Defining the ‘War on Christmas’ – Q&A recap

Many great questions and comments went unaddressed in this week’s very lively live Q & A about the “War on … Continued

Many great questions and comments went unaddressed in this week’s very lively live Q & A about the “War on Christmas” – there simply wasn’t time to get to them all. By way of recap, I share this rather succinct and straightforward question which gets to the heart of things:

Let me try to answer in an equally succinct and straightforward fashion, while suggesting that you can see the fuller exploration of all things Christmas Wars — Rick Perry’s campaign ad, Rhode Island’s ‘holiday tree,” etc. — by checking out the chat transcript.

Many Americans feel that there is a new and unprecedented level of hostility directed at those who celebrate Christmas in public ways. They call this the “War on Christmas.” While I think that “war” is more than a little over the top, things have changed and continue to do so, and some of those changes make people feel threatened. Sometimes that complaint is legitimate, and sometimes it’s not.

When people stir up those feelings for political gain, as Rick Perry did in his recent 30-second ad which is heavy on emotion and light on facts, the complaint is not legitimate. (See the ad below or by clicking here.)

Candidate Perry and President Obama disagree about a great many things, and slinging mud has become the norm in most campaigns, but unless Mr. Perry believes that anybody whose beliefs differ from his own is his enemy, he should pull that ad immediately. It is precisely that attitude toward faith which legitimately scares people away from all public expressions of faith. In that sense, Perry becomes his own worst enemy.

On the other hand, things do happen that really do pain people of faith, and legitimately so. For example, when people, especially people in authority such as Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chaffee, declare that Christmas trees should be called “holiday trees”, we have a problem. Not only is that insulting to many people who celebrate Christmas and its traditions, however ancient or otherwise, it’s absurd. If it’s a holiday tree, what holiday?

So however well-intentioned Mr. Chaffee may have been, he not only stripped away the meaning of the tree, he did so by declaring that inclusion of other traditions demands undermining the presence of those that were already acknowledged. Not only was Christmas going to share the public stage with other traditions, as it should when followers of other traditions ask for their rightful place on that stage, Christmas was forced off the stage altogether! That is an attack.

That said, in almost all cases where this kind of thing happens, it is not because of a conscious hostility to Christmas or to Christianity. It happens because we are still struggling in this country with a definition of inclusion which is based not on the flattening of distinction, but the widening of who and what get included as “normal” and “regular.”

There is no evidence that having less Christmas will provide more of anything else – not religious freedom, not greater inclusiveness nor anything else. There is plenty of evidence pointing to the need for all people to learn to make room for each other and for each other’s views. On that score, both Rick Perry and Lincoln Chaffee have a great deal to learn.


Brad Hirschfield An acclaimed author, lecturer, rabbi, and commentator on religion, society and pop culture, Brad Hirschfield offers a unique perspective on the American spiritual landscape and political and social trends to audiences nationwide.
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