By Greg Markley
All of us have our own memories of Christmas. This is irrespective of religion, for in the United States people of divergent faiths often celebrate the season. Some celebrate Hanukkah, a Jewish Festival; others enjoy Kwanzaa, a celebration of African American culture. Not all Americans consider it primarily a religious holiday; some members of other faiths love their own sacred days but enjoy the festive spirit of Christmas.
One of my funniest memories from the season happened at work. While working in military history at Fort McPherson, near Atlanta, I was writing a memo outlining our monthly plans. I finished the memo, handed it to our commander and he signed it, apparently before reading it. I went over it once more before sending it off and discovered he had signed a memo saying: “Request for Christmas.” I must have accidentally deleted the word “Party!”
The “War on Christmas” idea has been around for perhaps 20 years, but it increased in velocity when conservative talk radio icons Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity highlighted it as part of the culture wars. The use of Happy Holidays in stores and government buildings and the abominable “Xmas” (deleting the very purpose for the holiday: Jesus Christ) upset many Christians and conservatives.
“The War on Christmas has turned things like holiday greetings and decorations into potentially divisive political statements,” wrote Leon Stack in the New York Times. “People who believe Christmas is under attack point to inclusive phrases like ‘Happy Holidays’ as (liberal) insults to Christianity.” A new thing is people conflating the virus vaccines with the War on Christmas.
The number of people who believe in God in the U.S. has declined noticeably since Gallup first researched religiosity in 1944. In 1944, 98% of Americans said they believe in God. By 2004, 93% were believers. Ten years later, only 87% declared a belief in God. It’s no stretch to conclude a person who doubts there is a God is happy to see the name of the December holiday expunged by weasel words (Happy Holidays).
A 2019 survey by Pew Research determined that Protestantism is still the dominant religion in the U.S., dwarfing the 2nd place religion, Catholicism (20%). Next is a tie between Mormonism and Judaism, at 2% each. The fastest growing “faith” group is Unaffiliated at 26%. Thus, it’s no surprise that the legions of people who prefer “Seasons Greetings” over “Merry Christmas” are around.
It’s obvious that the conservative talk radio and TV hosts are presenting The War on Christmas in a sensational way. It makes people angry and depressed all at once. But plucking a few excitable people from Toledo, Ohio, or Jackson, Mississippi to use as examples in a conspiracy against God is shallow.
When I hear people say, “There is a war against Christmas,” don’t they realize that Christmas products flood stores beginning in August? Not only are regular patrons tired of the holiday music; employees are, too. Many companies judge managers based on how successful the company’s Christmas season is.
Managers get four months to shine, now; in the old days Christmas selling season was not 90-100 days. In this polarized time, one must be careful not to offend anybody, because they are likely as frazzled as you. This is an outlier of a year, with many people getting home delivery, and those who shop and eat outside must wear masks and practice social distancing.
According to the business website Statista, the winter holiday has a bunch of shopping occasions, including Thanksgiving weekend, which features Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday. There is also Super Saturday, the last Saturday before Christmas, and Christmas itself. More than 114 million U.S. consumers shopped on Black Friday.
Statista reports that holiday retail sales in the U.S. were expected to amount to about $755.3 billion. That was a conservative figure; retail sales over the holiday season are really projected to be between $755.3 billion and $766.7 billion.
Humorist Dave Barry, who won the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary, has as usual a unique take on the names and activities of Christmas. He said: “In the old days, it was not called the Holiday Season; the Christians called it ‘Christmas’ and went to church; the Jews called it ‘Hanukkah’ and went to synagogue.”
He continued: “The atheists went to parties and drank. People passing each other on the street would say ‘Merry Christmas!’ or ‘Happy Hanukkah!’ or to the atheists ‘Look out for the wall!’” Not exactly kind to atheists, but this illustrates how Christmas was before little was scrutinized for matching to one’s religion.
Greg Markley has lived in Lee County for 21 years, on and off. He has master’s degrees in Education and History. He taught politics as an adjunct in Georgia and Alabama. He was U.S. Army Europe Journalist of the Year (1993) for articles from Croatia, Germany, and Macedonia.