Here we go again! It’s not even Halloween and a gauntlet has been thrown down. The underpinning is the greeting “Merry Christmas.” A bit early for this, one might think.
The notion of a War on Christmas has therefore been politicized beyond all previous boundaries. In this particular year, the issue has gained national prominence bandied about during both the run-up to the presidential election of last year and now as a hallmark to a divisive political agenda. Poisoned rhetoric has distorted and amplified holiday greetings and decorations into acrimonious and divisive political statements. The all-inclusive phrase “Happy Holidays” has been transmuted into an insult to Christianity.
So, let’s take a look at this issue from an historical perspective.
For many years, debates centered on the what has been termed the “Christmas Wars” have taken place somewhat obscurely on socially, politically and religiously conservative talk radio and cable programs. Regardless of which strategies Jews in America have employed to face Christmas, most Americans remained largely unaware of the internal December debates taking place within Jewish communities throughout the United States. However, the cumulative effect of questioning the role of Christmas in America by Jews for over one hundred years increasingly helped the population at large to understand that not everyone celebrates Christmas. As minority groups immigrated in increasingly larger numbers to the United States and brought with them various religious traditions, Americans in leadership positions within local municipalities, school districts and public schools became more sensitive to those who felt excluded from Christmas festivities. Municipalities and public schools, in becoming more aware of diversity, neutralized the holiday celebration so as not to offend Americans with differing religious traditions. By the early twenty-first century, instead of wishing one another a “Merry Christmas,” for example, Americans began to wish each other “Happy Holidays.” School programs and concerts began to be referred to as winter celebrations rather than Christmas festivals. Office parties took on the moniker of holiday party rather than Christmas party.
By the second decade of the twenty-first century, despite vocal assertions by certain conservative religious and political groups that America should be considered a Christian nation, most American citizens had come to accept the reality that Christmas was not the only December holiday that should be accorded national recognition. With this realization came an acknowledgment that certain accommodations would have to be made to allow other religious symbols to join those of Christmas in the public domain, particularly when those symbols also reinforced American values. Seventy-five years ago, it was songwriter Irving Berlin who taught the American people, through the ever popular song White Christmas, that the country’s goal in celebrating Christmas was not to practice religion but to employ its symbols to promote American ideals of home, family, freedom, and patriotism. Certainly, both Christmas and Hanukah now accomplish this goal for many Americans.
As Michael Che succinctly rejoined on the “Weekend Update” on Saturday Night Live (aired on October 14, 2017): “When we say ‘Happy Holidays’ we’re not attacking Christmas, we’re saying ‘All Holidays Matter.’ ”