The War on Christmas: A Sweary History
Me: “Happy Holidays!”
Fox News: *shrieking noises*
I understand being upset with Bruce Springsteen’s version of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” because that song is an auditory atrocity, but Jesus fucking Christ I doubt actual Jesus Christ gave a flying reindeer fuck about how we do or do not celebrate his probably not birthday.
Let’s start with the date. No one even mentioned the idea that December 25th was the birthday of “I have a personal relationship with” Jesus until the year 336. It’s not in the Bible. The Nativity story isn’t much help in determining when he was virgin birthed. Choosing late December was a marketing decision. The Roman Empire was already celebrating that time of year to honor Saturn, the Roman god of agriculture, and also Mithra, the Persian god of light, so it was easier to get people on board by co-opting it as an eventual celebration of Happy I Want an X-Box / Turkey Coma / Drunk Uncle / Praise the Savior Fun Time.
And for a long time no one gave much of a shit. Epiphany on January 6, and Easter—whenever the fuck that is—were more important. In the West, many have an epiphany around January 6 that it’s finally time to take the fucking tree down and also this whole not drinking thing probably isn’t going to work out this year but better luck next year, right? The biblical epiphany, if you’re not aware, is about when those three strange dudes showed up with gifts for baby Jeez and Joseph was all hey Mary the fuck are these guys? One wise dude said I think I’ll give them gold. Who doesn’t like gold? The other two were all yeah that’s a sweet gift man but we’re going with tree resin. Then some fuckin’ Neil Peart wannabe unaccompanied minor showed up and said pa rum pum pum pum motherfuckers and Mary was all quit that fucking racket I just got the little shit to sleep!
Anyway, fast forward to when smallpox helped wipe out the Americas to make room for the Jesus-folk. Puritans didn’t like Christmas. But that’s okay, because no one liked Puritans.
In 1621 the Governor of the Plymouth Colony saw people taking December 25th off work and he was all what the fuck where is your Protestant work ethic? The Puritan ire toward Christmas was brought over from England, where it was seen as a time of drunken debauchery, gambling, and whoring, which actually sounds pretty awesome. They viewed celebrating the (alleged) birthday of Christ as un-Christian, seeing it as filled with pagan tree decorating shit and having actual fun which Puritans could not abide. Well, the Puritans weren’t totally anti-fun. But they were about restrained fun. Christmas was too much fun, and so it had to go. In the Puritan colonies in the Americas, as well as in Puritan-controlled England, Christmas was essentially banned for a time in the middle of the 17th century.
Christmas celebrations fell out of favor in the U.S. after the American Revolution; it was seen as a British thing, and didn’t we just fight a long-ass war with those motherfuckers? Fuck that limey bullshit. But by the middle of the 19th century corporations were getting worried about worker burnout from the industrial revolution, and rather than not work them to death they were all yeah throw the wretched fuckers a bone and let them have a day off. In 1870 Christmas was made a federal holiday in the U.S. Unpaid, of course. It wasn’t religion pushing for Christmas, but commerce.
Christmas caught on, becoming something of a unifying force in a nation that had recently gone through a Civil War. Humans enjoyed the drinking and dancing and debauchery because that’s just the kind of people we are, and corporations were all hey we can cash in on this shit, and Mariah Carey said fuck yeah so can I. And then once Americans started liking it, they started hating anyone who didn’t like it. I mean, they already hated those people; it was just another excuse to be a fucking bigot.
Henry Ford, the car guy, was antisemitic as fuck. Like, we’re talking he inspired Hitler with his writing kind of antisemitic. In the early 20th century there were instances of Jewish groups saying hey can you maybe ease off ramming Jesus down kids’ throats in public schools and making Jewish kids do Bible readings? And Ford flipped the fuck out, saying Jews were engaged in a “religious attack” and there was “Jewish opposition to Christmas.” Not only were Jews engaged in a war on Christmas, Ford said they were at the same time somehow making money from it, accusing Jewish store owners of profiteering from sales of Christmas presents and decorations.
After World War II ‘murica got extra big into Jesus out of a fear of those Godless communists. During the 1950s church attendance in the U.S. was at its highest point in history. As a result, there was a movement to “Put Christ back in Christmas.” Nativity scenes and stars on the top of Christmas trees became a lot more popular. And of course the Christmas season in public schools during the 50s got way more Jesus-y, and so there was some pushback. Then the Bible thumpers were all “War on Christmas!” Except they weren’t using that phrase quite yet.
