It is that season again – and no, I am not talking about Christmas. I am talking about the War on Christmas, which is a far more important season. According to religious conservatives, it is open-season, both on them and on their religion.
For my part, I don’t like to let this season pass without saying a few words about this phony war, for it is a phony war. Nobody is, or has been, making war on Christmas. Non-Christians, secularists, atheists and others declining to participate in Christianity is hardly a war. I mean, I went grocery shopping the other day and listened to Christmas carols the whole time. I later sat at Denny’s and got to be regaled in song after song about Jesus’ miraculous birth.
I was not conscious of any war on Christmas, though the war on my own religious beliefs was quite evident.
The problem is that conservative Christians expect us all to participate in their religion. It’s apparently some unwritten rule; though they insist it is to be found somewhere in the U.S. Constitution, they never quite manage to point it out to the rest of us.
The thing is, this season is plenty holy, to plenty of different people and religions, and has been throughout history. It is the time of the Winter Solstice, after all, marking the shortest day of the year. In pre-scientific societies, this was something pretty special, as was the Summer Solstice, which marks the longest day of the year.
It is impossible for any single ethnicity or religion to lay claim to such a solar event. And long before Christianity did try to lay claim to it, this was already a holy season.
It is theft, cry conservative Christians. “Miserable atheists” are trying to steal Christmas!” cries Pat Robertson. Atheists are like Grinches, apparently, miserable and wanting to share their misery.
If it is theft, as I have pointed out before, you can hardly steal something and then cry foul when somebody else steals what you stole.
But explaining such things to conservative Christians is like explaining to Bryan Fischer that the creation story in Genesis is not an eyewitness account by God, or to Pope Benedict that the Bible does not offer incontrovertible proof of the immaculate conception.
The problem is always one of special rights. Christianity, we are told, has special rights. In other words, we should all have to not only endure but participate in Christian Christmas traditions. It is bad enough that we all have to share in the music from October on, but they expect us to wish each other all a merry Christmas at every opportunity, whether we believe in their Christ or not.
If we don’t, if we decline to participate, we are waging war. By exercising our own right to freedom of belief.
A right, apparently, they don’t believe we actually possess.
Said Fox legal analyst Peter Johnson, “The first salvo in the war on Christmas this year has been shot.”
Oh dear. The recognition that not everybody in America is a Christian is a war on Christmas. No, a war on Christmas is telling Christians none of them can have nativity scenes this year, or telling Christians that none of them can say Merry Christmas.
But nobody is doing that. America is just recognizing that we are a diverse nation religiously.
Bill O’Reilly asks, “Are these atheists ruining Christmas for the kids?”
Bill-O, not all the kids are Christians either. What about the Jewish kids and the Muslim kids and Hindu kids, and the atheist kids and the little Heathen kids like my own?
Oh wait, they’re supposed to praise Jesus’ birth too, aren’t they?
The folks at Liberty Counsel, when they are not hiring attorneys who like ecstasy, marijuana and cocaine and forcing young girls into sexual relationships, are pushing their “Friend or Foe Christmas Campaign“:
Renaming a Christmas tree to a holiday tree, stopping students from wearing red and green, and censoring religious Christmas carols are absurd, but true, examples of the war against Christmas. Over the past few years, the ‘Friend or Foe Christmas Campaign’ has successfully put the ‘grinches’ on the run. This year millions of Americans will join us to help save Christmas. If a government entity censors Christmas in violation of the Constitution, then we will first seek to educate but, if necessary, we will litigate. If retailers choose to profit from Christmas while pretending it does not exist, then we will patronize their competitors.
Renaming a Christmas tree to a holiday tree. Note to Liberty Counsel: The whole tree thing is entirely Pagan in origin. The Puritans whose world you guys claim you want to return to, recognized that decorating a tree for Christmas was Pagan. Why can’t you?
The ancient Heathens used to “worship” trees not because they symbolized a particular god (though trees, like rainbows, could connect this world to the “upper” world) but because they were symbolic of growth and life, and evergreen trees, which did not wilt and die in the winter, seemed to continue to live miraculously. The Heathens brought offering to the trees – fruit and candles, “dressing” the tree in a manner similar to how classical Pagans decorated the statues of their gods. But this Heathen practice was done in honor of Odin, whose time this was with his Wild Hunt through the skies.
In my home, we celebrate the pre-Christian holiday tradition called Jöl – you know, Bill – the original holiday in which trees were decorated and Yule logs burned (not to mention Yule-singing, holly, mistletoe, wassailing, the ancient drink-sacrifice). You know, the one the word “Yule” derives from. The one my ancestors were celebrating long before the first missionary for the White Christ appeared in Northern Europe.
Is the formula Pagan Ritual + Pagan Ritual = Christian Ritual?
We can even add a Pagan god, Odin, and his eight-legged horse Sleipnir (eight reindeer anyone?), and presto! We have Santa, and a holy smoke, a Pagan god becomes a Saint! (Like that’s never happened before…).
In that case, the formula becomes Pagan Ritual + Pagan Ritual, etc + Pagan God = Christmas.
Doctrinally, you hate trees and people getting too close; your religion says trees are bad. But you stick a cross in it or on it and it’s okay?
Yeah, that’s some Christian holiday you got there.
For Heathen folk, and for other Pagan folk, trees were good, not gateways to hell. For Heathens, these trees marked sacred places, just as entire groves could be sacred to Thor and named for him By this reckoning, and the association with Odin, we should be spending our Yules gathered around the sacred tree singing or chanting to Odin, not complaining that somebody has turned the Christmas Tree into a “Holiday” Tree. That crime has already been committed, back when the first Christian co-opted the first tree for the co-opted celebration of Yule.
I don’t need anyone to wish me a Merry Christmas. There is no Christ in my holiday, after all. I don’t even need anybody to wish me a more Heathen-centric “Happy Yule.” A “Happy Holidays” is much more sensible, recognizing, as it does, that this is the holiday season and that it is not an exclusive Christian holiday.
In the end, it isn’t atheists and secularists and others waging war on Christmas, it’s conservative Christians waging war on religious pluralism, a central component of our modern liberal democracy and of the United States Constitution itself.
I’m sorry to all you conservative Christians, but I’ve got news for you: tossing a Bible down on top of the Constitution doesn’t change what the Constitution says. And what it says is that in America, all religions are equal (as is no religion), and we all have a right to choose our beliefs. Nowhere in there does it say we have to privilege yours.
Image © 2012 by Hrafnkell Haraldsson
 H.R. Ellis-Davidson, Gods and Myths of Northern Europe (Penguin, 1973), 86-8.