Late mercantilist heresy


The Christian right’s fight against the ‘war on Christmas’

By , Tuesday 18 December 2012 17.01 EST


I love this time of year: decking the halls with boughs of artificial holly, wrapping twinkly lights around anything that doesn’t move, and settling in on a long winter’s night to watch conservatives take up rhetorical arms in the “war on Christmas” – not to be confused with the wars on drugs, terror, women and bacon. The “war on Christmas” has become a beloved (or at least, persistent) tradition – right up there with maxing out the Mastercard and waking up with an eggnog hangover.

It’s a fight for the soul of America: Fox News, the Christian right and assorted Republicans versus godless Obama voters who say “happy holidays” instead of “merry Christmas”, and don’t mind that the official White House decorations feature First Dog Bo, not Baby Jesus.

Well, Baby Jesus needn’t take these insults lying down, not as long as Fox has an audience of outraged Caucasian Americans convinced that the re-election of the president proves that they are an oppressed minority. On Fox’s breakfast program, former Miss America Gretchen Carlson recites a daily litany of anti-Christmas atrocities, including a rumored clampdown on the colors red and green.

Carlson, who once said, “I’m all for free speech and free rights, just not on 25 December,” is not all tantrum-throwing. She and her co-hosts recently presented a jolly feature on Arizona’s Scottsdale Gun Club, a fun place for the whole family. Families can have their picture taken with Santa while holding AK-47s or whatever lethal weapon takes their fancy. Nothing says “peace on Earth” like a sniper rifle!

But Carlson draws the line at the word “holiday”. As does the American Family Association. They’re calling for a boycott of retailers the Gap, Old Navy and Banana Republic, not on the grounds that the Mad Men look is so 2011, but because, as they say:

“You’ll find ‘holiday’ picks, ‘holiday’ wonderland, ‘holiday’ anthem and a ‘holiday’ gift guide, but you won’t find ‘Christmas.’ Gap and Old Navy are censoring the word Christmas, pure and simple.”

Matthew Stavel, chairman of the conservative legal outfit Liberty Counsel, has also got his poinsettia-printed knickers in a twist:

“Renaming a Christmas tree a ‘Holiday tree’ is political correctness run amok. A Menorah is associated with Hanukkah. Its name should not be changed. Santa and his sleigh appear during December bearing Christmas gifts. His name and those of his reindeer entourage should not be changed. Everyone knows that an evergreen tree decorated with lights and ornaments in December is a Christmas tree.”

Damn straight, Brother Stavel! The names of Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, and Blixen were revealed in scripture by the blessed Clement Clarke Moore back in 1823. (Rudolph is a late mercantilist heresy.) The betinseled evergreen should indeed be called a “Christmas tree”, though, like holly and mistletoe, it comes to us from ancient Celtic and Germanic mysteries, not the stable in Bethlehem.

The early church didn’t do Christmas. They didn’t even decide when Christmas was for several centuries.

Sub-commandante of the 25 December brigade is Fox pundit Bill O’Reilly. He really, really hates the word “holiday”. The Thanksgiving leftovers hadn’t acquired their first layer of mold before O’Reilly lit into Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee for referring to the state’s official fir as a “holiday tree”, a clear affront to all that’s decent and right:

“There is no holiday tree. There is no tradition of a holiday tree.”

Of course, “holiday” actually means “holy day” (Old English haligdaeg), which surely describes Christmas. But maybe, conservatives don’t like all the holy day competition: historically, the month of December is jampacked with pagan partying. There’s Saturnalia, the solstice, Natalis Sol Invictus, Jul. Jesus even has to share a birthday with the Persian god Mithra.

Christmas is a mongrel: part Christian, part pagan. Our Puritan ancestors despised it as a popish bacchanale decent people should avoid. In 1687, the Reverend Increase Mather (father of the more famous Cotton) complained that Christmas prompted sinners to be “consumed in Compotations, in Interludes, in playing at Cards, in Revellings, in excess of Wine, in Mad Mirth.”

Anyone looking for a good time on 25 December needed to get down to Virginia. At their Mount Vernon plantation, George and Martha Washington served up a “Great Cake” made of 40 eggs, four pounds of sugar, five pounds of flour, half a pound of spices and five pounds of chopped fruit, washed down with punch consisting of a gallon each of bourbon, sherry, vermouth, rum, tea and half a dozen bottles of champagne.

I don’t think saying “merry Christmas” is particularly offensive to people of other faiths, and hearing “joy to the world” is only traumatic if it’s muzak playing in the mall. But conservative defenders of Christmas might be taken more seriously if they hollered as loudly about the season’s profit-driven vulgar excess, as they do about some town council banning a nativity scene on public property.

And speaking of the nativity, we’ve got it all wrong. Pope Benedict says that the heavenly host of angels didn’t sing the news of Jesus’ birth, they just kind of said it. Worse, there was no ox and no ass. No camels, either.

Wait till O’Reilly hears about this. or


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