In 1964, Bob Dylan sang “The times they are a-changin’,” and he was right, because American society became more diverse, more secular, and less tolerant of “You must tolerate my intolerance and me demanding everything be about Jesus.” The Supreme Court even weighed in in the 1980s, saying no you can’t actually Christianize the fuck out of public spaces. This secularization increased during President Clinton’s two terms. Referring to it as a “war” was finally coined at the end of Clinton’s second term by an anti-immigration white supremacist fucknut named Peter Brimelow.
There are at least 14 different religious holidays celebrated in December, and the phrase “Happy Holidays” had been around for a long fucking time; it appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer in 1863, and hey guess what nobody gave a shit. Within half a century it was being used all the time, and still no one gave a shit. Hell, a 1937 ad for Camel cigarettes said, “A gift of Camels says ‘Happy Holidays and Happy Smoking!’” Because getting lung cancer is American as fuck. “Season’s Greetings” has also been around for ages, with presidents from both parties using it on their holiday cards going back to Eisenhower. Even fucking Reagan put Season’s Greetings on the official White House holiday card. Continues below …
People who love Reagan hate my writing, so if you love Reagan definitely don’t become a paying subscriber because it will trickle down into my holiday beer fund.
Back to this Brimelow piece of shit. He blames all of America’s woes on immigrants, despite the fact that he is one, having been born in England. I guess he figures white English-speaking Christian immigrants are okay, but fuck everyone else. Anyway, he began bitching about alleged anti-Christmas sentiment in 1995 when he was at the conservative magazine National Review, but he didn’t call it a war until December 12, 2000, on his racist as fuck website, which the Southern Poverty Law Center declared a hate group. In a blog post Brimelow declared “the War Against Christmas rages on, part of the struggle to abolish America.” What was he referencing? An email from that bastion of holiday cheer: Amazon.
He was angry that the email began with “Happy Holidays!” and made reference to “holiday shopping season”. The lack of mention of Christmas was vexing to poor Peter, so much that he offered a signed copy of his racist as fuck anti-immigrant book Alien Nation in exchange for “the most egregious effort to suppress Christmas.”
Although Peter named it the War Against Christmas, the term eventually went through a preposition change and became the foundation for the far right’s battle to “save” Christmas. Each year Brimelow’s website catalogued examples of attacks on Christmas by, you know, wishing people happy holidays or something, placing Christmas under that innocent umbrella with the many other religious holidays taking place in December instead of proudly proclaiming FUCK YEAH CHRISTMAS IT’S FUCKING CHRISTMAS FUCK ALL OTHER HOLIDAYS YOU FUCKING INFIDEL IT’S MOTHERFUCKING CHRISTMAS CHRISTMAS CHRISTMAS!
And Brimelow’s hate website is still fucking doing it every year, but it was Bill O’Reilly and Fox News that really gave it steam. In 2004 O’Reilly declared that the War on Christmas was “a national emergency.” And what followed was a call for a boycott against stores that profited from Christmas yet didn’t use the word “Christmas” in their messaging. According to O’Reilly, saying happy holidays was all part of a nefarious plot to “get religion out, then you can pass secular progressive programs like legalization of narcotics, euthanasia, abortion at will, and gay marriage.” The Fox program The O’Reilly Factor kept up with the military themed missives about the alleged anti-Christmas offensive against mangers, mistletoe, and myrrh by hosting a regular segment titled “Christmas Under Siege.” The show regularly levied accusations of attacks on Christmas that were easily proven false. But it didn’t matter that it was bullshit, the troops were rallied, pissed off. Even people who weren’t that religious but liked Fox News began choosing sides, seeing any efforts at inclusion as an evil Democrat plot to destroy American culture.
There was also a 2005 book by a Fox News contributor titled The War on Christmas: How the Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday Is Worse Than You Thought. Who gives a shit about things like poverty, racism, and the environment? The real issue is people using snowman imagery instead of Santa Claus. Oh, and there was another book with the same main title published eight years later but with a different subtitle: “Battles in Faith, Tradition, and Religious Expression.” The author may know what an Oxford comma is, but not evolution. It was written by the same guy who manages the Creation Museum. That’s the religious theme park in Kentucky, the one with the giant replica of Noah’s Ark. You know the one, the ARK that suffered WATER DAMAGE due to FLOODING in 2019.
What sucks is that the boycott fucking worked. O’Reilly added all sorts of retailers to his list of happy holidays transgressors to boycott, and most of them caved, saying okay fine we’ll add Merry Christmas to our holiday messaging. In 2006 O’Reilly declared victory, saying, “We won the war.” Despite said victory, it didn’t stop him from bringing it up again and again. It was just too good an example of how white Christians are the real victims in America. Sarcasm. Bill O’Reilly was fired from Fox in the spring of 2017 for being a sexual harassing piece of shit, but he was still ranting about the War on Christmas the previous December. It’s okay, because he had Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson to take over as generals in the valiant defense of Christmas.
