December 9, 2018

The Other War on Christmas

Christmas angel

Christmas is coming! If you have been out of your home or turned on your TV in the past couple weeks, you already knew that. It is coming whether you have any interest in it or not. You are sure to hear a lot about what others are doing for Christmas whether you want to or not. And if you are in the United States, you might even hear some Jesus-related references whether you want to or not.

If I was going to complain about Christmas this year, which I don't particularly feel like doing, I'd undoubtedly refer to this article by Lux Alptraum for NBC News. It captures much of what I don't like about Christmas without disparaging those who choose to celebrate it. As I read it, I found myself thinking how nice it was to find that there is at least one other person out there who sometimes feel like this about Christmas.

Much of the author's beef involves the lack of religious inclusiveness and the message this sends to religious minorities. I can relate to this as an atheist, and I think she's right to point out, "...a holiday whose name commemorates the birth of Jesus has, at the very least, some intense Christian heritage..." even if how it is celebrated today often looks secular. Here's the part of the article that most resonates with me:

What I do object to, however, is the culture that’s been built around Christmas, that has elevated one religious faith's year-end festivity into an inescapable, weeks-long period of compulsory celebration for nearly everyone. If you’re Muslim, Jewish, Hindu or otherwise uninterested in participating in a Christian holiday, you can personally opt out of Christmas Day by declining to get a tree and spending December 25 at the movies — but all bets are off should you choose to leave your house (or even turn on the TV) at any moment between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

It does often feel "compulsory," and I do periodically realize that I look for excuses to stay home this time of year. Why? Part of it is the crowds, but it also has to do with the fact that it is hard to go anywhere without being bombarded by messages in which I have little interest and often find annoying. Even the grocery store insists on blasting Christmas music that often contains references to Jesus.

Like the author suggests, it isn't just that I dislike Christmas music or quickly tire of the secularized version of the holiday. It is that even the secularized version often seems to become something about Jesus. And yes, it sometimes feels that some aspects of the season have become weaponized with the goal of reminding non-Christians that we are a mildly tolerated minority.

With white nationalism on the rise, and a president who takes great pleasure in using cries of “Merry Christmas” to bludgeon religious minorities, being non-Christian in America feels more isolating, and unsafe, than ever.
I do think it is helpful to remember that not everyone celebrates Christmas and that this time of year can be isolating for many different reasons (not all of which have to do with Christmas). Maybe the real "war on Christmas" has little to do with which greeting employees at a store use and more to do with how some of us are less than thrilled with constantly having to justify why we'd prefer to have little to do with others' celebrations.