Is There A War on Christmas?

Last year, Steve and I hosted a friendly religious debate here on EMB. The response was overwhelmingly positive because most humans are thoughtful and kind and delightful. We learned that people love to talk about their faith or explain why belief in One Holy Being sounds bonkers. We also confirmed what we suspected: it is possible to discuss religious differences without insult-lobbing or conversion agendas. Steve is no more likely to keep Kosher than I am to demote my Belief for fear of sounding like a zealot. Our aim is for greater understanding, not for change, even though I have the sneaky conviction that discussions about religion are where God is at… and He is rather irresistible.

Recently, a local town included a non-binding referendum in its annual elections to reinstate “Christmas Recess” as the official title of Norwood’s mid-term break, and learned that 76% of the paltry turnout of voters were decidedly pro-Christmas. Two years ago, the town’s School Committee voted to replace “Christmas” with “Winter” for all of the obvious reasons, but not in response to any clear outcry for this change. Our little local town here is bound to make national news as normally sane people take a stance on The War on Christmas, or back a staunch refusal that such a battle exists. Because Steve is hilarious, has oodles of friends, and is a maven of social media, his on-line inquiries lead to long threads of opinions and wisecracks and wisdom. When he asked followers to weigh in on this debate, the time seemed ripe for an Atheist Jew vs. Churchy Jesus Girl reprise.

Steve, quite logically, wants to know why we’re wasting time and dollars and ballot space on this nonsense. I’m not sure he recognizes a War on Christmas and sees the Christian religious defenders to be a bit bullying:

“I’m not Christian. Am I still allowed to say the ‘War on Christmas’ paranoids are fucking crazy? Isn’t demanding that things go your way kind of the opposite of faith?”

For me, the knee jerk reaction to this story was similar to my stance on the Bossy Ban. The politically correct language police irritate me and are largely humorless. I’d love to know what prompted the School Committee to vote out “Christmas” two years ago. Who is opposed to Christmas? Why? Is it necessary to preserve references to Christian holidays on our shared calendars, or are we losing something if we don’t fight for them? Do these semantics constitute a War on Christmas?

Let’s discuss.


Steve: I’m not sure how hilarious I’m going to be on this, but thanks for the buildup. People in Norwood are confused. Nobody is removing “Christmas” from the calendar. All they did was change the name of the vacation that encompasses Christmas and New Year’s (and sometimes Hanukkah) from “Christmas Break” to “Winter Break.” This keeps a consistency in the nomenclature with “Spring Break” and “Summer Break.”

The change to “Winter Break” was done two years ago. For some reason, people got worked up into a frenzy and decided the school needed to change the name back. In a non-binding referendum, the town voted overwhelmingly in favor of reverting back to the “Christmas” name. Towns can do whatever they want. I don’t think there’s a law against naming vacations for the holiday of the majority faith. But I can’t reconcile how the “Keep the government out of our business!” crowd is also the same one that says, “The government should name its vacations for Christian holidays!”

I don’t think this is a matter of political correctness or trivialities. 25% of the country is not Christian. “Merry Christmas” does not offend me and I had a Christmas tree in my house for 20 years. It’s a lovely holiday. But I still don’t understand how having its name on a vacation helps with the education of children.

Britt: It’s that “frenzy” that concerns me the most. We’ve become so polarized, so unable to discuss these things without feeling attacked or invoking referendums. My children attend a Christian school that breaks for “Winter Recess,” and I fully agree with you here that the naming of a school vacation isn’t worthy of the time and money required for this fight. Unfortunately, a handful of zealots and one minivan of voters grab the media attention and now we have another set up for the division of normally lovely human beings into anti-Obama Jesus lovers and left-wing-liberal camps. And Steve, this scares me more than spiders. Why can’t you be hilarious about this? I think we have to be hilarious about exactly this.

Also, I don’t see irony where you do here. Those who are opposed to big government want “officials” to let these things be. They can’t insist the government promote Christianity on its official calendars, but will exert their First Amendment right to make a stink about removing them. Are they right? Wrong? Who cares? They’re allowed to make a stink. I just wish they were less douche-y about it.


