The War on Pluralism Christmas

(cross-posted from the United States of Jamerica)

This is a little ridiculous (via Dara’s Google Reader feed):

Boss Creations, a new holiday decor company, has introduced the new “CHRIST-mas” Tree, featuring the unique trait of a trunk in the shape of a wooden cross. Company owner Marsha Boggs says the tree was specifically designed to counter the “war on Christmas.”

“When I became a Christian a few years ago,” says Boggs, “I was appalled by the secularization of the Christmas holiday. When retail stores started substituting ‘Happy Holidays’ for ‘Merry Christmas,’ and schools began calling their Christmas programs ‘Winter Plays,’ it all seemed ridiculous to me. That’s why we have created products that remind people what the Christmas season is really all about – the birth of Christ.”

The War on <strike>Pluralism</strike> ChristmasIt’s hilariously ironic that Boggs would use a Christmas tree as a means of combating the “war on Christmas.”  After all, the Christmas tree has distinctly pagan roots and stands mostly outside of Christian tradition.  Indeed, there was a time when Christmas itself was a controversial subject among Christians, many of whom wanted nothing to do with a celebration that hearkened back to the pagan festivals of old (if we’re going for accuracy, the Persian god “Mithras” is the real reason for the season).   If anything, Ms. Bogg’s Christmas tree has the opposite effect: it reminds me that early Christians were a fairly opportunistic bunch, and would happily co-opt pagan celebrations if it meant that they could save a few souls (see: Easter).

That aside, the yearly outrage over the “war on Christmas” reminds me of one of the things that really bothers me about contemporary conservative evangelicalism, namely, it’s tremendous hostility to religious pluralism.  “Happy Holidays” is a fundamentally inclusive greeting.  It’s a way of respecting non-Christian Americans and acknowledging the fact Christmas coincides with other religious holidays equally worthy of respect (like Hanukkah, for instance).  When someone wishes you “Happy Holidays,” they are saying something roughly the same as this: “I’m not sure what your religious beliefs are, but whatever they are, I hope you enjoy the holiday season as much as possible.”

This is the furthest thing from “offensive” that I can imagine, and yet, there are many Christians who are apoplectic about the change.  From what I can gather, the offense comes from the fact that they have to share the holiday.  It’s not enough that Christmas and Christianity are in every other way privileged above other religious celebrations, no, we have to actively avoid acknowledging the existence of other religions.  “Religious freedom” for them isn’t the right to practice as they see fit, it’s the “right” to banish every other religion from the public square, or something to that effect.  It probably isn’t my place to say this (since I’m not the ultimate arbiter of right belief, or something), but the stunning lack of charity and understanding inherent in this approach to other religions and other people strikes me as a pretty clear-cut example of what Jesus specifically asked us not to do.

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68 thoughts on “The War on Pluralism Christmas

  1. You are correct – if Christmas wasn’t celebrated for so long it wouldn’t overlap so many other holidays and we wouldn’t need “Happy Holidays”. So, I propose the following for proper Christian greetings:
    You may only wish someone “Merry Christmas” from Dec.25 until Epiphany.
    For three weeks before Christmas you may wish people “Awesome Advent!”
    “Io Saturnalia!” is to be used in all other instances because I said so.

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  2. One of the things that I find attractive about Christianity is its pluralism: its incorporation of elements from a plurality of very different religions and modes of thought. There’s an implicit recognition that truth cannot be possessed by human formula, system of thought, or action. Truth isn’t something anyone can possess. At best, we can hope to stand within its light.

    As for taking offense, I agree that the expression “Happy holidays,” especially with its explicit reference the sacred, is hardly offensive to Christianity, but then, while I wouldn’t go so far as to say that taking offense is itself a religion, it does seem to be a tradition practiced religiously.

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  3. “the stunning lack of charity and understanding inherent in this approach to other religions and other people strikes me as a pretty clear-cut example of what Jesus specifically asked us not to do.”

    Why is this stunning? Evangelicals are prone to do many things Jesus wouldn’t approve of. For one, torture:
    “White evangelical Protestants were the religious group most likely to say torture is often or sometimes justified — more than six in 10 supported it.”

    http://www.cnn.com/2009/US/04/30/religion.torture/

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  4. Jamelle, I’m new to this site, but I’m guessing that you’re not a conservative. In a non-political sense, the word “conservative” refers to preservation. It approaches society as it is, not from scratch. If we were starting a society from the ground up, I’d agree with your article. But the fact is that most Americans have a Christian cultural heritage. A generalization like “Happy Holidays” replaces a specific tradition. So we’re objecting to a loss of something.

