Tuesday, December 20, 2011

What if we gave a War on Christmas and no one came?

Confess: you tear up when you think about the spontaneous Christmas truces of 1914. I do--there's something undeniably great about opposing infantrymen in the trenches coming out of the trenches and meeting in No Man's Land to sing carols, exchange gifts, and play football. Actually, I think a large part of my love for the Christmas truces is because of their spontaneity and mass motivation--this is an Occupy protest before Twitter (#OccupyNoMansLand).

But the only thing that makes the Christmas truces possible is the shared notion of Christmas. (It's interesting to note that German Prince Albert brought a lot of German Christmas customs to England when he married Victoria; so it's not completely surprising that the major truces on Christmas 1914 involved the British and the German forces. It's even less surprising once you remember that the French were still looking for payback for the Franco-Prussian War of 1870; so let's not overstate the role of culture here.) For instance, you couldn't have a Christmas truce during the Russo-Japanese War; heck, you couldn't even really have a Christmas truce on the Eastern front of WWI because the Russians (Eastern Orthodox) and the Germans (Western) don't celebrate Christmas on the same day.

All of this is prelude to my main interest, which is the ridiculous--and not so ridiculous--claims that there's a war on Christmas in America. We're all familiar with the standard Fox News outrage machine turning out perfectly identical claims that whites/Christians are under siege because someone is asking for "special" rights. On one hand, when you look at those claims, what you almost always find is that these other groups (Muslims, gays, blacks, etc.) are asking for the right to be treated equally under the law. So it's ridiculous to claim that there's a war on "us" (whites/Christians/men/Republicans).

But on the other hand, there's something not completely ridiculous about these claims. Because a lot of people who grew up white, hetero, Christian, blah find themselves unable to assume that everyone is like them anymore--and that leads to serious hardship.

First, that means philosophical/ideological hardship--if you know that there are other ways to live, then you have to question the way you live. (For another, and not generous example, we could think about the information-poor society of North Korea, where people don't really know that there are other ways to live--that's the life of a white, hetero, Christian growing up in America in the 1950s.)

Second, not being able to assume everyone is like you leads to some other hardship. For instance, if you have to think before you say "Merry Christmas," that's one more thing you have to think about. (And it's always easier to take things for granted than to think about them.) And if you have to shop around many places because you can't find something you need for your religious observation, that's another type of hardship.

Which is a long way for me to say that I live in a city of 90-100k people and I'm having trouble finding Hanukah candles.

UPDATE: I found Hannukah candles, but they're at this shop in the mall which seems geared towards the very Christian--which means that their interest in Judaica may be associated with the creepy right-wing interest in Greater Israel (Israel and its illegal settlements) as a stepping stone to the Jew-free world of Jesus's return. Maybe I'll go talk to them about that.


  1. Just to clarify, you are saying that part of the "Not so ridiculous" notion of the "War on Christmas" is that those who have grown up never having to question their customs because they were considered, "mainstream" and therefore default truth are now exposed to the ideas of other paths?

    That sounds really confusing when I read it back to myself.

  2. Yes, that's exactly what I meant. I don't think you're confused at all!

    Now, I would (probably) say that being exposed to other truths and questioning your own truths is part of growing up: I'm not saying that we should treat people who want to say "Merry Christmas" as if they were fragile children who have to be kept from the truth because it's an ouchie for them.

    BUT we should still recognize that it's an ouchie for them, even if it's a necessary ouchie.

    I kinda feel like we can say, at the same time, a) "yeah, this is difficult" and b) "but you gotta do it."

  3. Yeah, that's a good way of looking at it. Honestly I try to be respectful of that fact best I can until some people begin to get in your face and rant about Christmas and Christianity being under attack. That's when I have a hard time keeping my mouth shut. A lot of people have problems accepting a shift in what they've taken for granted as standard. I would say a majority of people in fact.

    Congrats on finding Hanukah candles.