Evangelical Christian groups were certainly active in Fox News Presents: The War on Christmas, creating “Naughty or Nice” lists of retailers based on whether their holiday messaging was sufficiently Jesus. In 2013 Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly freaked the fuck out at the suggestion that Santa Claus—a guy who doesn’t even fucking exist—might not be white. During the 2015 holiday season, Starbucks made their coffee cups all red, and hate-filled far-right Christian crusading cockwaffle Joshua Feuerstein misplaced his excrement about the lack of Christian imagery on the cups, ranting in a video to his millions of social media followers. It blew the fuck up, getting Feuerstein a guest spot on Fox News. Additionally, fascist website Breitbart published an article about it with the title “War on Christmas: Starbucks Red Cups Are Emblematic of the Christian Cleansing of the West.” And Starbucks was all chill the fuck out we made them blank like that so people can doodle snowflakes and people being nailed to crosses and shit on the cups. Whether that was true or just some public relations bullshit is anyone’s guess.
And then, fucking Trump.
He jumped on the Starbucks hate, saying, “Maybe we should boycott Starbucks.” He also bragged that one of the most successful Starbucks was in Trump Tower, adding, “That’s the end of that lease.”
The following year the Starbucks cup was green, showing people of a variety of backgrounds all being happy together. Called the “Unity” cup, right-wingers were upset with how it “promoted a liberal agenda.” That was eight days before the 2016 presidential election; alas, a sizeable portion of Americans weren’t feeling the unity. Trump had promised as part of his campaign that he was going to “Bring back Merry Christmas.” He said if he won, stores wouldn’t be saying Happy Holidays anymore; he’d somehow force them to say Merry Christmas. And of course just like his wall, that never happened, including at Trump’s own stores, restaurants, and hotels. The Trump store showcased a “Holiday Gift Guide,” not a Christmas one, and Trump restaurants had a “Holiday Menu”. But at least the 2017 White House card did say Merry Christmas on it. USA! USA!
People joke that Eric Trump is “the dumb one” in the family, but holy shit is that a low fucking bar. In 2016 he said the whole reason daddy was running for president was because bad Mr. Obama named the White House’s “National Christmas Tree” a “holiday tree” as part of his nefarious Muslim plot in enact Shania Law or some shit. But it was easily proven that President Obama did no such thing, and there was tons of video and Twitter evidence of Obama wishing the nation a Merry Christmas over and over again. Also, didn’t stepmom Melania get caught on tape saying, “Who gives a fuck about Christmas?”
It’s all bullshit. There never was a war on Christmas. It’s just white Christian Americans playing their favorite role: the victim. In 2021, the 117th Congress became the most diverse in history, but despite this, fewer than a quarter of them represent either a racial or ethnic minority. Also, 88% of Congress is Christian, compared with 65% of the general U.S. population. And yet, the far right and evangelical Christians constantly complain about how they’re having all their rights trampled, they’re victims of “white genocide,” that “political correctness is running amok” and liberals want to “destroy everything wholesome in our country.”
It’s the stupidest fucking culture war ever, and they do it because it works. In 2005, a poll revealed that 41% of Americans preferred “Happy Holidays” and 56% preferred hearing “Merry Christmas.” But after a decade of being annually exposed to the War on Christmas, these numbers went through a significant shift. In 2015 those who preferred HH dropped to 25%, and the ones who wanted MC rose to 65%.
Instilling fear is often a winning political strategy for the right. Republicans make people think their religion, their culture, their very lives are at stake, and the alleged War on Christmas was an easy way to instill that fear by saying “SEE? Bloomingdales is having a HOLIDAY sale! Next thing you know they’ll make Christianity ILLEGAL!” The fear spreads and acts as a bonding and motivating force among voters to prevent anyone preaching a modicum of inclusivity from getting elected.
Republicans declaring themselves warriors in the noble defense of Christmas was a smart political move, because 90% of Americans celebrate Christmas. Fewer than half of observants do so as a religious holiday, but it’s still culturally important to them. And so, if some of them can be convinced that Christmas is under attack, whether they’re religious or not, it can be an effective method of winning votes from stupid people.
Merry Fucking Ho Ho buy my sweary fucking history book it makes a great gift for Christmas or whatever you celebrate. It’s called On This Day in History Sh!t Went Down and you can get them at JamesFell.com.
And don’t forget to