Every two Wednesdays at Fashions! Quirks! Panic!Luke T. Harrington examines one of the random obsessions that have gripped the public mind in the recent past and tries, in vain, to make sense of it all.
ORn December 7, 2004 we learned that there was a war going on at Christmas.
« Across the country, Christmas is catching on, » Fox News speaking chief Bill O’Reilly told us. “In Denver last weekend, no religious floats were allowed in the holiday parade. In New York City, Mayor Bloomberg unveiled the « holiday tree » and no Christian Christmas symbols are allowed in public schools. The federated department store, i.e. Macy’s, has eliminated the Christmas greeting ‘Merry Christmas’”.
Was it true? huh. It all depends on what you mean by « Christmas » and what you mean by « war ». The Denver parade O’Reilly was talking about it had been going on for decades and had never allowed religious floats. Religious performances in public schools have been controversial for generations, for reasons that seem fairly obvious. The Macy’s story was true, but… I don’t know, are department store words really what Christianity needs?
O’Reilly’s critics were quick to point out that Christmas wasn’t exactly going anywhere. Polls show this quite consistently about ninety percent of Americans observe Christmas one way or another-significantly more, in fact, than the number of Americans who identify as Christians. And practically from the day after Halloween onwards, it was impossible to throw a rock without hitting a decorated tree, a garland of lights, a nativity scene or an inflatable Santa Claus. Even that, though, is somehow missing what really worried O’Reilly: « Secular progressives, » he continued, « realize that America as it stands now will never approve of gay marriage, abortion to partial birth, euthanasia, legalized drugs, income redistribution through taxation, and many other progressive views due to religious opposition.But if secularists can destroy religion in the public arena, the brave new progressive world is one possibility ».
The downside, of course, to endlessly stoking anger over silly things for profit is that some people might take it a little too seriously, and that overly serious anger might escape into the real world.
Several were quick to point out That This it actually sounded a lot like something “just-like-Elon-Musk-but-significantly-more-racist” Henry Ford had written nearly a century earlier. In his 1920s news weekly, The international Jew: the most important problem in the world, Ford had written, « Last Christmas most people had a hard time finding Christmas cards that indicated in any way that Christmas commemorated someone’s birth, » concluding that it was the Jews who were trying to undermine Christianity (along with to Mom, baseball and apple pie). ) pretending that Christmas was a secular holiday. O’Reilly had replaced Jews with « secular progressives, » because anti-Semitism isn’t what cool kids do anymore, but it was largely the same rant.
TWhat’s interesting about all of this is that, for the most part, it really is Christmas AND a secular holiday, and it always has been, at least in America. This is a country founded by Protestants, and historically, a lot of Protestants just didn’t celebrate Christmas. American Baptists and Quakers viewed Christmas as an unnecessary addition to Scripture, while Puritans and Presbyterians he saw it as a pagan abomination (which…the « Christmas = pagan » thing is a whole other misconception, which you can read about Here). As Catholics and Lutherans slowly filtered into the country, the celebration of Christmas slowly became more and more common, but it wasn’t until 1870—quite late in the game, if you think about it—that President Grant he finally made it a federal holiday, thus integrating it once and for all. Which makes sense: We were all still pretty hungover from the Civil War (I mean, not Grant, he was just literally hungover), and we all needed a strong drink of eggnog. At that point it was only a century and a half since the Puritan colonies were proper prohibited Christmas, so yes, we would have come a long way (although whether we had gone in the right direction was a matter of perspective). So when Henry Ford began ranting and ranting about abolishing Christmas, it had only been a generation or two since it was abolished. established. Which is… something to think about, for sure.
In any case, the backlash against O’Reilly’s invention of « The War on Christmas » was as swift as its claim to existence. In particular, Jon Stewart, at the time the host of The daily show, sarcastic shot at O’Reilly, « I, John Stewart, hate Christmas, Christians, Jews, morality. » (The anti-Semitic roots of O’Reilly’s crusade were not lost on Stewart, even if they were lost on O’Reilly himself.) And of course Slate, Salon, and their people all shattered to the effect of « Pssshhh, Christmas will be Well, senile old man. The bitter feud had begun and the bitter boycotts began.
Of course, anyone standing some distance from the « controversy » could have seen that O’Reilly and Stewart (along with others from their respective sides) were playing exactly the same game, and judging by their own criteria, at least: they were both « winning « .
A TV host, after all, has only one job: to get people to tune in and stay tuned long enough to see some ads. And of course, the best way to get people to stick around is to evoke a strong emotional response in them, so, you know, anger and/or fear. Making viewers think, « Grr, I can’t stand those awful secular progressives! » and/or « Grrr, I can’t stand that idiot Bill O’Reilly! » both men were able to fuel the machine that kept their shows airing and profitable.
The downside, of course, to endlessly stoking anger over silly things for profit is that some people might take it a little too seriously, and that overly serious anger might slip out into the real world. In 2016, when the mutual contempt across party lines had reached a fever pitch, the well-known dude who plays a rich kid on TV Donald Trump found himself running for president, buoyed by the anger of people like O’Reilly had been stoking for years. « If I Become President » Trump announced to frantic applause, « We will say Merry Christmas in every shop. » It doesn’t matter that we actually never stopped saying it. The point was, she was bringing him back. Or something.
Luckily, Americans are smart people who know the difference between entertainment and reality, so nothing came of this bizarre campaign. But heck, can you imagine?