War on Christmas: A holiday tradition for all

AFP/GETTY IMAGES A believer in the spirit of Christmas, Vikki Hill stands for hours a day holding a placard for … Continued


A believer in the spirit of Christmas, Vikki Hill stands for hours a day holding a placard for people aproaching what remains of the Christmas display in Santa Monica, Calif., in December 2011. An

The much-ballyhooed “War on Christmas” has become a predictable holiday tradition, with Fox News as both director and producer of this manufactured war, presumably for better ratings. Comedians also love the war material they have to play with, so both Fox and comedians have become war profiteers

Atheists, who are usually marginalized or ignored by media, use this seasonal opportunity to join the war by supporting diversity. Christmas for some atheists is a time to promote freedom of expression on billboards and buses. Atheists put up signs that say “Be good for goodness’ sake” or “This season, celebrate reason,” and Christians protest.

Christians have been engaged in several Christmas wars: Christmas has its origins in the winter solstice festivals that most ancient civilizations observed, and Mithras, who was a Persian savior-god with a sizeable Roman following, was born on Dec. 25. By appropriating this day for the birth of Jesus, Christians felt they could more easily convert those wayward pagans. Centuries later, some early American Puritans even prohibited Christmas celebrations because of its pagan origins. So a good case can be made that Christians initiated the first war on Christmas.

Nowadays, verbal wars occasionally erupt over nativity scenes on government property. Nobody complains about nativity scenes on private property, but the government should not be promoting one religion over another or religion over non-religion. That’s why atheists and others who care about church-state separation oppose these displays on government property. Government neutrality toward religion is not the same as hostility toward religion. What divides us on this point is not so much our theological differences, but the degree of commitment we have to equal freedom of conscience for everyone.

Now add the Christian war on “Happy Holidays” (instead of “Merry Christmas”), which even includes boycotting stores that use the more inclusive term. This is a war against religious diversity, a war that ignores Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, winter solstice, and other religious and secular celebrations that coincide with the Christmas season. Could it be that many Christians lament the possibility that their dominance and privilege in America might be nearing an end?

All this warring probably makes many Christians miserable rather than joyful at this time of year. Some who proudly don the mantle of a persecuted minority even make up stories to convince themselves. That’s like saying there is a war on white, heterosexual males because previously marginalized groups have fought for and finally gained rights they’ve long deserved.

Finally there is the war by Christians and others against the consumerism that permeates the Christmas season, which seems to begin earlier every year. This is a war that even atheists, myself included, sometimes support. Unfortunately, this war seems to be over—with commercial interests the victors.

My favorite Christmas memories were during the Vietnam War. I had hoped that Christmas truces would feel so good that the killing would not resume. Sadly, we gave peace a chance only briefly, and Silent Night soon returned to bombing nights.

No, atheists didn’t manufacture the “War on Christmas,” so I would like to wish all of you a Happy Holiday, whichever and however you celebrate. There are many reasons for the season, but here’s my favorite reason for all seasons, for both theists and atheists—a reminder that the best wish of all is “Peace on earth and goodwill toward men and women.”

Herb Silverman is founder and president of the Secular Coalition for America and author of “Candidate Without a Prayer: An Autobiography of a Jewish Atheist in the Bible Belt.”

Related stories on On Faith:

* The secret to winning the Christmas wars

* Christians need to look beyond individualism this holiday season

* Obama at National Christmas Tree lighting: ‘A chance to remember what Christ taught us’

* Former minister: ‘We atheists love this time of year like everyone else’

* In Christmas wars, it’s all or nothing

Herb Silverman
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  • Brad Handley

    Herb needs to study his history. The Roman’s designated the day so that after they were done with a week long debauchery of Saturnalia, they had a day of temperence. (Christians celebrated the birth in the spring when it the birth did occur.) Setting the date for 25th of December was a political move by the Senate of Rome and a decision of the Church.

  • Brad Handley

    typo in the last line…”it was not a decision of the Church.”


    It’s a pagan holiday based on an astronomical/seasonal phenomenon. It’s probably been around for 20,000 years or so.

    You’re all welcome.

