Category Archives: Science & Reason

The War on Christmas

As a child I was enrolled in a private Catholic school, attended church with my family most Sundays, and, like the majority of children in westernized nations, cherished Christmas.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year
With the kids jingle belling
And everyone telling you “Be of good cheer”
It’s the most wonderful time of the year
It’s the hap-happiest season of all
With those holiday greetings and gay happy meetings
When friends come to call
It’s the hap- happiest season of all!

Those lyrics really rang true for me (and still do). I haven’t been religious for a number of years now yet I retain a great fondness for the holiday. This will help you to understand why my ears perk up at first allusion to a “war on Christmas”. After all, how could anyone hate Christmas and wish to “make war” on it?

People who claim there to be a “war on Christmas” cite three recurring arguments when making their case. I will address them in the typical order of argument.

  • I can’t say “Merry Christmas” anymore. People insist on “Happy Holidays.” This is extreme political correctness at its worst.

In my (albeit limited) time on this planet, I have never met a soul who would soberly react with hostility towards another human being genuinely wishing them a “Merry Christmas” (and if that person does exist, they aren’t worth your steaming over them). Indeed the overwhelming majority of people who send and receive wishes of “Merry Christmas” perceive it as a friendly gesture of goodwill toward their fellow mankind. However, it seems increasingly common that some are abusing the yuletide greeting as a rebellious challenge in the face of those who say “Happy Holidays” (a spit in the face of political correctness, if you will).

I have never understood the negative stigma the evangelical community has attached to “Happy Holidays”. It would seem to me to be an all-inclusive expression, including the celebration of Christ’s birth, the Festival of Lights, and those who just enjoy the day off work. How can it be a slight at a holiday it happily accommodates? It is a convenient utterance designed to complement an increasingly multicultural and religiously diverse world.

To insist upon “Merry Christmas” in this context seems to me a bit stubborn, small-minded, and arrogant. By all means, wish me a “Merry Christmas!” Same to you! But don’t roll your eyes when someone chooses to say “Happy Holidays” or take it as an affront to your religious traditions. Believe me, most people who say “Happy Holidays” aren’t using it as a cipher for “Screw You, Jesus!”

  • You can’t have Christmas without Jesus and Christianity. You all have Christians to thank for the holiday. December 25th is the birth date of Jesus Christ and those who celebrate the holiday should recognize it as such.

First of all, The New Testament gives no date or year for Jesus’ birth.  The earliest gospel – St. Mark’s – begins with the baptism of an adult Jesus.  This suggests that the earliest Christians lacked interest in or knowledge of Jesus’ birthdate.

There is tremendous evidence that Christmas has its origin in the winter solstice festivals that most ancient civilizations observed. According to historical record, Roman pagans first introduced the holiday of Saturnalia, a week long period of lawlessness celebrated between December 17-25.  During this period, Roman courts were closed, and Roman law dictated that no one could be punished for damaging property or injuring people during the weeklong celebration. There was a public banquet, followed by private gift-giving, singing naked in the streets (a precursor to modern caroling), consumption of man-shaped biscuits (a morbid forerunner to gingerbread cookies), and continual drunken partying. The poet Catullus called it “the best of days.”

When Rome came under Christian rule, the church made every effort to convert pagans to their faith. One way to do this was to allow them to keep their celebrations while gradually lacing them with Christian significance. This wasn’t an inherently sinister practice – just smart salesmanship.

But let’s say for a moment that American evangelicals are right and all this history is bullocks. So what if Christmas was originated in the Christian faith? No one is telling any Christians they can’t believe that or celebrate it with their friends and families within that context. Unfortunately, this courtesy is not granted in the other direction as many Christians demand that any winter festivities resembling or employing Christmas symbolism must be about Jesus. If not, they are offended and see it as an affront to their religion. You see a pattern emerging here, I’m sure.

  • The United States was founded as a Christian state and thus the religious tradition of Christmas is by definition an official state holiday. This permits organized Christmas celebration in public schools receiving federal tax dollars among other institutions.
The religious views of the Founding Fathers has been a point of contention for quite some time and goes far beyond the scope of the “war on Christmas,” so I will attempt to limit my dissertation to a few quotations. The first is from the treaty with Tripoli, drafted in 1796 under George Washington and signed by John Adams in 1797:
As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Musselmen; and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.
Not enough? Let’s look at the First Ammendment of the United States Constitution:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

What about Thomas Jefferson’s letter addressed to the Danbury, Connecticut, Baptist Association on January 1, 1802:

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his god, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their “legislature” should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between church and State.

