Back in the early 2000s, the Fox News Channel was obsessed with the so-called “war on Christmas.” I made several appearances on Fox shows trying to set the record straight – always a challenge on that network.
The Christmas warriors often didn’t have the basic facts right. I remember one case where a public school was accused of banning the colors red and green in December. I called the principal, who was clearly exasperated. There was simply no truth to the story, the principal told me, pointing out the school’s official color was green.
Fox host Bill O’Reilly, a big booster of the war on Christmas claims, was dropped by the network in 2017 following allegations of sexual harassment. After that, Fox largely lost interest in this imaginary war and moved on to other things. Of course, then-President Donald Trump had picked up the cause, making the ridiculous claim that he paved the way for people to say “Merry Christmas” again – as though anyone who wanted to offer that greeting had ever stopped.
I’ve often wondered why so many people got caught up in it in the first place. No one ever tried to stop private citizens from celebrating Christmas as a religious holiday, so what’s the big deal? Why turn a season of peace into a “war”?
Kate Cohen, a Washington Post columnist, ruminated on this question recently, and I think got it right: The Christmas crusaders were really upset over inclusivity.
Cohen, explaining why she uses the term “Happy Holidays,” writes, “When I wish strangers ‘Happy Holidays’ instead of ‘Merry Christmas,’ it’s a battle cry. 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 took to calling these opponents of inclusivity, the people who were so obsessed with how others celebrated Christmas (or whether they celebrated it at all), the “Christmas Police.” They were absolutely certain there was only one proper way to celebrate in December: theirs!
What the Christmas Police really fear is a changing America. They fret that they might have to share some of their power with others. They want America to stay like it was when they were young, even though that America – all too often racist, xenophobic, misogynistic and homophobic – didn’t work for so many of our fellow citizens.
Our country’s changing demographics, where growing numbers of the population boldly lay claim to the religious freedom guaranteed by our First Amendment and craft a spirituality outside of houses of worship (or abandon faith entirely), scare the Christmas Police.
We know now that Christian Nationalist claims of a war on Christmas were never about saving cherished holiday traditions. Those aren’t going away for anyone who wants them. The Christmas Police were always about force, control and maintaining a power hegemony they just assumed they’d hold forever.
At the end of her column, Cohen writes, “I get that it’s destabilizing to lose your monopoly on the culture.” Indeed, for Christian Nationalists this has been a bitter pill. And while their current lock on the Supreme Court may enable them to score some culture war wins in the years to come, the ultimate victory is not theirs. The powerful forces that have been unleashed in America of inclusion, pluralism and diversity – all of which are fostered and protected by separation of church and state – will carry the day.
That’s quite a gift. Feel free to open it early.
P.S. “The Wall of Separation” will be on hiatus until next year. Happy Holidays, everyone!