    Also, it’s worth noting that people wish people “Happy Hanukkah” on Hanukkah, “Happy New Year” on New Year’s Day, and “Happy Holiday” on Christmas. When that happens, Christmas is relegated to a second-class holiday.

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    • Dude, when you say “Merry Christmas” to a Jewish guy or one of those New Atheists, expect to hear a lecture a lot longer than the one you hear from a Christian when you tell them “Happy Holidays”.

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      • But it would be worth it, just for the reaction, to tell an Evangelical “Happy Holidays,” and then, when hearing the inevitable sputtering about the War on Christmas, explain your actions by saying, “I thought you might be Jewish.”

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        • I have used that very explanation successfully to change the thinking of Evangelicals (several of them) who were bothered by me wishing them Happy Holidays. “Well, actually, it’s not that I’m anti-Christmas, it’s that I can’t tell by looking at someone what their religion might be.”

          They usually got mildly embarrassed and then stopped being upset.

          (One of these people was a relative but most of them were customers at the store where I worked for a decade.)

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    • I’m curious how many people actually use “Happy Holiday” ON Christmas. Earlier joking aside, I’m a “Happy Holidays” kind of person until it actually is Christmas, at which point I say “Merry Christmas” because it is actually Christmas. I’ve always understood that “Happy Holidays” was the replacement for the seasonal greeting and not for the holiday itself.

      And if you are arguing against the cultural replacement of the “Christmas season” with the “Holiday season”, you’re replacing a retail created piece of culture anyways so it shouldn’t be a concern. Why should anyone care that businesses are no longer pandering just to your religion? Its the cultural equivalent of New Coke.

      Oh, and Uplifting Ascension, everyone! (Wait, that was yesterday.)

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      • Most recent scholarship suggests that Mithraic worship had no public festivals.

        Furthermore the Saturnalia is distinct from the “festival of natalis Invicti”, which I think is what you’re referring to with the Sun gods line. I’ve seen others confuse these two Roman holidays; very different things happened on them. “Natalis Invicti” was a fairly minor holiday.

        Good references to start with include:

        Hijmans, Steven (2003), “Sol Invictus, the Winter Solstice, and the Origins of Christmas”, Mouseion 3 (3): 377-398

        Beck, Roger (1987), “Merkelbach’s Mithras”, Phoenix 41 (3): 296-316

        If you don’t have journal access, I can download and email.

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    • “The claim that December 25th was a Mithraic holiday is almost wholly without support”? Hum… The Catholic Encyclopedia itself credit’s Mithra’s Winter Festival (The Nativity of the Unconquered Sun) as claiming a strong responsibility for the December 25th date for Christmas. That’s pretty good support. Then you can go into the history of Constantine, etc.

      If you are interested in understanding more, please read chapter 5 in my book “Santa-tizing: What’s wrong with Christmas and how to clean it up.” It’s available on Amazon. Having researched everything Christmas for over 10 years, I believe that you will be intrigued and enlightened.

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  5. To me, “Happy Holiday” isn’t offensive but it does relegate Christmas to a second-class holiday when the majority of the people in the US are Christians. I’m tired of there being such concern over over hurting other peoples feeling. If you really want to talk about a made up holiday let’s talk about Kwanzaa.

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    • Those damn people in the minority wanting to be treated with respect and all. Shouldn’t they just accept Christians are then majority so they get to be treated like the first class people.

      Zoroaster is the reason for the season.

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  6. Religious pluralism? I don’t see anyone being prevented from celebrating whatever they choose. However, Christmas is still the holiday celebrated by most people here, as Scott pointed out, and I see nothing wrong with a hearty “Merry Christmas!” instead of the pale and intentionally vague “Happy Holidays.” One of the reasons I give money to Salvation Army bell ringers is that I know they will greet me with a Christmas-specific response. Of course, I’m sure some “secular rights” group will soon try to get a court order barring them from expressing something “religious” in public. Good heavens.

