• Picking a fight
    December 18,2012

    These are difficult times, for reasons too numerous to recite, but we are now into the holiday season and the air is filled with traditional songs of the season — many of them extremely popular Christmas carols — as we grasp the seemingly universal hope that we can all safely pause to exchange gifts and glad tidings.

    Yes, it’s that time of year again. But, egged on by Fox News and other conservatives, Americans are being encouraged — it has become an annual campaign — to believe there’s a “war on Christmas” that’s designed, with something like heresy in mind, to turn the annual yuletide observance into a strictly nonreligious activity.

    To wish a colleague “happy holidays” is to risk being accused of trying to drive Christ out of Christmas. If a business wishes its customers “happy holidays,” shoppers might be encouraged to take their custom elsewhere to show their disdain for its insensitivity to “the real meaning of Christmas.”

    In particular, the American Family Association has called on shoppers to steer clear of Old Navy and the Gap because these two national chains are not using the word “Christmas” in their seasonal advertising. The association accuses them of doing that out of their zeal for political correctness. That they might not want to risk alienating those whose religious beliefs do not coincide with Christian theology is not considered, apparently, a valid excuse.

    The “war on Christmas” is by no means confined to the business community. Rachel N. Schnepper, who teaches history at Washington and Lee University, observed in a recent New York Times essay that parents are criticizing schools “for diminishing Christmas celebrations by giving equal time to Hanukkah and Kwanzaa.” Also, she noted, “the Catholic League used to have a Christmas ‘watch list’ for naming and shaming ‘Christmas kill-joys’ who are part of the grand conspiracy.”

    But Schnepper helpfully reminds us that it was the very first Americans, having fled religious persecution overseas, who sought to keep Christmas from becoming a time of worship.

    “On their first Christmas in the New World, the Pilgrims at Plymouth Colony celebrated the holiday not at all,” Schnepper noted. “Instead they worked in the fields. One year, the colony’s governor, William Bradford, yelled at visitors to the colony who, unaware that Christmas was celebrated more in the absence than in the commemoration, were taking the day off. He found them ‘in the streete at play, openly; some pitching the barr, and some at stoole-ball, and shuch like sports.’ After that incident, no one again tried to take off work for Christmas in the colony.”

    The Puritans in the Massachusetts Bay Colony actually outlawed the celebration of Christmas, noting that from 1659 to 1681, those who were caught actually celebrating the holiday in the colony would be fined five shillings, she added.

    “Well into the 18th century, those who attempted to keep the tradition of wassailing alive in New England often found themselves arrested and fined,” she continued. “Indeed, the Puritan War on Christmas lasted up to 1870, when Christmas became a legally recognized federal holiday. Until then, men and women were expected to go to work, stores were expected to remain open, and many churches did not even hold religious services.”

    “In America, our oldest Christmas tradition is, in fact, the War on Christmas,” she concluded.

    Here’s an idea: Let the millions who prefer to observe what has become the traditional Christmas do so. They do no harm and perhaps much good. But let’s ignore the cynical demagoguery about a false “war on Christmas.”

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