  • dcrolg

    Fox Newszzzzzz……zzzzzz…..zzzzz……

  • sokumina

    This is silly. Respect other people and let them celebrate how they want to celebrate. No one knows who is right or wrong. Mind your own business and don’t try to tell me how to celebrate my Christmas and I won’t do it to you. People who get all offended from me saying Merry Christmas get off your high horse and stop being so dam* sensitive.

  • quark2

    that’s all well & good soku, but i have found that it is usually the people complain about others being “sensitive” are the ones who get their panties in a wad when somebody wishes them “happy holidays”.

  • SimonTemplar

    “[Atheists] use this seasonal opportunity to join the war by supporting diversity…and Christians protest.”

    Another attempt at damage control. You don’t support diversity by attacking the beliefs of others. You don’t build support for your own beliefs by attacking the beliefs of others. Unfortunately, the “new atheists” are not known for holding up signs reading “Celebrate Reason” but rather for their seeming need to disrupt displays of menorahs and nativity scenes. That is what draws Christian protest. Let atheists celebrate the things they value rather than continually tearing down the things that others value and maybe they won’t need so much damage control.

    Government neutrality does not require a ban on faith expression on public property. Rather it requires the freedom for all faiths (theistic and atheistic) to express themselves on that same property without government supervision.

  • summicron1

    sorry dude, nobody is tearing down anything, and your “unsupervized” religious activities on government property really are the point.

    If you want to celebrate yur faith, do it on your own property — why do it on commonly owned property, an action which makes it clear that you, anyway, feel your beliefs are how everyone ought to believe. Telling you to take it to your own property doesn’t hinder your beliefs in anyway, it just keeps you from shoving your beliefs on me in I happen to be taking a walk in the park or going to a city council meeting.

  • Joel Hardman

    Did you read the article sokumina? The only thing most atheists are doing is trying to prevent government sponsorship of religion. Celebrate however you want in your own life and on your own property.

    “No one knows who is right or wrong.”

    Really? What does this even mean?

  • bkontheloose

    You all are wrong. Christ appeared to all. It is your choice to follow or not. Let’s not ruin Christmas or the 4th of July just because you don’t like celebrations.

  • luridone

    Government neutrality in fact DOES require a ban on faith expression on public property. Pretty soon, there will be a religion whose expression you don’t want seen on public property. The best thing is to not have any expressions. Do it on your property.

  • luridone

    You believe Christ appeared to all. That’s your right, but it doesn’t make it true.

  • fhay26

    I wish for you peace and goodwill, too.

  • Stunned2much

    Folks, even if there were a “War on Christmas”, it wouldn’t succeed. What was the “War on” anything that was successful? War on Drugs? War on Poverty? War on Terrorism? Wars on “ideas” never win. This is a silly argument.

  • SrVoter

    Assuming Christmas is about a birthday, most birthdays last one day. But Christmas lasts much longer then that, and this year, moved on the Thanksgiving Holiday, to diminish that. So Christmas is not only winning, it is defeating other Holidays.

    And Christmas music on the radio? It will soon be attacking Halloween.

    It is not a war. Christmas has other Holidays in a rout.

  • SimonTemplar

    The First Amendment is pretty clear. You should read it. It does not guarantee you that you will NOT hear someone else’s opinions or beliefs. It guarantees that EVERYONE has the freedom to peacefully express their opinions and beliefs.

    It does not limit me to expressing my faith only on my own property. You see, there are some who do not own property who also have the freedom to express their faith. Your untenable position would mean that no one could express their religious beliefs, say, on the Mall in Washington DC. It would conveniently silence faith-based institutions from organizing and exercising their free speech rights. For example: right-to-life groups who hold their positions BECAUSE of their religious convictions.

    Sorry, I do not except the extreme leftist position that people of faith (and their views and beliefs ) are excluded (CENSORED) from the public debate.

  • SimonTemplar

    The First Amendment limits the government, not the people.

  • MMDavis1

    luri, you don’t know the truth either. Atheists need to stop acting as if they do. None of us does – it’s a choice to believe in something. If you don’t, fine, then don’t. But don’t claim YOU have the truth.

  • MMDavis1


  • JohninMpls

    Huh? 4th of July?

