Katy Burns: What war on Christmas?

Monitor columnist
Sunday, December 03, 2017

The pumpkins are in the compost pile. The last of the turkey soup is gone, and the remnants of the feast were hauled off by the trash collectors. Our neighbor has replaced his colorful giant inflatable turkey with a festive army of cheerful inflated Christmas decorations, everything from Santa and reindeer to a fireplace bedecked with stockings.

In our state’s capital city, the Concord Christmas parade has done its traditional job of wowing the kids clustered along its route, and the annual lighting of the Concord Christmas tree went off without a hitch. Downtown is decorated to a fare-thee-well with what look an awful lot like Christmas decorations.

All this can mean only one thing. Time to start protesting the War on Christmas!

In fact, this season’s War was actually started before Thanksgiving when Starbucks released its annual holiday cups. In the last few years, Starbucks cups have at times achieved legendary status as prime examples of the War on Christmas. And it hasn’t helped that the chain’s baristas have been known to eschew the words “Merry Christmas,” which is the critical gauge of Christmas etiquette.

Bad news for Starbucks. One of three new cups celebrating the season featured sketches of a decorated fir tree, a pile of festive packages and two hands – pretty generic hands, near as I can tell, and quite disconnected from any bodies – holding each other around a stylized heart. Aha, the War people pounced! Starbucks was celebrating gay marriage!

Fox News happily blasted out the news – Fox was an early and enthusiastic booster of the War on Christmas opponents – and we were off to the races.

Starbucks quickly brought out yet another festive cup, this one featuring a big white heart – where the purchaser can write a loved one’s name – framed by two hands, carefully not touching. And to make sure we got the message, a press release included a photo of a well-known female singer dedicating her cup to her conservative country-singing boyfriend.

Starbucks said it had planned the cup all along. Sure it did!

Then along came the American Family Association, a particularly slimy organization originally founded to fight pornography and “indecency” on television and now dedicated almost exclusively to combating the so-called homosexual agenda and gay people in general. It particularly concentrates these days on identifying companies with gay-friendly employment policies and urging boycotts of them.

But this time of year the association detours from its main mission to publish its annual Naughty and Nice list of retail chains. A top-rated company “uses the term ‘Christmas’ on a regular basis.” A bottom rated company “may use ‘Christmas’ sparingly in a single or unique product description, but as a company, does not recognize it.”

In other words, Nice establishments lavishly proclaim “Merry Christmas” in their ads and posters. The outfits deemed Naughty are insufficiently Christmassy in their holiday presentations. That is to say, they rashly prefer “Happy Holidays” in their ads and presentation. They should be shunned.

I want to note here that I grew up in a home that always had one of those calendars that insurance companies and hardware stores happily passed out at the holidays, and they always proclaimed “Happy Holidays!” – or its variant, “Season’s Greetings” – on their top page. I’m confident that a lot of Concord businesses distributed similar calendars here. Those phrases were also commonly scrawled on store windows across the country.

Why? The owners were shrewd business owners who understandably didn’t want to alienate customers who didn’t celebrate the Christian holiday. And it is a time of year when many other religions have holidays as well.

This peculiar obsession with who is or isn’t saying “Merry Christmas” is part of American history. In just the last century alone, automaker Henry Ford was nuts on the subject, apparently convinced there was some kind of plot afoot to wipe it from our vocabularies. Ford was also a famously notorious anti-Semite. Just saying.

The 1950s also saw a boom for the fetishization of “Merry Christmas,” no doubt an outgrowth of our anti-communist fervor. Remember, it was “godless” communism that scared the pants off us. “Season’s Greetings” was just another commie plot!

The phrase “War on Christmas” is said to have been coined by a little-known crackpot in the 1990s who was convinced that diabolical forces were conniving to obliterate Christmas altogether. But the current craze was apparently kicked off in 2004 by – who else? – the one and only (thank heaven) Bill O’Reilly, who used the phrase in one of his rabble-rousing screeds.

The next year O’Reilly’s Fox associate, John Gibson, published his own widely quoted jeremiad, The War on Christmas: How the Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday Is Worse Than You Thought.

And of course – how could any of us not remember? – in 2016 Donald Trump made decrying the War on Christmas one of his many, many campaign themes, assuring us that, under his administration, store clerks would once again be singing out “Merry Christmas.”

While I have no idea what store clerks are saying these days, the White House holiday cards now proclaim “Merry Christmas!” and I’m sure that if Donald thought he could get away with it he’d scrawl the same message on the White House windows. And he crows that he won the War!

There’s a certain amount of fun in all this, but the truth is that this War on Christmas is hogwash.

We of all faiths in these United States are drenched in Christmas references, stories, decorations and music for the last two months of the year. The holiday is inescapably everywhere, whether in the form of festive banners on lamp posts or Christmas music playing softly in the background in a local store.

Hardly a store window is undecorated. Productions of “Nutcracker” ballets and performances of Handel’s “Messiah” are big box office in small towns and large cities, and the whole country seems decked in white, red, green, silver and gold ornaments and ribbons.

If Santa ever had any religious significance he lost it long ago, about the time he acquired all those elves and started hawking children’s toys in department stores and malls across the country.

From what I’ve seen over the years, Americans who don’t observe Christmas seem to take all this stuff in stride. A lot of them seem get caught up in the spirit of the celebratory sound and color of the season. It does come, at least for us in temperate climates, at a pretty dark and chilly time of year. Couldn’t we at least include them with an occasional Happy Holiday or Season’s Greetings?

Christmas is a time of joy and good will. These War on Christmas crusaders are little more than an army of grinches.

(“Monitor” columnist Katy Burns lives in Bow.)