It has been over a year since Chronicles published my piece “Happy Holidays?  Bah! Humbug!” (Vital Signs, December 2001) and used it to announce its 2001 War Against Christmas Competition.  I am still receiving mail on the essay, and I thought I would give Chronicles readers an idea of how the War Against Christmas is progressing.  Some of the critical letters have been especially illuminating, though not always in the way their authors intended.

One correspondent informed me that “Actually, December 25th is the birthday of Mithras” and that “December 25th is Saturnalia.”  Although profoundly silly, this line of argument is surprisingly common, as aspiring deconstructionists routinely claim that Christmas is “really” a celebration of the winter solstice.  Of course, none of the growing number of faux Christmases being foisted on us by the multiculturalists—Kwanza, Hanukkah, Ramadan, Diwali, Bodhi Day, the Birth of Guru Gobind Singh, Dongji, Chinese New Year, etc.—is ever subjected to this sort of critical analysis.  

It is probably true that December 25 was chosen as the date to commemorate Christ’s birth to coincide with (and supplant) the pagan festival of Natalis invicti solis.  But the holiday that has been the major festival in the West for millennia is Christmas, not some extinct pagan celebration.  Over the centuries, Christmas has become an integral part of our culture, incorporating and transforming some pre-Christian customs and inspiring a wealth of new ones, resulting in a splendid, multifaceted celebration that is a reflection of the genius of Western culture.  Christmas has inspired beauty wherever it has been observed.  The treasury of Christmas music, for example, is unparalleled by that of any other holiday and is the work of both famous composers and inspired folk artists from every corner of Christendom.  The lesson to be learned from the defunct pagan festivals that preceded Christmas is not that Christmas ought to be abolished but that we risk losing Christmas if we allow the multiculturalists to replace Christmas with “the holidays.”

Another correspondent told me that he had come across my essay while looking for an “inclusive holiday e-card.”  Not surprisingly, he was shocked by what he found, telling me that “[t]he position you had in the article seems to be in line with the thinking behind the Iranian Revolution.”  He also offered an instructive history lesson, making the obligatory reference to America’s dark past when “most slaves [were] converted to Protestantism,” “most American Indians perished,” and “Americans chose [marginalization and isolation] and passed restrictive immigration laws”; he cheerfully noted, however, that, “by the 1960s, the U.S. changed course and chose recognition and inclusion. . . . what’s more, we opened the borders to allow Buddhists, Muslims, atheists, pagans, and people from around the world to join our society.”  Because of this change in direction, we “would not allow Christianity to dominate the public arena,” and we now have a “free society, one that is ever-changing and permissive, not static or oppressive.”

It may come as news to the multiculturalists, but America began in 1776, not in 1965.  Throughout most of our history, Americans have enjoyed a spirited public celebration of Christmas, because there is no contradiction between Christmas and American ideals.  And I was inspired to write my essay not by the Iranian Revolution but by my memories of the Christmases that I experienced growing up in America.  There was nothing un-American about the effusive public celebrations of Christmas that I recall, unless kindness, generosity, and joy have suddenly fallen out of favor.

Nor were those celebrations of Christmas “static or oppressive.”  I think they are well represented by A Charlie Brown Christmas, the wonderful program that premiered the year after I was born.  The show mentions no other holiday but Christmas, centers around the production of a Christmas play in a public school, features Linus quoting from St. Luke’s Gospel, and ends with the Peanuts singing “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.”  It remains popular because it is rooted in the real celebration of a real holiday, not in a contrived celebration of a politically correct alternative.  It embodies not just Charles Schulz’s genius but the spirit that so many Americans associate with Christmas.  Only an imagination twisted by ideology could look at such a program and see “oppression.”  (Indeed, one of the biggest fans I know of A Charlie Brown Christmas is Jewish.)

The most measured of my critical correspondents was a Buddhist chaplain.  He may have noticed the essay because it mentioned Bodhi Day, the day of the Buddha’s “enlightenment,” generally observed in early December and now being promoted as a faux Christmas by some multiculturalists.  The way I learned of Bodhi Day is a perfect example of how the War Against Christmas is being waged.  A friend of mine works as an engineer for NASA.  His NASA facility traditionally played Christmas music over the p.a. system, a custom enjoyed by my friend and most of his coworkers.  Then, one day, the music stopped.  Shortly thereafter, NASA sent out a memo informing its employees of Bodhi Day and asking them to be sensitive toward it.  This is the War Against Christmas in a nutshell: the suppression of a tradition enjoyed by the majority and the elevation of a holiday virtually no one had ever heard of before.

To his credit, my Buddhist correspondent did not complain that Bodhi Day was being given short shift.  He informed me that “I don’t celebrate Christmas, unless you count the exchanging of presents with friends and family, which is more of a cultural tradition in America than a religious one.”  And he defended the displacement of “Merry Christmas” by “Happy Holidays”:

As the employees in retail stores, etc. have no way of knowing what religion (if any) their customers adhere to, they are using a phrase that is neutral, so that they can wish a generic season of happiness to all, regardless of religion.

Actually, employees in retail stores do have a pretty good way of determining what holiday is being celebrated by the customers who mysteriously arrive after every Thanksgiving to buy presents.  Since the overwhelming majority of Americans celebrate Christmas, and an even higher percentage of those flocking to the malls after Thanksgiving are doing so to buy Christmas presents, a retail employee can conclude that most of his customers would appreciate being wished a “Merry Christmas.”  Indeed, it seems churlish that the retailers of America, whose well-being depends in large measure on Christmas, are increasingly afraid even to mention the holiday to which they owe their good fortune.

Admittedly, some non-Christians (like the Buddhist chaplain) have decided to exchange gifts during the Christmas season.  But those who adopt Christian customs can hardly complain about others who assume that they celebrate Christmas.  And I do not understand why wishing a stranger “Merry Christmas” is now considered singularly offensive—so offensive that the phrase is heard less often these days in public than the profanity that has come to characterize much of our entertainment and conversation.  (Indeed, television stations generally wish their viewers “Happy Hanukkah” and “Happy Kwanza” but offer only a bland “Happy Holidays” to their Christian viewers, even on December 25.)  Anyone wishing a stranger “Merry Christmas” is not only acting on the statistically well-justified assumption that the other person does celebrate Christmas but is offering the greeting as an expression of good will.  Most non-Christians are not multiculturalist zealots, and they understand this.

All news from the Christmas front is not bad.  I have continued to receive many favorable comments on my essay.  A Catholic parish in New Jersey distributed a copy of it as part of its Advent package, and several parishioners wrote to express their gratitude.  Another correspondent wrote that, “even though it seems a daunting task, I don’t intend to give up Christmas without a fight.”  And there are signs that more people are beginning to join this fight.  I have noticed columnists bemoaning the assault on Christmas, and even articles carrying the bad news that The Gap discourages its employees from mentioning Christmas have questioned the reasoning behind such directives.  Some Catholics have filed suit against the New York City schools, which allow the display of menorahs and the Muslim star and crescent but forbid Nativity scenes, according to the New York Post (December 11, 2002).

I remain confident that the great majority of Americans resent the assault on Christmas.  And as long as these Americans can be coaxed out of silence to fight for our traditions, this is one assault we can repulse.