Two things you should know about the “War on Christmas”:
1. There isn’t one.
2. Anyone telling you there is, is either delusional or a liar.
This year’s faux outrage fodder comes in the form of a billboard released by an atheist group. “Dear Santa,” the billboard reads. “All I want for Christmas is to skip church! I’m too old for fairy tales.”
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The fairy tale they mean isn’t the Santa one but the religious one. Past billboards from like-minded groups go back several years and, as in years past, none have lived up to the worst fears of critics.
The real war on Christmas begins every year just after Halloween, when big-box retailers set out their garish displays of poinsettias and Christmas knickknacks. We then lament why they can’t at least wait until Thanksgiving, which, once upon a time, was the true beginning of the holiday season, but we’ve since turned Black Friday excess into a weeklong debauchery of dollars.
Truth be told, the “war on Christmas” is actually good business. Groups such as the Mississippi-based American Family Association, and legal groups such as the Alliance Defense Fund and the Liberty Counsel, annually sell buttons, bumper stickers, trinkets and trifles to Christian enthusiasts. The Liberty Counsel’s “Help Save Christmas Action Pack,” costing barely pennies to make, sells for $25 – a suggested donation, no doubt.
Fox News’ crusade against infidels began in earnest in 2005 with the sale of then-network anchor John Gibson’s “The War on Christmas.” The very October day Gibson’s drivel hit bookstores nationwide, Fox News aired the first of five dozen segments about this evil plot, complete with lavish plugs for the book or for the Christmas baubles peddled by Bill O’Reilly on his website.
Ironically, the same people who should be horrified by the crass commercialization of Christmas are, instead, contributing to it.
No less unctuous is our own hypocrisy. Sony Pictures cancels a movie release in response to hacker threats. “Censorship and un-American!” we decry. Yet we’ve no trouble calling for the censorship of atheists.
Countless examples exist, from Hawaii to the Northeast, from the woman who called a talk-show host last week to demand that atheists shut up – the host agreed – to lawmakers demanding that atheist billboards be taken down, to death threats directed at those who put them up. Sadly, religion doesn’t always make you a better person.
Atheist groups say the billboards highlight a broad national mistrust, marginalization and even discrimination the nonreligious face. Laws in eight states ban atheists from holding public office. Mississippi law prohibits atheists from testifying in court. The laws are unenforceable thanks to a mid-20th century Supreme Court decision, but you can guess why no lawmaker has suggested that those laws be rescinded.
Some religious groups post billboards regularly ostracizing atheists: “To All of Our Atheist Friends,” reads one, “Thank God You’re Wrong.” “Attention Lunatic Atheists & their Lawyers,” reads another, “Anti-God is Anti-American, Anti-American is Treason, Traitors lead to a Civil War.” Others suggest that since God doesn’t matter to them, you don’t matter to atheists. The image features someone pointing a gun at you.
The larger point isn’t whether the billboards are offensive, but imagine the reaction if billboards called religious people anti-American, traitors or violence-prone lunatics.
How can religionists whine over those using billboards to advertise a cause when they themselves do it? And then demand that such groups exercising their free-speech rights have those billboards removed and even banned?
The whole thing is made even sillier by the fact Christmas occurs on a pagan feast day, Saturnalia. In the week leading up to Dec. 25, ancient Romans celebrated Saturn, the god of agriculture and the coming growing season, as days stopped getting shorter. It was highlighted by public banquets, private gift-giving and a carnival atmosphere. Sound familiar?
The early Christians deliberately moved the birth of Jesus to Dec. 25, making it easier to sell Christianity to the Romans. So anytime anyone starts caterwauling about Christmas being corrupted, stolen or secularized, just remember that the Christians diddled with Christmas from Day 1.
Bill O’Reilly, who’s made a career of this phony war, now declares that thanks to his crusade, the war is over, Christmas won. No, Bill, Christmas never lost because there never was any war against it, and there never will be.
Only now, every Christmas comes with a war on Christmas. As much as I desire that people finally come to their senses and realize this for the insufferable nonsense that it is, that Christmas wish will have to go unfilled. You’ll see. Someone will truck out this trope next year. And plenty of people will fall for it.
Bruce Maiman is a former radio host who lives in Rocklin. Contact him
at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow him on Twitter @Maimzini.