It’s the beginning of December and for many it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Many families will come together to watch their favorite claymation Christmas specials on chilly evenings, curled up with hot chocolate, while throngs of other families will crowd malls and stores to find the perfect gifts for their loved ones. Trees will go up in every store, Santa will make appearances, and families will purchase an array of Christmas decorations to bring out their Christmas spirit. Yes, it truly is beginning to look a lot like Christmas.
For some however, it’s beginning to look a lot less like Christmas, and many have now come to fight against what has been known as “The War On Christmas”. This war has long been under siege for those against secularization of the holiday, since the 1920's in fact, when Henry Ford first used the term in anti-Semitic propaganda to alert the masses that Jews around the country were attempting to rid the public of Christmas. The idea continued into the 50’s when fear of secularization began a widespread panic among the faithful that outsiders from foreign entities were attempting to rid the world of Christianity and replace it with a worship of the United Nations. Today these fears continue to thrive, as just last year Starbucks came under fire for their minimalist holiday-themed cups, their lack of overt Christmas imagery just further evidence for many that this war on Christmas is alive and well.
But is there truly a war on Christmas, as so many have claimed?
For quite some time, I had the privilege of ignoring this battle as a Christian woman, as I never truly cared about the issue either way. Growing up with two parents from two very different Christian denominations, races, cultures, and political backgrounds, trying to find common ground to make as many people as happy as possible seemed very reasonable. However, I could understand the argument of those who fought against secularization as well. As a girl who was raised to love Jesus above all other things, what could it possibly hurt to have him more involved in our public lives? I had never personally been discouraged from celebrating my Christian faith in public, but perhaps people were trying to discourage Christianity or trying to take Christmas away. I didn’t really concern myself too much however, as I just went about my Christmas celebrations and took any "Merry Christmas" and "Happy Holidays" with a grain of salt. How did this fight really affect me anyways?
And then one year life happened, and I decided to convert to Judaism in the American South.
As I went from store to store searching for any sign of a menorah or Hanukkah candles, I was met with constant looks of confusion from store employees, almost everyone having to tell me that they didn’t carry Hanukkah merchandise of any kind. One employee even asked me “Why would we carry Hanukkah stuff?” When I replied “Hanukkah is coming up, so I was hoping you’d have something here” he quickly stated “Yeah...but it’s Christmas though.” This was confusing to me, as it had never been this hard to find anything for Christmas, in fact Christmas decorations of all kinds, both secular and religious, were found with ease. I was met with Santa Clauses, manger scenes, Christmas trees and snowmen in every store I walked into, but after a long search I could only find 2 stores that carried any semblance of Hanukkah merchandise, and what they had barely filled an endcap. I lived in a large military town, how could so few stores be willing to carry anything for Hanukkah? After a long search for a menorah, I was finally able to celebrate my first Hanukkah by lighting the candles and placing my menorah near a window, as per religious tradition. My mother strongly advised me against so openly celebrating the holiday, however. "I don't want to give anyone a reason to target the house", she stated.
I had never been afraid to openly celebrate a holiday before. Everyone I had ever known celebrated Christmas very openly each year, so it was never necessary to keep it a secret. In fact, no one had ever advised me against even telling others what my religious affiliation was, and yet now during the holiday season I was advised to lie or not mention it at all due to the hatred that lived in the hearts of others. When statistics show that 56.8% of religious based hate crimes in 2014 were against those of the Jewish faith, my mother's fears were not unfounded. Even when it came to something simple such as days off from classes and work to celebrate the holidays, I realized that there was no guarantee I would be off for my own religious holiday due to it not being on a set date as Christmas is, while it was a fact of life there would be no classes or work during Christmas every single year. These were privileges that I had never recognized I held as a Christian before, but because of this privilege I had the ability to ignore this very important conversation on religion in America. It was only after living my life as a newly converted Jew, and recognizing this privilege I once held during the holiday season, that I truly realized I could no longer be neutral in this “War On Christmas” issue. The truth was there was never a war on Christmas in the first place, simply a war on trying to keep any “otherness” away from the privileged position that Christmas clung tight to.
When Pew Research found that 9 in 10 Americans celebrate Christmas, of course it is not surprising that more stores would carry Christmas merchandise over any other kind. However, in this same line of logic, if over 70% of Americans affiliate themselves with some form of Christianity and two-thirds of all those who celebrate Christmas have a religious aspect to their celebration, Christians in America are not being discriminated against during the Christmas season for the simple fact that they are the majority and catered to during this time. When one is guaranteed time off for a sacred holiday, when stores are overflowing with merchandise that cater to a holiday, when television has a torrent of representation for a holiday from both secular and religious aspects of its celebration, when one can openly celebrate without any fear for one's life, there is no war on that particular holiday. What those who see it as such are asking is for it to be the only holiday, and that is a very different thing. When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression, but the fact is it’s really not. The Christian blogger “The Boeskool” explained it best when he stated:
“Equality can FEEL like oppression. But it’s not. What you’re feeling is just the discomfort of losing a little bit of your privilege...The same discomfort that an only child feels when she goes to preschool, and discovers that there are other kids who want to play with the same toys as she does.”
When schools and stores use the phrase “Happy Holidays”, they are simply trying to be a bit more inclusive during a time when many religions, including Christianity, and many different cultures that are not as well represented in this country, also have celebrations that are important to them. Due to the fact that America is not a Theocratic nation, but instead a democratic nation that takes pride in its ability to uphold human rights for all, including the important human right of religious freedom, it would only make sense that some form of inclusivity would be utilized. No one is trying to take Christmas away due to the words from anyone just because "Happy Holidays" is used more often than "Merry Christmas", just as I’m sure the lack of Hanukkah merchandise in stores is not a way for someone to take my faith or celebrations away from me. As someone who practices Judaism, my faith is not threatened by Christianity and I would hope that a Christian’s faith is not threatened by mine. All religions have the right to exist in this space, even if the only thing we are really sharing is a term that brings us together for a time of celebration, such as "Happy Holidays". Christmas may always be bigger in the states, but that doesn’t mean the rest of us would not like an opportunity to sit at the table so we may celebrate with you. My menorah does not steal the shine away from my very Christian family's Christmas tree, just as their Christmas tree and manger scenes do not take away from the shine of the candles in my menorah. We can all take joy in this season even if we do not share each other's celebrations. So let’s put this myth of “The War On Christmas” to rest, and begin to celebrate each other during this glorious season.
Yes, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, but now it’s beginning to look a lot like Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Yule and maybe even Festivus too. Whatever you celebrate, I hope it’s happy and filled with love. Let's coexist in peace.
Happy Holidays to all.