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    • HistoryStudent-
      As a Catholic, I of course am not offended by “Merry Christmas” either.
      However, this entire discussion reveals what I see as an unattractive thin-skin of the Christians.
      Mostly because we are so dominant in this culture, to feign victimhood and wail about how we are being mistreated is not only false, it is the no-so-clever trick of placing others- relilgious minorities- in our debt, the same way that the race card has been used to induce white guilt.
      I agree that Happy Holidays is a pale fiction, a generic device created by commerce to as not to exclude any potential shoppers. Its the “Dear [Occupant]” form of greeting.
      But that brings up the point- what is this all revolving around? Are we talking about how family member greet each other at gatherings? how co-workers speak to each other around the water cooler?
      This is all about commerce, and how the commercial world deals with a religious holiday. It strikes me as absurd to hear lectures about how Happy Holidays is perverting the spirit of Christ’s birth, yet Best Buy’s Christmas Eve Madness Sale does not.
      I say this in all seriousness- if Christians want to preserve the meaning of the season, we should refuse to buy anything and instead focus on a solemn and prayerful celebration. It is worth noting that in earlier times, it was the Puritans who most fiercely waged war on Christmas for this very reason. They would be appalled to see Christmas tree crosses on sale in the village market.

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      • I’m not wailing about it. I’m just noting that I don’t find persuasive the perspective of Jamelle’s original article.

        I certainly agree that Christmas has become too commercial, but hand in hand with the increased commerciality has been the tendency of more to want to secularize it with bland and neutral greetings such as “Happy Holidays”. And while you are right that it is a device that businesses believe will increase their sales by being inclusive, it has resulted in turning some business away as certain Christians resolve not to buy where only Happy Holidays prevails in banners and in clerks’ farewells.

        For myself, Christmas is more a religious time than a commercial one, although I don’t spurn gift-buying or giving entirely. But I cherish going to church and the family time with which Christmas gifts me. I would be happy if it became even more about Christ’s birth and less about commercial excess. I would also be very grateful if commerce would restrain itself until at least after Thanksgiving before its Christmas push. And, from a religious perspective, I like the Advent season, which, outside of church (and not all of those) has all but disappeared in the Christmas glut of materiality.

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  7. What is it about this “War on Christmas” thing? I never hear anyone complain about being told “Merry Christmas,” or “Happy Holidays,” ever, in real life. It’s like cable tv, talk radio and blogs have access to some Worlds-o-Warcraft place in another world that I just can’t see. It’s probably the same place where people who ride bikes and drive cars never overlap and hunt one another or sport. Or where people who learn better from whole language rather than phonics must destroy their evil doppelgangers, and vise-versa.

    I mean, everyone here is aware that this ceases to be an issue the moment we stop fretting about it, right?

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  8. The issue is not that Happy Holidays has replaced “Merry Christmas”. The issue is that the secular members of society, in conjunction with those who tend to lean to the left have made a concerted attempt to remove all references of Christmas from our vocabulary, if not from society as a whole.

    While it is perfectly acceptable to wish someone Happy Hanukkah or Happy Kwanzaa, it has become politically incorrect to state or display the words Merry Christmas, which is an affront to Christianity and discriminatory in nature.

    I have no issue whatsoever with anyone using the phrase “Happy Holidays”, yet I can not help but to take extreme exception to any attempt to stifle my right to say “Merry Christmas”, and stifling those rights is exactly what has been happening in this country for quite some time now.

    As a society, we have become a bunch of candy-asses who pander to the lowest common denominator out of fear of being labeled racist, bigotted or worse yet, “insensitive” to the plight of minorities.

    This is America, Home of the Brave, Land of Free, where countless young men and women have made the ultimate sacrifice to enable us all to live free and practice the religion of our own choosing. While I have no desire to stop any other religion from celebrating their holidays in whatever mannner they choose, I am sick and tired of those who believe they have the right to tell me that I can not celebrate my religion the way I see fit.

    Just yesterday, a flyer was posted in the lobby of my apartment building that stated very boldly, “Happy Holidays”. It then went on to give the dates and times of the Kwanzaa Celebration; the Hanakkuh Celebration, and finally, the “Cookies and Egg Nog Party”.

