limits.

To the extent this law is inconsistent with the Establishment Clause, it is null and void. But more to the point, everything else “protected” by this legislative display of civic ignorance is already protected by the Free Exercise Clause. 

Teachers can already teach about religion, religious holidays, and the role of religion in history. Music teachers and art teachers are free to include religious music and art in their lessons–indeed, it would be difficult to introduce students to either discipline without recognizing the role religion has played in the evolution of those arts. (Granted, a “Christmas Chorale” composed exclusively of devotional hymns–no “Frosty the Snowman” or “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” to leaven the religiosity –is unlikely to pass Constitutional muster, but otherwise, no problem.)

Excuse me, but…those of you who are ostentatiously wearing the label “Christian”–can we talk?

I am getting really, really tired of your whining, tired of your petulant assertions that if you  can’t force everyone else to acknowledge your beliefs (in language that you deem appropriate) and genuflect to your observances (in recognition of their superiority), you’re being picked on.

Read my lips: There is no “War” against Christmas. Nice people wishing you a happy holiday are not trying to destroy the country and/or deprive you of your cultural heritage. They are just being nice. They are being thoughtful. Respectful of others.

You might try that sometime.

You might try acting….oh, what’s the word? Christian.


Maybe the Gingrich Stole Christmas??

Okay–there isn’t going to be much of a post today, because I am waging my  own “War on Christmas.” And unlike the one manufactured by the professional rabble-rousers on Faux News, mine is personal.

I have been crawling on the floor under our pre-lit “keep it simple, save a fir” tree all morning, trying to figure out why some of the lights don’t work. I’ll spend most of the rest of the day–assuming we’ve accurately diagnosed the problem (I’ve sent Bob to the hardware store for replacement fuses–those teensie little fuses that are hidden in the plugs that are hidden in the needles and are impossible to remove without the eagle-eyed vision of the young and the skinny talons of a small but vicious bird) wrapping gifts.

I was raised Jewish. We don’t know how to wrap. I’ll try my best, but I’ll undoubtedly end up with the sad and lumpy-looking packages that are so unlike the beautiful, beribboned gifts you see on television.

When I’m done grousing, I’ll admit that Christmas–the way my husband celebrates it and the way I’ve learned to approach it–is a lovely family holiday. In our “multi-cultural” home, the tree has a yarmulke on top and among the ornaments are dreidles and other decidedly non-traditional elements. There’s a menorah on the fireplace next to the tree, and we send gifts to a Buddhist cousin and give and get others from atheist family members. It really IS a “wonderful time of the year”–as the song goes. (Well–at least it’s a festive occasion that makes a generally cold and unpleasant time of the year SEEM wonderful.)

For those who celebrate the holiday as a “holy day” (which, by the way, is what “holiday” means Mr. Dumb-ass O’Reilly), I have the utmost respect. For those who want to throw tantrums whenever they see someone’s enjoyment of the season deviating from their script, I  say “Bah, Humbug.”

What cracks me up about the “War on Christmas” folks is that they tend to be the same people who agree with Newt Gingrich that poor kids ought to do janitor duty in their schools. Listen, guys, I’m not a Christian, but it seems to me if you’re really into the religious meaning of Christmas, it might be appropriate to act a bit more…Christian.

Just sayin’