I first wrote about the War on Christmas in 2001, when Chronicles published my essay “Happy Holidays! Bah Humbug!: in the December 2001 issue. Peter Brimelow, the editor of VDARE.com, republished that essay. Since then, I have written at least one article each Christmas on the topic. What follows is the piece Peter Brimelow asked me to write this Christmas for VDARE.com, cross-posted here with permission and with the links inserted at VDARE.com.
My fellow War On Christmas chronicler, VDARE.com Editor Peter Brimelow, has identified nine phases of the War on Christmas stretching back more than two decades. Anno Domini (soon to be abolished?) 2015 followed the same pattern we have seen recently: trench warfare. Amazingly, we now have a GOP presidential contender who explicitly acknowledges the need for Americans to say “Merry Christmas.” But despite this, or probably because of it, those who want to efface the public celebration of Christmas made determined, if minor, new advances in 2015.
Those advances were noticed by Daniel Henninger of The Wall Street Journal and blogger Maureen Mullarkey, now writing at Rorate Caeli. Henninger, following a depressing trip on Fifth Avenue at Christmastime, glumly concluded that “This is the year Christmas died as a public event in the United States.” [The Year Christmas Died, December 23, 2015].
It is no surprise that Henninger could not locate a Nativity scene on what he described as “the historic heart of public Christmas” in America. But Henninger could not even find Santa Claus or his elves, either. Instead, Saks Fifth Avenue (email them) offered a tribute to hedonism it called “The Winter Palace” and Bergdorf Goodman gave shoppers and passersby “The Frosty Taj Mahal.” (Macy’s, the one holdout, featured A Charlie Brown Christmas.)
Of course, not all American streets are as hostile to Christmas as Fifth Avenue was this year, but Maureen Mullarkey encountered similar scenes elsewhere in the Northeast:
The consumerist Christmas machine is an easy target, but that is not what is worrisome. Rather, it is a growing embarrassment about Christmas, even hostility toward it…Even secular Christmas music went missing from stores this year…Individuals still greet each other with “Merry Christmas” but the words have dropped from the seasonal common stock of the broader culture. Shop clerks have been primed to jump on things by chirping “Happy holidays.”
[Post-Christmas Notes, January 3, 2016]
Many people saw what Starbucks calls its “red cup” as a prime example of this “growing embarrassment about Christmas.” But a cup offered by one of Starbucks’ competitors, Gloria Jean’s Coffee, seemed to me an even clearer example. Starbucks’ cup was devoid of words; this cup was emblazoned with words, all associated with Christmas, including “Ho Ho Ho,” “Jingle,” “Winter Wonderland,” “Calm & Bright,” and “Merry.” Conspicuous by its absence, though, was “Christmas.”
Obviously, some corporate bureaucrat had sent out a memo saying that any mention of the word “Christmas” was forbidden.
Despite regular Main Stream Media denials that there is a War on Christmas, we know that such memos are sent. This year, there were many stories about a member of the University of Tennessee’s “Office of Diversity and Inclusion” who issued a memo highlighting “best practices” to “ensure that your holiday party is not a Christmas party in disguise” and urging that such “holiday parties” have “no emphasis on religion or culture.” (See the archived list here—it’s been toned down under pressure.)
Yes, that is exactly what those waging war on Christmas want: an America with “no emphasis” on Christianity and Western culture—even though both were central to the founding of America.
Hollywood continued its own War on Christmas, with its release of The Night Before, a movie about how three friends observe every Christmas Eve by descending to debauchery. In one of the film’s central scenes, a character wearing a sweater emblazoned with a Star of David vomits in the central aisle of a church during Midnight Mass and yells at the crucifix above the altar “We did not kill Jesus!” As noted by Jeannie Law at the Christian Post, the actor featured in that scene, Seth Rogen, told the Sydney Morning Herald “you can make fun of Christians, they’re cool.” [Seth Rogen on why he could make fun of Christians in his Christmas movie The Night Before, by Jenny Cooney Carrillo, December 2, 2015]
Although Rogen also told the Australian paper that the intent of the movie was not to demean Christmas, this pro forma denial is hard to credit. As Christian Post’s Law notes, a favorable review of the movie by Bruce Kirkland of the Toronto Sun concluded that the movie “has no compunction about being offensive to anyone who is uptight about the true significance of Christmas,” and the Catholic News Service review was scathing: “A putrid stew of sacrilege and gross-out gags.” Soren Anderson, movie critic for The Seattle Times, wrote: “Worst Christmas movie ever? Possibly.”
Anyone who denies that there is a War on Christmas need only contrast garbage like The Night Before with the delightful Christmas movies Hollywood used to make in its golden age, such as Miracle on 34th Street, The Bishop’s Wife, It’s A Wonderful Life, Come to the Stable, and The Three Godfathers, to name a few.
As usual, this year also saw articles and columns decrying those of us resisting the War on Christmas. The Week featured a piece by Paul Waldman entitled, The War on Christmas is back! Here’s why this sorry spectacle never goes away. [November 10, 2015]. One of the reasons it doesn’t go away, according to Waldman, is that “the rest of us get to feel superior” to those who are worried about the assault on Christmas and “mock them for being so ridiculous.”
Although Waldman put himself in the camp of the mockers, he at least acknowledged that there has been a diminishment of the public celebration of Christmas i.e. yes, Virginia Dare, there is a War on Christmas and the Christophobes are winning. But no such concession came from The Washington Post’s Harold Meyerson, who wrote about The right’s war against the spirit of Christmas. [December 23, 2015].
