Long before Bill O’Reilly and the far right began fighting the so-called War on Christmas, I was on the front lines.
Well the second row, anyway. It was around Thanksgiving, 1991 or 1992, and I was sitting with my family at my Uncle Albert’s funeral. I remember being pretty sad. After all, he was a really good, hardworking guy and a bit of a character. He always drank Pabst Blue Ribbon with copious amounts of salt in it. He and my dad would frequently pit their children against each other in athletic competitions; he was the first person I knew with a VCR, and he let me watch American classics like Blood Beach and Silent Night, Deadly Night. I really liked him and miss him to this day.
My Uncle Albert believed in God, and he had been going to a church with my aunt toward the end of his life. The preacher from that church presided over the service in a small funeral home in Salem, Ohio. I expected the perfunctory Protestant funeral lines: “He was a good man and good father,” “he’s in a better place,” Amen, let’s go to lunch.
Somewhere after “better place” and “Amen,” I heard those three words for the first time: War. On. Christmas. Now, before you go thinking that the preacher was a Tea Party guy before there were Tea Party guys, let me explain.
In recent years, the War on Christmas has been a term thrown around by the right wing to complain about the way liberals, atheists, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Taoists, pagans, druids and anyone who’s either not Christian or the “right kind of Christian” has been taking the Christ out of Christmas … or something like that; I have a hard time keeping track of all the stuff they’re pissed about. But this Bible-thumper was mad at liberals, and he thought my uncle’s funeral was a good time to share his feelings.
“Look at the faces of these children around you,” I clearly remember him saying, even though I was 19 at the time. “Let them know that death is not a thing to fear. There are greater things to fear than death; things that we welcome into our home without a second thought. Things that are stealing their attention away from our Lord and Savior JEEESUS!! There is a War on Christmas, and it is led by the man we call Santa!”
He then explained to us how if you manipulate the letters of Santa’s name you get Satan, followed by the classic: “Need I say more?”
I recalled this moment recently when this season’s War on Christmas kicked off with a ridiculous boycott of both Starbucks and Simon Malls. Starbucks released its new holiday cup — a plain red cup with the company’s green logo. In years past, the cup had snowmen or ornaments and other secular, seasonal designs. And over at Simon Malls (which owns both Ross Park and South Hills Village malls locally), they changed their live Santa habitat from traditional Christmas trees and ornaments and Santa’s workshop to a “Glacier Santa” display that sat Santa under a sterile-looking space-aged something or other, with not a Christmas tree in site.
It wasn’t long before the stormtroopers over at War on Christmas HQ went apeshit because the moves by Starbucks and Simon were an attack on their sacred traditions. Officials at Simon say they weren’t trying to be politically correct; it was just an idea that went horribly wrong and they were changing it back. (I’m not sure I believe it.) Starbucks is apparently standing strong, saying something about inclusiveness for all its customers.
And that’s how I started thinking about my Uncle Albert’s funeral. I thought the whole War on Christmas was about being offended at how people are saying “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” because, while a lot of people celebrate something this time of year, it might not be Christmas.
But even for those who complain about a War on Christmas, apparently, Jesus isn’t the only reason for the season. They’re not fighting a War on Christmas. They’re fighting a War on Santa Claus, snowflakes, Christmas trees (derived from a pagan ritual, by the way), elves, cookies, Black Friday and lightning deals from Amazon. I admit I’m not up on my Bible, but I don’t remember the part where Mary bought Jesus an Xbox.
They’re not fighting for their faith, they’re fighting for their traditions, but it feels somehow bigger if they frame it as an attack on religion. I mean, if you were really fighting to stop the War on Christmas, you wouldn’t be taking your kids to the mall to see Satan Claus in the first place, let alone care if he was sitting in a shitty display.