Steve: Faith succeeds in spite of governments, not because of them. The argument that a government has the power to destroy one’s religion, especially in America, has neither proof nor a plausible scenario. The American government could decide tomorrow that every mention of religion, from “One nation under God” to saying “Oh Jesus!” during sex should be illegal. Would that, in any way, impact your right to worship? Your faith in God? Your ability to shop for bad sweaters?

The founders of our government thought official state religion was so odious that it banned it as soon as the inkwell arrived to write the first item in the Bill of Rights.

A lot of play goes to the words of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” But note the Free Exercise clause: “…or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Every argument about religion in public places starts and ends here. In short: “We’re not going to have a state religion, and we’re not going to stop you from observing your religion. We cool?” The U.S. can’t stop a religion. But it’s not supposed to promote it, either.

And even if the world were trying to “Take the Christ out of Christmas,” isn’t one’s faith enough to sustain said faith?

Britt: You have a more faith in Faith than the purported faithful, my friend. And a real part of sustaining faith is its presence in our every day. Jesus might frown on us being all polite and hush-hush about it. People of faith in this town of intellectuals often stifle their support of things that might sound “too religious.” Going a few Sundays a year is normal… but every Sunday? Freak. When you spend at least one moment of every day NOT saying you’re at Bible Study, or NOT saying a prayer before eating, or NOT wearing a cross with your outfit for fear of judgment or your friends thinking you’re an idiot, well… you start thinking, “Fuck! Now we can’t even call it Christmas break?”

Steve: You can call it whatever you like. The state, however, has an obligation to use non-denominational labels.

Britt: I do feel like the world is trying to snuff out all traces of God, sometimes, and that saddens me. But you are already RIGHT, Steve. You win with the support of logic, most of your Facebook contacts, and the law of the land. I’ve already agreed with you. But you still sound so huffy. Why?

Steve: Well, I hate to play the Nazi Card here but the world actually DID try to snuff out Judaism, and we managed to carry on. In the darkness of the Nazi death camps, faithful Jews still found a way to secretly observe Shabbat, Hanukkah, Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashana. That’s right-– in a state that was really, really trying to wipe out a religion and its adherents by the millions, the religion kept right on going.

Britt: Nazi trump card. I got nothin’. Except… it is my duty to explain well and without anger why I want a little more God sprinkled through my day (EVEN THOUGH I AM NOT ALLOWED TO ASK THE GOVERNMENT TO PROVIDE THAT!). It’s your duty to be funny about everything. My blog. My rules.

Steve: Yeah, I’m being pissy here. Noted.


Steve: Who’s banning “Christmas?” Sure, Bill O’Reilly makes a lot of money getting people worked up over folks who say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” But THE WAR ON CHRISTMAS IS NOT A REAL THING. Education is. That’s where a school committee’s efforts should lie.

Here’s where I might be going off the rails a little: I think there is kind of a racist undertone to the “War on Christmas” paranoia. Not in everyone. Not even in most. But in some…

“They’re trying to take Christmas from us!”


“The media and the Hollywood elite and the New York Wall Street types and the ACLU and…”

I think it’s clear which people we’re talking about here, and they’re the people busy trying to figure out what they can and can’t eat next week. Hint: We’d support a war on gefilte fish.

I still don’t understand what this has to do with the name of a school break. People are calling for the resignation of the school committee members that don’t support changing the name back. That’s nuts. Suddenly that’s the litmus test of a citizen willing to give their free time to help improve a school system?

Britt: Ahhh… this is the deep well where icky feelings dwell. Those of us who want to stand on soapboxes for Christmas should be able to do this kindly, and without even a hint of anti-Semitism. Sheesh. I mean, Christmas is awesome! Yay! Let’s go buy some ugly sweaters! But why is it more important to argue for this than a better math curriculum or any other thing, and do you really want someone to lose a job over this?

Those who see Bill O’Reilly admonishing liberal culture for their The War on Christmas need to remember that he’s Bill O’Reilly. But they also need to explore the honest motive behind the Christmas break name change in Norwood two years ago. Was there not even a whiff of an atheist agenda there? Those who feel relief or maybe even a bit of smugness when another “Christmas” falls off the calendar… where is that coming from?

