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?”

Pathetically ignorant

Have you ever talked to a nun? Spare me your thwacked-with-ruler stories from Catholic schoolrooms of yesteryear. No, what I’m asking is if, as an adult, you’ve had any sort of meaningful interaction with a woman in a habit. It’s not commonplace, since their numbers are dwindling, and while we’re busy checking Twitter and making our own seltzer, they’re squirreled away feeding the poor and praying for us. However, if you had ever, say, shared a moment with a nun, I think you’d be unlikely to post something like this.

Put your personal beliefs in your back pocket for a second. Toss out your partisan reactions (for good, because they’re bullying propaganda and you’re better than that). Understand that most thoughtful people think a woman’s use of contraceptive drugs, abortifacients, and essentially all things concerning her baby-making innards is between her, her doctor, and (for some) her God. Lord, how I wish this was never made a political issue, and left to the good sense of our well-trained doctors and the informed women they have the privilege to treat. I’m also not thrilled with how it’s been hijacked as a moral issue, because, well, I don’t think anyone deserves that sort of judgment apart from her Maker. And though not entirely relevant to this collection of paragraphs, these choices need to remain available to all women, because political people have no medical chops and should never be given this sort of power over our baby-making innards.

And now that you know where this writer (and many good, non-Catholics) stand on things related to women and their attendant bells and whistles, and that this discussion isn’t to shout at you about right and wrong, then let’s go back to those sweet ladies in the convent, those Brides of Jesus, the women devoted to their Faith and service in a manner that should garner your respect, if not floor you with awe. Certainly, if you had spent an afternoon with a nun, you couldn’t possibly think something like this—much less post it on Facebook:

“This is a frivolous damn suit and the sooner they are smacked upside the head by Sotomayor, the better and cheaper for all of us! How ridiculously stupid this suit is and a giant waste of time!!!! The lawyers for these pathetically ignorant people should be run into one of those old Colorado mineshafts…”

And that was one of the calmer comments on Rachel Maddow’s site. These “pathetically ignorant people” are our society’s defenders of Faith. Their complete dismissal as Republican pawns pains me physically. These are nuns, who apart from some ancient ruler-thwacking stories of old, are kind-hearted ladies committed to a life of prayer and good deeds. Let’s give them a moment, shall we?

Imagine your most deeply held belief: that all humans should have enough to eat, or that we must be responsible custodians of the planet, or that all children deserve protection. Whatever unshakable right you imagined, whatever I-will-stand-up-to-Goliath issue has you sandwich boarding all over town, or just quietly championing in your thoughts, then imagine the passion a nun would bring to the cause. Nuns devote their entire lives to these issues… and lately their most public concern is the protection of all children. Inconveniently, they include potential babies in that category. Please allow them this deeply held philosophical and religious belief. And instead of making arguments against them—just for one moment– aim for understanding.

What if you believed this to your very core: that small clusters of potential-people cells were sentient, God-given gifts of Life, sacred and defenseless? Try it on for a second. If you cannot entertain this notion for even the slimmest moment, then click back over to Rachel Maddow and join the fray. But if you could place yourself in those gum-soled shoes for a second, then imagine if you could then take a pen to paper and potentially sign away The Life of a Child, no matter how indirectly. Would it matter one little smidge that the form is… short? They are championing the weakest amongst us in the name of God. It’s their job, their calling, their conviction, their passion. They are unable to back down because they cannot endorse death. That’s how it feels to them.

Are they right? Wrong? Are they “ridiculously stupid” political creatures out to undermine access to health care for the very underprivileged people they devote their lives to help? I was so relieved when Justice Sotomayor called for a breather on this. We are Americans. We do not ask Americans to abandon consistently held religious beliefs, or even require that they skirt around them with semantics. Certainly we can figure out how to provide these drugs and services without involving conscientiously opposing Americans. Maybe we could also figure out how to tolerate, nay honor, each other’s religious beliefs without scorn (or fines).

Are you as terrified as I am that this story is so quiet? Are our media outlets (if not our government leaders) bullying nuns? Or am I a “pathetically ignorant” religious sap who doesn’t see this as an obvious, anti-Obamacare ruse? Is there no place in our society for people genuinely, religiously, and passionately protective of life after conception? Who are we when we say we are American? We should all take a beat to think about a decision that could result in penalizing our fellow citizens for their religious convictions, since this is exactly what we said we’d never, ever do.

I implored Steve, a longtime newsman, to explain why no one is talking about this– why on New Year’s Day, the only thing I could read about was Penny’s pink dress (even if she did look really, really pretty). His answer:

Sensible people have sensible conversations (I’m told) and the media thrives on controversy. So, CNN needs to have a “Pro-Nun” person on and a “Fuck The Nuns” person on. False equivalence rules the day.

I suppose neither makes for must see TV. And it is much more difficult to argue with a nun on national television about her Faith, than to tweet a snarky remark about how nuns (ironically) fill out all sorts of burdensome forms to be tax exempt. Meanwhile, the real issue–that these women cannot, ever, or in any manner, sanction the death of a child—is too unpopular a belief, and certainly too uncomfortable for cocktail conversation.

To be clear, this is neither an endorsement nor indictment of the ACA. This isn’t a thesis on when Life begins, and when we should begin protecting it. This isn’t meant to elicit comparisons with Jehovah’s witnesses who would refuse their shelf-stockers a blood transfusion, or Jews who wouldn’t want their secretaries to eat pork. Ugh, please do better than this, Internet. The nuns aren’t imposing their religious beliefs on anyone. They are only, quite bravely, standing up for Life as they define it. And Justice Sotomayor wants us to discuss that, and consider what precedent it might set to ignore them.

So let’s do that.

Since you can practically trip over free condoms in college, I'm not really sure why we need to force nuns to pay for these.

Women who take these are “pathetically ignorant” of the order of the days, I suppose.