The War on Christmas 2021
Merry Christmas to everybody!! Will Santa Bring Bullets?
The photo is a seasonal message from an American family that seems proud to present themselves armed to their teeth in a group Christmas greeting posted online recently, not long after the November 30 mass-shooting murders at a high school in Oxford, Michigan. The grinning paterfamilias in this festive photo is U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie, a Republican congressman from a district in northern Kentucky who has, incidentally, sponsored bills to abolish the U.S. Department of Education and the Environmental Protection Act. Massie is a product of the Tea Party. Massey has captioned this family photo this way:
PS Santa, Please Bring Ammo!
The photo ignited some Internet fury, but Massie said in an interview on a conservative radio program that he has no intention of taking it down. He said, “I crossed guns with family and Christmas, and those are three things that really could trigger the leftists, and I didn’t realize that it would be such an explosive cocktail when you put it together. But it adds up to freedom.”
Massie’s official website published a poll that invited constituents to choose: “Which of These Do Liberals Hate Most?” The four choices given were Guns, Christmas, Family, Freedom.
I would have thought that “liberals hate Christmas” would be the top choice among those who replied. But Massie’s straw poll was deleted after an hour or two, as it became obvious that the congressman’s followers – 14,823 of whom voted – were not especially riled up this year about the supposed War on Christmas, which the denizens of Fox News and their Amen Choruses in the reactionary media have been shrieking about annually for decades.
In fact, the belief among Massie’s constituents that liberals hate Christmas most of all finished dead last (a mere 3 percent of votes) in the informal survey. A lot more respondents thought that liberals most hated something called “freedom” (54.1 percent) followed by “guns” (27 percent), and “family” (15.6 percent).
To be sure, Fox News et al still flog the War on Christmas, which has widened to new fronts beyond simply religion, though all are still based on the idea that liberals have conspired in a massive casus belli to abolish Christian holidays. One of the purported new assaults against Christmas is the political assertion that, due to some alleged malfeasance by President Joe Biden during the worldwide pandemic, “supply-chain problems are ruining Christmas!” because certain in-demand gift items were said to be in scant supply this year on store shelves.
Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal told us, meanwhile, that the current nationwide shortage of workers in general includes a shortage of Santas for hire, according to agencies that book Santas for parties and shopping malls. The Journal quotes Mitch Allen, the “Head Elf” at a staffing agency called Hire Santa, who sees a 120 percent increase in requests this season after a pandemic-slowed 2020, but has only about 15 percent fewer professional Santas available to send out. The paper also quotes Susen Mesco, who runs a Santa training school and booking agency in Denver: “I had one lady call me up two days ago in tears. She needed a Santa for her country club. She said, ‘I’m willing to pay anything.’ And I said, ‘That’s not fair.’ ”
The War on Christmas used to be primarily fought against enemies like secular winter-solstice enthusiasts as well as those department-store-Santaland capitalists who Shanghaied the holiday in the late 19th Century. The battle-cry used to be “Keep Christ in Christmas!” — but that is no longer so much the case, as indicated by the lessening of right-wing umbrage in recent years directed at perceived liberal diminution of the religious aspect of Christmas.
There is, actually, no biblical source for an assertion of a divine Nativity on December 25, which of course occurs during an annual period marked by the start of longer days with the winter solstice on December 21, and celebrated by the Romans, sometimes riotously, as the days-long festival of Saturnalia.
With the fall of the western Roman empire in the late 5th century, Christians who filled in the power vacuum in Rome probably thought it made sense to slot in the Nativity as a religious holiday to replace Saturnalia, thus marking a religious observance of the birth of Christ that remained second in importance to Easter on the Christian calendar until fairly recent centuries. That is, till commercial and cultural forces seized on Christmas as an exploitable holiday around the time after the Civil War, which is when a magazine cartoonist named Thomas Nast was developing the jolly image that we have widely recognized as Santa Claus.
America has since then become a far more diverse country, one with a wide variety of Christian and non-Christian followers, not to mention rapidly growing numbers of adults who claim no religion at all, a segment of the population that has been expanding fastest among the young.
A survey by Pew Research Center found that while 85 percent of adult Americans identified as Christians in 1990, by 2000 that had dropped to 65 percent. Moreover, almost a quarter of American adults now say they are not affiliated with any religion.
Furthermore, only slightly more than half of Americans say they celebrate Christmas as a religious, rather than a cultural holiday, Pew research in recent years has shown. Yet nine in 10 adults say they celebrate Christmas in some way.
The once-hot issue of people and business saying “Happy holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas” has lost some momentum. Slightly more than half of the adult U.S. public say that a business’s choice of a holiday greeting does not matter to them whether they are Christian or not, Pew found.
In other words,“ Merry Christmas” is fine, but “Happy holidays” will do.
I myself belong to no religion, but I certainly share in that ambivalence. I did grow up in a big city all-Catholic environment in the 1950s, where anybody who said “Happy Holidays!” in my family would have been assumed to have gone a little peculiar in the head. That was, though, a very long time ago, in a very different cultural world. But even then, Christmas was mostly about Santa Claus and the festive season.
Now, in a new world, I make do with whatever seasonal greeting seems appropriate in whichever social circumstance. No big deal. The holiday is a warm and merry occasion no matter what.
So Merry Christmas! — or, if you choose, Happy Holidays! The good will is the same.
And that goes as well for the family of Representative Massie, though I do ask them to please stow those weapons before they come a-wassailing.
© 2021 Joe Sharkey. See privacy, terms and information collection noticePublish on SubstackThe The Sharkey Column is also on Substack – the place for independent writing