  • MMDavis1

    That’s not true. Netflix had a Halloween section, but doesn’t even have a Holiday section – let alone a Christmas section. God forbid someone wants to see A Christmas Story or White Christmas.
    I don’t get offended when anyone wishes me a happy anything – Christmas, Hanukkah, Holidays or New Year.
    I DO get offended at idiotic challenges that are done for all the wrong reasons (the Arkansas issue re: a VOLUNTARY trip to see A Charlie Brown Christmas). Atheists don’t have the answer either – everyone is searching for their own.

  • JohninMpls

    Maybe we have the wrong preposition here? The War From Christmas? The War Of Christmas?

    I kind of like The Battle of Christmas. Feels epic.

  • MMDavis1

    You know what offends me? The made-up, politically created garbage that was pieced together to make a statement – Kwanza. Totally bogus nonsense. But if people want to celebrate it – fine. Just don’t force me to believe it is an ancient African celebration of harvest or whatever when it is a 1966 invention by an angry radical California prof. Can’t believe anyone actually bought off on it… can you say ‘gullible’?

  • Secular1

    ST 1st amendment lets you let out the wind by all the windbags like you. On your private property you have unfettered right to express whatever you want. On third party private property it is at the discretion of the actual property owner, and the state has little or no voice, so to speak. Now coming to public property, while everyone has right to use public property. That said like any resource is public property is also finite, and the demands on the public property exceed the demands on them then it has to be rationed in a very non-discriminatory manner.

    the trouble with you x’tians like ST, SinVA, et al is that you cannot stomach the fact that the demands on public resources far exceed the capacity. Next thing that rubs them the wrong way is that they are not grandfathered. Another thing that sits in their craw is that the rationing is non-discriminatory and does not favor them. their rub against the new atheists is that we are no longer sitting meekly, as in the past.

  • AuntieChrist

    The perpetrators of the ‘war on christmas’ are the same people who have been at war with christianity for centuries, i.e. the ‘christians’ themselves. They have countenanced a take over of their holy day, encouraged it actually, by commercial interests who have obscured it’s true meaning while turning it into an orgy of mrecantilism, debauchary and conflict. They have conceded christmas just like they conceded their religion, letting charlatans take a religion of peace, brotherhood and sharing and turn it into an excuse for war and a reason to hate. The Popes like Borgias and others began corrupting the religion a thousand years ago, and modern christians have let it continue, allowing charlatans from jerry falwell to ronald reagan to ralph reed taint and smear it, besmirching them in the process. I personally know some real Christians, but for the most part, if someone tells me they are a ‘good christian,’ I hold them suspect, as probably small minded and judgemental, a hater.

  • Secular1

    “That’s not true. Netflix had a Halloween section, but doesn’t even have a Holiday section – let alone a Christmas section. God forbid someone wants to see A Christmas Story or White Christmas.” Are you Fin kidding me? You are crying because Netflix does not give you a category to find x’mas movies. Netflix is a private property, it has the right to do whatever they want. You don’t like it stop subscribing or complain to them. This is the kind of arrogance you x’tians display. We are supposed to cower and serve your wishes. No wonder you whine. Cry somewhere else quietly and privately.
    “I don’t get offended when anyone wishes me a happy anything – Christmas, Hanukkah, Holidays or New Year” thats mighty magnanimous of you.
    “I DO get offended at idiotic challenges that are done for all the wrong reasons” I suppose you are soon issuing a list of right reasons right?
    “Atheists don’t have the answer either” keep that in mind. Dont send any 18 year olds to my house with the NEWS.

  • frustratedwiththemess

    Merry Christmas to you also!!! JESUS is LORD!!!

  • frustratedwiththemess

    Kwanza has nothing to do with Christmas at all. Kwanza has nothing to do with JESUS at all.

  • frustratedwiththemess

    Merry Christmas to all and schools are closed for Christmas….NOT winter break. If you don’t like it…oh well. Move somewhere else.

  • veginpost

    As usual this was an excellent read.

  • ClarkKent1

    slow down MMDavis. Kwanzaa does not pretend to be ancient. There’s no conspiracy. It was created to, in part, hark back to older principles but it does NOT present itself as a continuous ancient thing called Kwanzaa. Relax!

  • veginpost

    Actually the War on Poverty was very effective if not defined as successful. Children as well as parents were less hungry, there was more affordable housing, homelessness was reduced, health care especially for children was increased. Unfortunately reactionary forces stood in the way of more progress and to a great degree have been able to undermind much of positive social programing.