I think this was the unwritten undercurrent of your Facebook thread. It’s just Christmas on the calendar, so why is everyone feeling attacked? Unfortunately, the media fuels this fire. How do we put it out? I think it’s done with an open mind, faith that those with differing opinions are also lovely fellow-humans, the refusal to be polarized into a frenzied “war,” and an honest exploration of our pissy feelings. If Christmas is already off the calendar, let it go; but when Robbie Republican fervently wants it changed back, it’s possible that’s coming from a deep passion for preserving a bit of God in the world… hopefully not that he’s an anti-Semite.

Are you Pissy Steve or Believer Britt on this topic? Is there a War? Do we have a responsibility to help end it? Be kind, be thoughtful… be funny.


Wouldn't Jesus miss us saying, "Happy Birthday?"

Wouldn’t Jesus miss hearing, “Happy Birthday?”

19 responses

  1. Poor Jesus. If Christmas needs defending that pretty much eliminates the possibility of an infallible God, doesn’t it? I’m with Jesus here; Pray in secret lest you be like the Pharisees who pray on street corners so all can see their righteousness.

    • I think you’ve touched on something important here, Martha. Those demanding a return of Christmas to the calendar with blustery attacks and righteousness don’t seem to be defending something pure. Christmas doesn’t need defending. But I’m still fascinated why everyone sounds so angry about it.

  2. When the Turks blew into town & banned Christianity, the Greeks kept praying in caves. Steve’s right — faith will prevail. I could care less about the name of the vacation as long as it’s there. I did find myself getting a little pissy when Christmas songs were eliminated from school concerts in favor of winter songs, but Hannukah songs still remained. Happily, my kids’ district loves and celebrates all. The thing is though, those Christmas songs are still largely secular — all Santa, no Jesus, some peace. But I don’t care — we sing lots of carols at church and at home. Frankly, I’d rather hear the songs about peace at school because that’s the bigger lesson for the kids, not the manger or the Maccabees. My kids get as much religion as I want them to get, I don’t need the school to do it. And anybody who gets worked up about the name of vacation should lose it. When you lose the time, you don’t care what it’s called.

  3. In the largely secular UK, we seem to have no problem celebrating Christmas and I think there would be uproar if someone tried to change its name, because that would be perceived as political correctness gone mad. This is because despite people knowing the basics of the Nativity story, the vast majority know nothing else about Jesus (and don’t want to) and Christmas is a traditional festival (we may use the name ‘Christmas’ but the festival itself predates Christianity) where you decorate a tree, pretend to be a fat bloke in a red suit doling out pressies to kids and eat your own weight in turkey and Christmas pudding (which we also wouldn’t dream of changing the name of). Easter, too, is far more a celebration of spring with a rabbit who lays chocolate eggs. There are a few weird folk, like me, who celebrate Christ’s death and resurrection, but again it is largely a commercialised, secular festival. I can wish someone ‘Easter blessings’ without them thinking of Christ at all but then, maybe Christ is more in the expression of goodwill than it is in my objecting to non-Christian thing, you know? Being loving and kind is far more important than having arguments over who’s right and who’s wrong, though if someone asks me about my faith I will tell them the who, what, where, how and why of my own journey.
    Interesting post, thank you 🙂

  4. To me it’s really odd that a religious group would not know the history of their holiday traditions… erm, scratch that, they don’t even know the history of their holy text.

    Question: How did 1st and 2nd century Christians celebrate on Dec 25th?
    Answer: They didn’t. There was no Christmas until the RCC tried to usurp the winter solstice celebration to get more church members.

    To say that you want the government to name the Holiday as ‘Christmas’ is kind of like saying that you know the following and do not care:
    1- Christ was not born on Dec 25th
    2- None of the holiday’s traditions are Christian
    3- Religion stole the holiday by shady tactics to start with
    4- The changing of Christ’s birth time is a lie
    5- denying the celebrations are pagan in origin is to deny those faiths that celebrate the solstice

    If there is a war on Christmas (which there cannot be – google the definition of war) then it is deserved.

    • All true. You sound just like Stevie here, with your facts and history and smarts. But what say you about a local town (not a national govt.) insisting by popular vote that the school vacation should be tagged a Christmas break after two years as a Winter Recess? Should they be allowed to do that? Should we keep calling them stupid time-wasters and insinuating that they are, maybe, a tad racist? I agree there is NO war on Christmas… but there are certainly tempers flashing here.