Why do I feel these quotations won’t be sufficient in convincing people that the United States was not founded on the Christian faith? Oh, that’s right – because these quotes have been around since the 18th century and we’re still having this debate.

There is no “war on Christmas,” and I’m terribly glad there isn’t. No one is going to come into your home on Christmas morning, tear down your Christmas tree and burn your stockings in the fire. If we are ever to get along in this country, we must recognize that our individual traditions do not always flush with everyone else’s, and this is something to be encouraged.

Public schools and government institutions may not allow Christmas parties or the organized singing of Christmas carols since they receive federal funding and are thus protected under the separation of church and state, but this simply asks that you save your Christmas cheer for any other occasion. Is that such a hard pill to swallow? Is it such an offense that it may not be entirely appropriate that Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist and atheist taxes be put toward ensuring your ability to see and hear Christmas iconography everywhere at all times?

Christmas is a huge celebration in America and it will be for decades to come. To perceive (and at times knowingly fabricate) a faux “war” on an institution as well-off and thriving as Christmas in America is to belittle the very real struggles of and among the deprived and oppressed.

Of course the overwhelming majority of Christians do not believe in a war on Christmas – my intention is not to generalize all Christians. Unfortunately, many of the loudest Christians can’t stop talking about it, so I felt I should give my two cents.

I’d love to find and post the link to a good opposing editorial to mine, but I’m struggling to find one. If you find (or write) a good one, send me the link and I’ll post it.


Christopher Hitchens Dead at 62

Oh, how I wanted to interview you, Christopher.

I can usually pinpoint the moment of inception for a particular story idea or film concept I have. For Last Day at Lambeau it was reading Mike Johnson’s piece “Still Casting a Shadow” in the 2010 Maple Street Press Packers Annual. I’ve also for a long time considered a documentary film chronicling and examining the events surrounding the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad Cartoons of September, 2005. The inception for that idea came after watching Christopher Hitchens give a speech at the 2007 Atheist Alliance International event on YouTube. Here is the first part of that speech (the second can be found on YouTube with a simple search):

I think the moment that touched me the most was when Hitchens emphatically states that the freedoms were forfeited “without a struggle.” You don’t have to be an atheist or agree with what Hitchens is saying to feel the emotion of that statement. I feel that this sentence reflected a lot of what Christopher Hitchens was all about.

I never met Christopher, but I came to know him through his writing and speaking. He was a freedom fighter, more than anything else. He was a “justice freak” and made great efforts to thwart injustice at every turn, and he did it with creativity as his weapon. Christopher wrote nearly twenty books (of which I’ve only read one, God Is Not Great), was a contributing editor at Vanity Fair and The Atlantic, and was a columnist at Slate Magazine. He was an incredibly quick thinker and could come up with crushing, devastating rebuttals in any debate at the drop of a hat (this would rub some people the wrong way, but it was only because Christopher was so much further down the road of thought and didn’t want to waste time holding your hand as you tried to catch up with him).

Two of the writings that stick most in my mind were his editorial on WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and his scathing review of Michael Moore’s documentary Fahrenheit 9/11.

Of course, one of the most valuable of Hitchens’ contributions to society came during the heat of the torture debate in 2008. “Is waterboarding torture,” everyone was asking. But, of course, not one of the decision-makers was willing to submit his or herself to the procedure to actually see firsthand what it was like. Christopher Hitchens did. And he said it was torture.

Christopher died of esophageal cancer last night three hours away from me at the University of Texas MD Anderson Care Center in Houston. He had been in town for a final public appearance at The Texas Freethought Convention with Atheist Alliance of America.

I’ll finish with a quote from Brandon G. Withrow’s eulogy of Hitch in The Huffington Post: “Though Hitchens was not always an easy medicine to take, he was necessary to our health.”

I'll miss you, Hitch.

From the Three Other Horsemen: