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If I was to list the things I hate about Christmas, that list might well include Black Friday, bland food, and blander music. Jesus isn’t on that list. Oh, I know that I’m supposed to be working hard to get the Christ out of Christmas, at least according to certain talking heads, because that’s just what atheists do. But seriously, it would never occur to me to try and scratch Baby Jesus out of this holiday.

…mainly, because Jesus isn’t a big part of Christmas to begin with.

Yes, I understand American Atheists did a snarky Billboard. With that and a pickle, they’d still be one sandwich short of a lunch plate. Some of us will laugh (I know I did), but this is hardly a credible threat to the Prince of Peace. And seriously, atheist kids can’t be the only ones hoping to skip church for Christmas.

Schaedenfreude for All!

Schaedenfreude for All!

…if you think about it, they probably aren’t all that worried about it.

The annual fake war on Christmas is always entertaining. When folks find ‘Happy Holidays’ offensive or suspect an entire agenda behind use of the infamous X in ‘Xmas’, I can’t help but laugh. But I like to remind myself when the explicit reasoning people use makes no sense whatsoever, that’s usually because it isn’t the one guiding their actual thought process.

I figure the war on Christmas is primarily good marketing for right wing pundits, and apparently for Kirk Cameron. Near as I can tell, Cameron has never really outgrown his character on Growing Pains, but the culture wars certain do provide him with plenty of grist for the still-vapid mill. This year he’s working the Christmas angle. …meh! Anyway, the war on Christmas does two things near as I can tell; it helps Christian conservatives misrepresent the battle over civic religious pronouncements, and it helps those same Christians rally the faithful by wagging the dog, so to speak.

savingchristmas_smI know, I’m mixing my metaphors, yes, but what the Hell do you expect from a Godless bastard?

The battle over civil religion has been driven by concerns about the entanglement of religion in public institutions. This is not an effort to drive God entirely from the public sphere, nor is it an effort to enshrine atheism in that sphere. The question is simply whether or not government facilities ought to be making any kind of explicit religious expressions, whether it be a copy of the Ten Commandments or a Manger scene.

Now I’m not entirely sold on the value of opposing every cross, prayer, or hand-made sign with religious sentiments that makes an appearance on public property, but every time I’m tempted to support a compromise on these issues, some joker from the religious right (or ten of them) makes it a point to suggest those reflect the true Christian nature of this country. …and what seemed possibly harmless then becomes a great big power grab that needs answering immediately.

In any event, those defending use of public institutions for explicitly religious expressions have some real questions to answer about how this squares with the establishment clause, and near as I can tell most of the culture warriors are too busy generating narratives that bypass the whole problem. The War on Christmas is just such a narrative. As long as every challenge to a public display of Jesus in the manger counts as part of an effort to crush the joy of Christmas, the Christian right will never have to address the constitutionality of its public agenda. People will be too busy saving Christmas from godless grinches.

…just like in a television sitcom.

Vintage Christmas

Vintage Christmas

The larger and deeper misdirection here is also simpler. (It’s a multi-layered misdirection, really it is!) Jesus has been a rather minor theme in the actual celebration of Christmas for most of modern history. Sure, children sing the occasional Silent Night in a Christmas pageant, but they also sing Jingle Bells. Were I a believer, I wouldn’t want to take bets on which one gets a bigger round of applause from the audience. But that’s just the tip of the pagan pine bough. The fact is that Christ is always playing catch-up with His own holiday, and last I checked, he was well behind the marketing professionals on this one.

These days I hear a lot of people talking about putting the Christ back in Christmas, as if simply saying the phrase ‘Merry Christmas’ would provide them with a real victory. The fact of the matter is, though, that people have been saying ‘Merry Christmas’ for generations without meaning much more than ‘Yippee, presents!’ or ‘Hope you get a good bonus.’ Hell, even the more profound messages of giving and family togetherness are as easily embraced in secular circles as those of the truest of the True Christians™. The right wing culture warriors know this and they want to change it, or at least they want to be seen trying to change it.

Whatever else the war on the ‘war on Christmas’ is, it’s also a means of investing the phrase ‘Merry Christmas’ with a new and more politically aggressive meaning. It effects that investment by conjuring an enemy, so when you say ‘Merry Christmas’ now, you aren’t just wishing people a nice glass of egg-nog. Hell, you aren’t even just telling them to celebrate the birth of Jesus or wishing them all the blessings the Prince of Peace could possibly bring. When you say it now, you’re pissing off an atheist (or even a liberal Christianl), and nothing says you love Jesus more than pissing off an atheist (or a liberal)!

Good fun for all!

Only, most of us aren’t all that bothered by the phrase. Hell I say ‘Merry Christmas’ as often as I say ‘Happy Holidays.’ When I did a brief stint at a Jewish private school, I said ‘Happy Holidays’ more often, but that certainly wasn’t about pissing off any Christians. When my Jewish colleagues said ‘Happy Holidays’ to me, they were showing far more compassion and tolerance than the right wingers pushing this fake war can possibly imagine. None of this strikes me as expressing animosity toward those saying “Merry Christmas.” Anyway, I don’t think I’m unusual in this regard. The phrase “Merry Christmas” just isn’t a problem for most unbelievers, and certainly not liberals in general, at least not when Bill O’Reilly isn’t writing the script.


Coke, another “reason for the season.”

The real threats to the religious perspectives on Christmas have never been secularists; they have been the myriad pleasures of worldly ways. The threats have been train-sets and iphones, bicycles, and Barbie-dolls, well-spiked punch-bowls at office parties, gaudy lights, and near riots at the local Walmart. It’s these things that compete with Jesus for our attention on December 25th, and quite frankly, it isn’t atheists that are pushing them on people. It’s good old-fashioned American capitalism, and let’s be honest, Christian conservatives are hardly interested in fighting a battle against corporate capitalism. So, they’ve conjured up a scape-goat. This way they get to have their stale gingerbread and eat it too. Through the ‘war on Christmas’ Christian conservatives can pretend to fight for the spiritual significance of their holiday all the while going right along with the very practices that keep turning the conveniently imagined birthday of Christ into a hollow and impious event.

Don’t laugh; it works folks!

I can’t be the first or even the thousand and first scaped goat to complain about this little gambit, but well, it’s a white Christmas up here in the arctic, and I’d rather gripe than go outside. Plus, I’m an atheist. I’m supposed to be grumpy and grinchy. Some days I am happy to oblige.

Oh yeah, there’s one more thing.

Merry Christmas everybody!