      • Well, winter recess includes everyone. Schools are paid for with taxes. If you have to name the holiday after a religious figure, let’s go ahead and name it after Lucifer, or perhaps one of Horus, Osiris, Hercules, Dionysus, Crishna, The Buddha, Mithra, Tammuz, Attis, Quetzalcoatl since they too were born on Dec 25. No, they don’t get to claim Jesus as the only true god without credible evidence that there is a god. So if they just _have_ to have the holiday named after a diety born on Dec 25th let’s go with Mithra. Maybe we can take turns and do a different diety each year?

        • So I’m guessing the answer is, “No. No they shouldn’t be allowed to do that.” I’m reading this as sort of angry, but my guess (from your handle) is that you intend it as funny/dismissive? Norwood doesn’t “have” to name the holiday break for a religious figure… rather, they voted (76%) to revert the name to Christmas Break. I agree it’s a waste of time, but is there harm? And if the majority of the voters want it, why not? And why does it make people so angry?

          • They get angry because it gives privilege to one religion above all others and no religion at all. It says that the Christian religion is special when it’s not. Where children are concerned it is quite important that a given religion not be shown deferential treatment by tax funded institutions.

            Christians would not want the school to celebrate Mithra by naming the winter recess holiday after him. Why would it make them so angry? It’s just a name, right? Why not go all the way – let’s get religion back in schools but remain inclusive. This means that the school can save money on lunches during Ramadan among other things. We can swap out recess for prayer time and so on.

            Popular vote does not trump the rights of the minority groups. If tax funded groups are going to include religions they have to include them all including Wicca, Satanism, VooDoo, Pastafarianism, Islam, Hari Krishna and so on.

            The right way, the best way, leave religion out of public schools – It’s winter recess.

  5. A few additions to this conversation came to me via email. Not everyone is as enthusiastic about the public airing of opinion as Stevie and I over here. But these words, I wanted to share…

    Hi Britt,

    I’m not really a social media user and not very comfortable putting my thoughts “out there,” but I’ve been thinking about this post today and wanted to pass along my musings.

    First, I really applaud you and Steve for holding these “debates” as it does enable a broad range of people to engage in a discussion / thought process they might otherwise not undertake. I also agree with your sneaky conviction that discussions about religion is where God is at … and that he is rather irresistible! 🙂

    I am a “Believer Britt” in general, but on this topic I think, “What’s the big deal with calling it Winter Break?” Perhaps it is because my children have all gone to secular or public schools, and I believe that has always been the term we used. It doesn’t bother me, and if it makes my Jewish, Muslim, etc. friends more comfortable then I’m all for it.

    I do believe, however, there has been a war on Christmas — just not the war that Bill O’Reilly decries. (Frankly, I have little time for Bill.) The war on Christmas is how the secular world has adopted Christmas and proceeded to drain it of meaning and power. Many fans of Christmas and all its trimmings are not fans of Jesus Christ. In fact, it reminds me of a speaker I recently heard at Franklin & Marshall during their “Common Hour,” Omid Safi.

    Dr. Safi is an expert in Islam and Professor of Religious Studies at UNC Chapel Hill, and his talk was titled “America, Islam, & the Unfinished Dream of Martin Luther King.” Dr. Safi was addressing how we only focus on one aspect of Martin Luther King’s struggles, the civil rights movement, but we ignore the last five years of his life when he worked to end Vietnam and improve life for the poor — all poor. Dr. Safi made a comment that has stuck with me — with our prophets (like MLK) critics first try to ignore them, and when that doesn’t work they try to belittle them, and when that doesn’t work they kill them, and when that doesn’t work they turn them into an icon to control their message and power.
    You can hear his full remarks here:

    As I thought about the “War on Christmas” today and went to buy some Easter cards (few of which had any biblical connection), I thought of how our two major Christian events of remembrance have been turned into a commercial opportunity — not for Christ or the poor — but as a distraction from the true importance and meaning of the events.

    Finally, my way of addressing this “war” is to focus my life on Christ — to put him ahead of other priorities, to focus on his call to love and help others — even those unlike myself, and to remind my kids (as they open Christmas presents and dig into Easter baskets) that the REAL reason we celebrate these holidays is for the extraordinary gift we were freely given (not because we deserved it or earned it) by Jesus Christ.

