What’s in a greeting?
With Ramadan, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Winter Solstice and Christmas all going on this time of year, one would think that an all-inclusive seasonal greeting emblematic of our nation’s religious diversity would be embraced by us all with two simple words — Happy Holidays!
However, the season’s greeting is the ongoing chapter in the culture war spearheaded in 2005 by what the Christian Right calls the “War on Christmas.”
Last month, the American Family Association (AFA) boycotted Gap, Inc. about the censorship of their use of the term “Christmas.” But Gap’s television advertising campaign actually acknowledged all celebrations this time of year with a song that said, “Go Christmas, Go Hanukkah, Go Kwanzaa, Go solstice… go Christmas, go Hanukkah, go whatever holiday you Wannakuh”
In October 2008 AFA criticized hardware retailer The Home Depot for using terms such as “holiday” and “Hanukkah” but not “Christmas.”
AFA is one of the nation’s watchdog organizations critiquing the censorship of the use of the term “Christmas” in media advertising. A conservative Christian organization headquartered in Tupelo, Mississippi AFA proudly boasts ”promoting the biblical ethic of decency in American society with primary emphasis on TV and other media.”
But AFA isn’t the only watchdog critiquing the censorship of the use of the term “Christmas.”
Owner of Boss Creations, Martha Boss, is doing her part when it comes to trees.
Not liking the use of the term “holiday trees” Martha’s attempt to put “Christ back into Christmas “ is a simple matter of how you decorate your tree.
“We at Boss Creations believe that one way to do this is to decorate with more Christian-themed holiday decorations including The CHRIST-mas Tree. We have figured a way to enhance the tradition of decorating a tree for Jesus at Christmas by adding a cross that acts as a reminder of Him. By changing our tree to include a cross, we are making a statement that we want to keep our Christmas holiday!”
The decorated evergreen coniferous tree that has come to be known as the Christmas tree began in 16th century Northern Germany. And Martin Luther, the 16th-century Protestant reformer, is the first to add lighted candles to the tree.
But traditions are hard to let go of or to modify or even to expand to include our present-day religious landscape. For example, in 2005 when Nova Scotian tree farmer Donnie Hatt gave Boston its tree, Hatt told the Boston Globe that he “would rather have put the tree in a wood chipper than have it named a ‘holiday’ tree… Ever since I was born, a tree was put up for Christmas, not for holidays, because if you’re going to do that you might as well put a tree up for Easter.”
Bill O’Reilly, the Fox News anchor, would agree with Hatt. And on his show O’Reilly has talked up boycotts of retailers for not using the words “Merry Christmas.”
In the 1970s, evangelical Christians were so outraged by the secularization and commercialism of Christmas that they were protesting to “put Christ back into Christmas.” But now members of the Religious Right have flipped the script and want more commercialism for Christ, thus extolling materialism as piety.
These boycotts have little to do with the reverence for Christ’s birth but rather it’s a backlash against the religious multiculturalism of the holiday season. These attacks by the Right on stores like Gap and Home Depot use their economic clout to cripple stores for not showing commercial deference to Christmas.
And truth be told, Christian conservation organizations like AFA and businesses like Boss Creations are on the hunt for whomever they perceive to be “Christian haters” and “professional atheists” and will boycott all stores for using “Happy Holidays” in their advertising.
The Right’s “war on Christmas” is against perceived “Christian haters” and “professional atheists”. However, their view does not include a look back at history to the folks who did ban Christmas — the Puritans. With the date of December 25 deriving from the Saturnalia, the Roman heathen’s wintertime celebration, and with the date found nowhere in the Bible stating it as the birthday of Jesus, the Puritan Parliament banned Christmas from 1659 until 1681.
As a Christian, I know that the central message of the birth of Christ for those like me who celebrate it is to embrace the celebration of human differences and diversity. And it is with this message that I know all people — religious and non-religious, straight and queer, black and white — can be included to enjoy and to celebrate and to acknowledge this season with one simple greeting.