  • veginpost

    This is part of the insipient nature of making an argument based on fairy tales or myths. All are welcome to have faith in either but that does not create a platform for rational public debate.

  • veginpost

    Happy Holidays Sokumina. Hope that doesn’t offend you. If it does Merry Christmas.

  • ClarkKent1

    Here’s the truth: I don’t have to believe in supernatural stuff just because someone thinks I should. I think it rains because of winds and temperature and clouds and stuff, and I have clear and sufficient evidence for it. If you think I should ALSO believe that it rains because Deity X wants it to rain on certain people, then the burden of proof is on you. You can say it, you are free to say it – but my truth, so far, is more supported than yours.

  • mytwocents

    I think you’re a few years late. Christmas commercialism started infringing on Halloween many years ago.

  • SimonTemplar


    First, since when has the government ever let a little thing like “limited resources” get in the way of anything. Have you seen our national debt numbers?

    Secondly, Christmas comes around the same time every year. I’m quite certain that if atheists pick a day or a season out of the year to annually make use of public land, then everyone would be able to schedule proper usage rights like actual grown ups.

    Somehow, ALL KINDS of “interesting” groups find a way to schedule their public displays, protests, messages, etc. on the national mall in DC.

    Continued below:

  • SimonTemplar

    Finally, Insulting others for their beliefs is NOT the opposite of “sitting meekly.” Neither is it the equivalent of an effective apologetic.

    Atheists have for years complained about people of faith “pushing their beliefs in the faces of others.” Since atheists claim to be devoted to the principles of rationalism, and since rationalism would suggest that repeating the mistakes of others is a bad idea, one would think that the “new atheists” would have tried to find a more constructive way of getting their message out.

  • SimonTemplar

    And to you as well.

  • SimonTemplar

    First you have to decide which Christmas you plan to battle. Will it be the secular, commercial Christmas or the Christian celebration of the birth of Christ.

    Then you have to decide if it is a battle worth engaging. After all, you will be warring with the idea of people celebrating, buying and exchanging gifts with each other, trying to practice acts of kindness and good will toward others, etc.

    I pity the poor atheist PR person who has to try to spin THAT as a good idea. Though it seems Mr. Silverman is eager for the position.

  • Catken1

    As if Christians had a lock on gift exchange or kindness…
    No one’s warring with your holiday, just with its “entitlement” to exclusive center stage with no one else’s holidays allowed any recognition whatsoever.

  • Catken1

    “Finally, Insulting others for their beliefs is NOT the opposite of “sitting meekly.” ”

    When you stop telling atheists they deserve to burn in agony forever and ever for their beliefs, and that while they are doing so, you will be kissing the rear of the loving Daddy who burns them, you can complain about people merely pointing out that your faith is as much a myth as any other, with no more evidence than any other. Till then, you look like a bit of a hypocrite.

  • SimonTemplar

    Catken your response further confirms my comment. The “new atheists” are driven more by emotion (namely, bitterness and anger) than by reason. [Well, there is also that insatiable need to be the smartest person in the room at all times but that is a separate issue]. IF atheism is grounded in REASON, than the beliefs of any religion (which you claim to be myth and lacking in evidence) would be unlikely to cause you to resort to rhetoric which is clearly intended to shock and insult those with whom you disagree. I think atheists need to come to grips with the fact that there is something MUCH DEEPER going on here than mere differences of opinion or philosophy. And they need to stop blaming others for their own behavior.

  • H-Bomb

    So I guess you’re not aware of the 16th century switch to the Gregorian calendar?

  • H-Bomb

    +1 for a rational, science-informed worldview.

  • Dr Wh0m

    Aren’t you all a little to old to have an imaginary friend that you ask special favors from?


    “you don’t know the truth either…”

    You can tell a lie though, and unless someone has magicked up some kind of of proof for the invisible omnipresent omnipotent sky daddy who’s angry about everything (but not the right things), you are just mouthing old myths with no basis in truthiness.


    That’s funny. I just went to Netflix and searched on “Christmas movies” – and my search results returned lots and lots of xmas movies!

    So someone is either stupid or a liar. Well, I suppose they could be both.

  • Joel Hardman


    Let me guess, you often harp about how everyone else disregards the Constitution, right?