Christmas Should Not Be a Political Weapon
December 22, 2017
Celebrating the end of one year and the dawn of another is an age-old tradition in most cultures; a time of gathering with family, being thankful for what we have, and hoping for a prosperous new year.
Regardless of religious background, or lack there-of, the yearend season has traditionally been celebrated in the United States as Christmas, complete with decorated trees, gift exchanges, and a jolly old fat man that leaves toys for children and eats their cookies and milk left by the fireplace.
That, of course, is the commercialization of the holidays, seen as the biggest shopping season of the year. Retailers’ successes are judged based on their in-store and now online sales, racking up nearly $500 billion in just a few weeks. It’s a time of office parties and neighborhood get-togethers, family dinners and overeating.
But, in the past 20 years, the holiday season has unfortunately become a political dividing line between conservatives and progressives as they debate the correctness of saying “Merry Christmas” in an ever increasingly diverse country with over 100 religions and dozens of cultures living in the melting pot of the U.S.
Christmas, as a tradition, is a Christian religious celebration of the birth of Jesus. For nearly 2,000 years, religious celebrations have included masses, feasts, and iconic symbols of Jesus, crosses, and wise men. The religious aspects have become familiar to people all over the world since it was first celebrated in Rome in 336 A.D.
For non-Christians, though, the holiday season can seem like an attack on their own religions when schools, government, and especially the President make saying “Merry Christmas” seem like a mandate.
During last year’s campaign, Donald Trump promised to make Christmas great again by bringing back “Merry Christmas” like it was his to bestow. For the same reason that he’s used other wedge issues to divide people, Trump has used Christmas as a litmus test
of who’s a good American and who isn’t, in his view. Last year, Trump even suggested boycotting Starbucks for their lack of use of Merry Christmas on their coffee cups.
This week, during a speech celebrating passage of his tax cut package, Trump announced that “we can say Merry Christmas again” and that “we like the sound” of it, asserting again that it was somehow outlawed before his election, but it’s now acceptable again.
It’s not enough that President Barack Obama issued official greetings saying Merry Christmas himself several times during his presidency. It’s not enough that the White House was decorated with Christmas trees and all the trimming each year during Obama’s time there. And it’s not enough that the Obamas attended Christmas church services in 2011 during their annual vacation in Hawaii.
What Trump calls the “war on Christmas” refers to legal cases that have stuck down the use by government agencies of religious symbols and icons related to Christmas on public property, including Nativity scenes, crosses, and other direct references to Christian dogma.
The “war on Christmas” isn’t really a war at all. In fact, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the most active group in religious cases, has, at different times, fought on both sides of cases related to Christmas.
On one side, the ACLU has defended a student at a public school that wanted to distribute invitations to a Christmas party hosted by a local church, a prison inmate that wanted to organize a Christmas service, and a group of singers that wanted to sing Christmas carols to prisoners.
In other cases, the ACLU has fought programs in public schools where they had kindergarteners play out the Nativity scene, fought to have Nativity scenes removed from courthouses, and last year fought an Indiana city’s use of a cross atop their Christmas tree in the town square.
The ACLU, whose main objective is to protect Constitutional rights, fights these cases to ensure that everyone’s rights, not just the majority, are secure. The use of public dollars to promote one religion over the other is against the basic principles of the First Amendment, but that doesn’t mean that Christmas is illegal.
Christmas trees, lights, and decorations are still used on government buildings, including the White House, and Christmas is still a federal holiday as it has been since 1870, but the weaponization of Christmas by politicians is the problem.
They have taken what is held as sacred by many and used it as a tool of intimidation against others. When the President of the United States threatens to boycott a company for not using Merry Christmas, it sends a message that the government is putting one religion above all others.
Imagine how that message is received by a Muslim, a Jew, or an Atheist.
Imagine how intimidating it could feel to have the government tell you that your views are not right, not acceptable, or not American enough.
The holiday season should be one of love, fellowship, and compassion. We have survived another year together in this world that is quickly changing environmentally, culturally, and technologically. We have so many challenges we must face together that are so much more important than choosing which greeting to say during the holidays.
The words are not as important as the sentiment behind them. Our greetings should express a genuine message of joy, not one of forced acceptance of a religious doctrine. We should want to spread joy not pain. We should cherish the interaction, not look for a fight.
So Happy Holidays, Felíz Navidad, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Season’s Greetings, and have a good day to all. May your respective year-end holidays be safe, happy, and fulfilling.
Best wishes for a happy holiday season from our family to yours.