    If we focus on acting like Christians, with love and compassion, I believe others would be unable to resist being drawn into God’s love and embrace too.

    Thank you Britt for giving me the opportunity to think through this issue a bit more, it has been a very wonderful pre-Easter gift. (Sorry I wasn’t funny.)

  6. Here’s another (hilarious) comment that came through email, and prefers to remain anonymous:

    Oh, so so much to contribute to this discussion. Shall I talk about how much I fucking LOVE Christmas? How it has and always will be my favorite holiday? Candlelight? Carols? Snowfall? Advent calendars? Decorations, displays, toys, candy, sledding, trees, ornaments, special art projects in grade school, making Santa Claus out of red construction paper and cotton balls…the annual Christmas Bazaar at the church. Special mass with red bows and poinsettias (the plant that was rumored to be deadly to animals and thus carried with it a festive and dangerous mystique to me as a child…)

    For someone whose family and childhood was less than joyful, Christmas was a transcendent time for me. Christmas was bigger than all of the adults… they could not stop it, control it, or ruin it. This was truly the Christmas miracle that delivered on its promise each and every year. It is my favorite holiday– one that champions goodwill to men! And public singing! And generosity! IMO – there is no better holiday. Period.

    That said – my POV on Christmas being on gov’t calendars….It used to be a non-issue. Then at some point, it felt like a small sect of fearful but very vocal people started using it to promote the following falsehoods:

    a) that our founding father’s were Christians (they weren’t)
    b) that this nation was created to be a Christian nation (it wasn’t.)
    c) that Christians > all other religions.

    (Humorless sidebar: then they use– present tense– that belief to wage billion dollar wars to prevent me and my kind from getting married. I mean, honestly, if we are going to talk about a colossal waste of money… Should I insert a bit of humor here? Shall I say think of all the good that could have happened if that money was spent on glitter and rainbows? I tried to add humor. I recognize it was not successful.)

    The funny thing is– that money COULD have been spent on and in those people’s churches – creating and promoting the amazeballsness that is Christmas!

    If I were the leader of the Christians, I’d create a movement to “Keep Christmas in the Church and OUT of the gov’t.” Christmas is so awesome and powerful, if people thought that the absolute BEST place to experience ALL that Christmas had to offer was inside a loving church (as opposed to one that preaches hate screed – that’s the last I’ll say on that matter) then don’t you think that more people would actually GO to Church?

    There is a story that you told me that has always stuck with me. You and Bernie went on a cruise and no one recognized the two of you as a couple. That’s what it feels like to be a second class citizen. The reason that happened is because, at the time, people had not seen many images of gorgeous blondes coupled up with handsome Asian types. They lacked education that was possible, healthy, right, and amazing.

    If you were raising your Children as Buddhists and not Christians, and they were in school and all the calendars said Christmas and nothing said Buddhism, don’t you think their CHILD minds would make that connection that their religion isn’t as popular as Christianity? And then conversely realize that their religion is unpopular? Or different? Then realize they are different? Strange? Etc. Long story short – Christmas on the calendar implied a gov’t recognized hierarchy. And that ain’t good for children.

    Christmas, on the other hand, is fucking AWESOME for children.

  7. And get a load of this… also “anonymous” even though hilarious.

    ” I can see why loving Christians like you are upset about this whole Christmas on the Calendar situation. Because this is like when we were little and in a classroom of 25 other kids and one kid makes a big scene and then the teacher decides NONE of us get to go outside for recess.

    If I were a Christian and watching this removal of Christmas from the school calendar, I would turn toward that small exclusionary group and scream, “THIS IS WHY WE CAN’T HAVE NICE THINGS!”

    The truth of the matter, the dark unspoken truth, is that if Christmas was only associated with 100% loving and inclusive people, then it would be on the calendar no questions asked. It would be seen as an amazing, loving reference to a regional tradition. It would be quaint! But because a certain small sect of Christians have inserted themselves and their beliefs into politics (Koch brothers, I’m looking at you) that Christmas is now partially associated with war, with us vs. them, with better vs. worse, with right vs. wrong. That’s NOT what Christmas is about.

    Christmas – I’d love to do your PR! Call me!!”

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