Monday, December 12, 2005

The War on Christmas at Retail Price

It's been a bloody week in the War on Christmas. First, President Bush had the temerity to send a "Holiday" rather than "Christmas" card to friends and supporters. William Donohue, apoplectic lunatic and president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, said the irreligious card "clearly demonstrates that the Bush administration has suffered a loss of will and that they have capitulated to the worst elements in our culture." The First Lady's press secretary responded to charges of political correctness by noting that "President and Mrs. Bush, because of their faith, celebrate Christmas. Their cards in recent years have included best wishes for a holiday season, rather than Christmas wishes, because they are sent to people of all faiths" (emphasis added). Imagine that! Uniting, not dividing.

"Screw people of other faiths," say some crusaders for Christ. Take Bill O'Reilly speaking to a Jewish caller on his wildly, if inexplicably, popular The O'Reilly Factor on FOX News: "You have a predominantly Christian nation. You have a federal holiday based on the philosopher Jesus. And you don't wanna hear about it? Come on, [caller] — if you are really offended, you gotta go to Israel then." Yes, God bless Christian America!

The Christmas mujahideen were dealt another blow as well—this one from within the belly of the beast itself. A number of megachurches around the country announced that they would be canceling Christmas-day services "because they expect low attendance on what they call a family day."

So, if George Bush, an evangelical Christian, can send a holiday card and some evangelical megachurches can downplay the importance of attending church on Christmas, what's the big deal? What's behind the War on Christmas?

Salon.com ran a very interesting article on the history of the War on Christmas. It seems that the concept of Christmas under assault from the enemies of faith is not new. As early as 1921, noted anti-Semite Henry Ford "was sounding the alarm about the war on Christmas" in a tract called "The International Jew" (he was not in favor of such a Jew, by the way). In 1959, the John Birch Society—an ultra-right wing group deemed too loony to campaign for the ultra-right Barry Goldwater in 1964—led a campaign aimed at retailers and railing against the "godless UN." Now it's atheists and the ACLU, but little else has changed. John Gibson and his friends at FOX are just the latest manifestations of a long, if despicable, tradition.

Among the great ironies of the War on Christmas is that one of its major targets is the American retailer. Long accused of de-sanctifying Christmas due to over-commercialization, they are now seen as a possible bulwark against atheism—if only they would say "Merry Christmas." It's as if the religious right have given in to the holiday's commercialization, they just want to make sure it's their holiday that's being ruined rather than anybody else's. The folks at FOX News are trying to have their Christmas ham and eat it, too, by saturating the airwaves with War on Christmas propaganda while wringing their hands (as they did on FOX & Friends this morning) over the commercialization of the holiday.

Everything about this campaign is retail-oriented. The decision to close churches due to low attendance is a quintessential retail business decision. The only reason that stores like Wal-Mart and Target recognize Christmas in the first place is to capitalize on the huge business opportunity it represents. If the pro-Christmas crowd manages to get these stores' employees to wish people a "Merry Christmas," it will only be because there's a retail downside if they don't. What battle are the Christian soldiers fighting, here? And what's going to happen if they win? If they do, it may be good for ChristmasTM, but it won't do anything for Christ. Sadly, I don't think that's really the point.
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