    I’m a Christian. I celebrate the birth of Christ, not the consumption of cookies and egg nog, and I will be moving out of my apartment building as a result of management’s decision to relegate the Holiest of MY holidays to the level of a pre-school break-time activity.

    It’s not about suppressing the rights of non-Christians… it’s about protecting the rights of Christians.

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    • I was always under the general impression that if one were to rank the holidays by how holy they are, Easter is well above Christmas.

      Maybe this is a simple question but if you care this much about it, why don’t you throw a Christmas themed party for the Christians (and interested other parties) isn’t moving a bit extreme?

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    • What? Where?

      Look, I’m not saying that in a country of 300 Mil there aren’t ANY people who don’t want to make Merry Christmas illegal. Just like I’m sure there aren’t some people who support NAMBLA.

      But this idea of all secular people, marching down the street with torches and pitchforks, looking to make the mere utterance of the word “Christmas” a legally punishable offense, it just doesn’t exist. Trust me! I’m a secular, I have a lot of secular friends, we live in Portland-Fucking-Oregon, and we all celebrate Christmas! And, I swear to all that is good and holy, it’s really OK with us if you do too.

      The folks that have been telling you we want you give up Christmas Trees, and stockings, and believing in the baby Jesus… well, they’ve kind of got their wires a bit crossed, or something. Because it’s really OK! We WANT you to have a great Christmas! We even want to join you in a glass of mulled wine.

      Here’s a good tip for things like this ahead. If someone who isn’t secular tells you we’re trying to destroy your way of life, come ask us. We’ll be straight with you , I promise. Like, if you decide to make a law that Jews can’t hold public office? I’ll tell ya right now, we’ll have a problem with that.

      But we don’t hate Christmas. Stop listening to people who tell you we do.

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      • Personally, if these people are going to get militant, I’d like them to give back the tree. It’s not Christian. Quit using it. Keep to the mangers and St. Nick.

        (Went to school in Portland. It’s by far my favorite city.)

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    • Yes, for Christ sake throw your own party and have management put you on the official flyer. I don’t care if you wish others a “Merry Christmas”, just don’t assume I want to hear about it.

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  9. I do wish the army against Christmas was better organized. Okay, so the store greeters don’t say “Merry Chirstmas” anymore. They still play that fucking music for two months straight! If I never had to hear Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree again, it would be worth all the countless lives that are being lost on the battlefields around Wal-Mart.

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  10. The irony of ironies in all of this is the origin of the phrase “Happy Holidays.” It’s not some secular greeting created to appease the cash wielding masses; it’s a corruption of Happy Holy Days referring to the plethora of Christian feasts that traditionally fell between Christmas and Epiphany (though gift giving for the circumcision of Christ or the Slaughter of the Holy Innocents never really took off the same way).

    To claim in modern American society that because you do not hear your holiday greeting of choice in the marketplace you are somehow persecuted is laughably thin skinned. It’s also offensive to hold out such hurt feelings as “persecution” when Christians around the world truly are imprisoned, tortured or worse for practicing their faith. America is a religiously pluralistic society and our capitalist market responds to that by trying to entice as many buyers to the market place as possible. If that means using the greeting “happy holidays” who cares? How does what you hear in the marketplace affect how you celebrate your religious holiday?

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  11. I refuse to shop anywhere that doesn’t wish me a happy soltice. Looks like I’ll be spending a lot of money at the Gap this year.

    I think people often mix up individual personal expression of faith with public/govt supported promotion of a specific religion. I’m all for you turning your front yard into a living nativity scene or electro light up Jesus land. But I don’t want city hall doing it – that endorsing one religion – the govt telling the public that Christianity is the “right” religion to follow. That’s just not right.

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  12. Indeed, there was a time when Christmas itself was a controversial subject among Christians, many of whom wanted nothing to do with a celebration that hearkened back to the pagan festivals of old (if we’re going for accuracy, the Persian god “Mithras” is the real reason for the season).

    I hate to be all historical, but there was no Persian god named Mithras. There was Mithra, who is not the same deity. Scholars have dismantled the old idea that Mithras and his cult originated in Persia. Also, December 25th is not the traditional birthday of Mithras, although that supposedly took place in winter. It was the dies solis invicti – the Day of the Unconquered Sun, who was not, in fact, Mithras, although some people still try and make this very forced identification.

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