Meyerson mocked concerns about the “Secular multiculturalists who, stealthily and nefariously, have somehow rendered Starbuck’s coffee cups a tad less festive” and informed his readers that the real war on the spirit of Christmas was being waged by “self-proclaimed culture warriors on behalf of traditional values, who demand we leave refugees . . . at the mercy of latter day Herods.” Meyerson was referring to opposition to resettling Moslem refugees from Syria in America, comparing their situation to the Holy Family’s flight to Egypt from Herod.
Of course, the Holy Family did not actually cross any international boundaries when they fled Bethlehem for Egypt; they simply went from one part of the Roman Empire to another. And they returned to Judea after Herod died–unlike today’s “refugees,” who never seem to go home.
Then there was Jonathan Merritt, who informed readers of The Atlantic that Your Christmas Nativity Scene Is a Lie. Attempts to debunk Christmas are a regular feature of the War on Christmas e.g. Bart Ehrman’s 2012 Newsweek cover story The Myths Of Jesus. Needless to say, non-Christian holidays do not get such MSM treatment.
Nativity scenes are lies, according to Merritt, because Jesus was not born in a stable, there were no animals at the first Christmas, the three wise men were not actually kings, and Jesus did not have European features. Much of Merritt’s article is reminiscent of the egregious misreporting of Benedict XVI’s book Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives that I wrote about in 2012. (See, for example, Pope’s book on Jesus challenges Christmas traditions, By Laura Spark-Smith, November 23, 2015.) Indeed, Merritt purports to quote Benedict as writing “In the gospels there is no mention of animals,” while ignoring the rest of what Benedict wrote:
The manger, as we have seen, indicates animals, who come to it for food. In the Gospel, there is no reference to animals at this point. But prayerful reflection, reading Old and New Testaments in the light of one another, filled this lacuna at a very early stage by pointing to Is: 1:3: ‘The ox knows its owner, and the ass its masters’ crib; but Israel does not know, my people does not understand’ . . . .Christian iconography adopted this motif at an early stage. No representation of the crib is complete without the ox and the ass.
Merritt also cites Edward Blum and Paul Harvey, authors of The Color of Christ, who claim that depictions of Jesus as white became “a cultural icon of white power.” It is clear from this that Merritt wants to paint traditional Nativity scenes as sinister.
But there is absolutely no reason to believe that contemporary support for “white power” is the driving force behind the historic artistic depiction of Jesus. As even Merritt admits: “Renaissance depictions of Jesus often cast him in a European light.” Continuity with the West’s great artistic tradition, not a belief in “white power,” explains why Nativity scenes look the way they do.
Merritt might just as well have titled his piece “The Louvre Is a Lie,” since every great museum of art is filled with masterful paintings of Jesus and Mary that Merritt would want his readers to regard as “lies.” Of course, without such masterful paintings, there scarcely would be a Western artistic tradition, since that tradition grew out of the religious paintings of such artists as Giotto and Duccio. But attacking the West’s artistic tradition is a small price to pay if it helps to erode people’s enjoyment of, and even belief in, Christmas.
(I certainly would not recommend that Merritt tour London’s National Gallery, which I had the pleasure of visiting this fall. During that visit, I was struck by the prevalence of paintings of the first Christmas in that wonderful collection, none of which would meet with Merritt’s approval).
Perhaps the most egregious example of the War on Christmas this year, though, was the Special that ABC used to introduce the fiftieth anniversary broadcast of Charles Schulz’ “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”
As I noted on VDARE.com three years ago, that great Christmas cartoon “does stand in the way of everything those waging War on Christmas aim to achieve: it mentions no holiday except Christmas, it features students in a public school putting on a play about the first Christmas, it includes Linus reciting Luke’s account of that first Christmas, and it ends with all the Peanuts singing ‘Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.’”
And ABC’s embarrassment was palpable. Host Kristen Bell began and ended the Special purportedly celebrating the cartoon’s fiftieth anniversary by saying, “Happy Holidays, everyone.” In the cartoon, by contrast, the Peanuts all shout, “Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown,” before Charlie Brown joins his friends in singing “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” None of the Peanuts ever say “Happy Holidays.” And even though the Special features footage of Charles Schulz telling an interviewer that Linus’ recitation of Luke’s account of the first Christmas “was the highlight of the show,” there is nothing in the rest of the special even hinting at what Linus said.
In fact, as PJ Media’s Tyler O’Neil pointed out, ABC featured Barack and Michelle Obama effectively denying what Linus said:
Michelle: “For half a century, people of all ages have gathered around the TV to watch Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus, and the rest of the gang, teach us the true meaning of Christmas.”
Obama: “They teach us that tiny trees just need a little love, and that on this holiday, we celebrate peace on earth and goodwill toward all.”
Michelle: “Because, as Linus knows, that’s what Christmas is all about.”[President Obama Leaves Christ Out of Christmas, December 4, 2014]
Actually, Linus tells Charlie Brown that “what Christmas is all about” can be found in Luke 2:8-14:
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
But no one who only watched the Special would find out that Christmas had anything at all to do with the birth of Jesus Christ.
Not all the news was grim on the Christmas front in 2015. The educational bureaucrats at the University of Tennessee were forced to back down in the face of widespread popular outrage. Some House Republicans introduced House Resolution 564 to defend the public celebration of Christmas.
And Jason Soroski penned a lovely meditation on A Charlie Brown Christmas for the Gospel Coalition, focusing on the fact that Linus drops his ever-present security blanket right when he quotes the angels as saying “Fear not” on that first Christmas night. [Just Drop the Blanket: The Moment You Never Noticed in A Charlie Brown Christmas, Crosswalk.com, December 14, 2015]
But 2015 was also a reminder that, even as popular resistance to the War on Christmas remains firm—just as it does to the abolition of America—our elites continue to disdain Christmas and, as Linus put it, “what Christmas is all about.”
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