Letter to President Obama #44 | Subject: The â€œWar on Christmasâ€
Dear President Obama,
So Christmas has come and gone once again, and with it, we can say goodbye to the perennial fight about the so-called â€œWar on Christmas.â€ But come every October or November, we can look forward to various political groups and news commentators bewailing how Christmas is under attack. (I wonâ€™t point fingers, but the last name of the guy Iâ€™m thinking of rhymes with â€œNosmiley.â€)
Now I think I understand their main concern: They feel like the culture at large is hostile to Christianity, and such hostility, they argue, is readily apparent in the media around Christmastime, especially in the marketing campaigns of various national retailers, which prefer to produce inclusive marketing campaigns and use terminology like Happy Holidays or Seasonâ€™s Greetings. They feel that such companies are purposely excluding Christianity and denying it its rightful place as the primary cultural influence on American society. After identifying such groups, they take actionâ€”usually by boycotting that establishment until it relents and includes the terms â€œMerry Christmasâ€ or ceases running the ad.
First of all, I donâ€™t really think it is my place to tell a retailer how to phrase their marketing campaigns. Though now that I think of it, Iâ€™d like to consider creating an advocacy group to make sure some of my favorite holiday phrases are included in the corresponding holiday advertisements.
Iâ€™m an agnostic, so maybe I could band together with other agnostics to have retailers reflect our uncertainty about our metaphysical beliefs. It could feature banners and ads with the slogan: Happy Agnosticism Day?
Similarly, Iâ€™d like all Thanksgiving ads to include LOTS of gobbling, to the point where the viewer wonders if it will ever stop. (Gobbling jokes are inherently funny.) Iâ€™d like all Halloween advertisements to include a kid draped in a sheet in the old stand-by ghost costume. This is probably my favorite costume, despite the unexpected consequences that it may bring, as I learned on one Halloween in college: I didnâ€™t have a costume so I cut a couple holes in a sheet and walked around the dorm trick-or-treating. Unfortunately I had pretty poofy hair, so much so that I kind of looked like a clansman. I didnâ€™t realize this until I came to an African-Americanâ€™s door. He answered, looked at me and simply said, â€œOh, you came to the wrong door!â€
And really, I donâ€™t think that including the phrase â€œMerry Christmasâ€ in a Gap commercial is going to do all that much. Itâ€™s not like one could ever forget which holiday is coming up. By the end of December, Iâ€™ve already heard Bing Crosbyâ€™s â€œWhite Christmasâ€ at least a hundred times, and it includes the word â€œChristmasâ€ seven times, so Iâ€™ve heard the word â€œChristmasâ€ at least 700 times from that song alone. (Donâ€™t even get me started on the 12 days of Christmas.)
And even if Gap does include the phrase in their ads, itâ€™s not likely to convert all that many people. The Gap isnâ€™t exactly a theological powerhouse. Theology is simply not what they are out to do; they are out to sell dorky pants and sweaters and socks to fairly rich white people.
Even the outright inclusion of Christian proselytizing in Gapâ€™s ads wouldnâ€™t solve the problem. I mean, letâ€™s say they put Jesus in Gap jeans and one of those puffy winter jackets and have him imploring you to buy Gap jeans or face eternal hellfire. Thatâ€™d be blasphemy, and it would make for really creepy commercials.
And then there are the problems with the individual phrases themselves. Iâ€™ll deal with each one by one.
The problem with this phrase is that itâ€™s really specific. Christmas occurs on one day, but itâ€™s bookended by a number of different holidays. In December and January alone, weâ€™ve got Christmas, New Yearâ€™s Eve/Day, Hanukah, and sometimes Ramadan.
First, there is the problem of accuracy. If you tell someone Merry Christmas in November, thatâ€™s weird and will probably make that person want to buy you a calendar.
And then thereâ€™s the problem of people with different belief systems. Saying Merry Christmas to everyone you meet is more than a bit inconsiderate, as assuming everyone shares your beliefs seems a bit pushy if you ask me. I usually like to get to know someone first, before bringing up my personal religious convictions. (My parents always told meâ€”itâ€™s not polite to talk politics or religion to strangers, and this seems to be such an instance.) Sure, once you know someone is in fact, a Christian, then Merry Christmas away! I said it a whole bunch of times over the holiday. (On the other hand, telling a Jewish stranger Merry Christmas doesnâ€™t seem like the nicest thing to do).
Seasonâ€™s Greetings is problematic for a different reason. Since itâ€™s a possessive, I imagine weâ€™re talking about what each season might say as a greeting. This got me thinking: what exactly would a given season say? I suppose it depends on where youâ€™re fromâ€”the seasons in the Sahara probably have the same message (I hope you brought water and sunscreen), just as all the seasons in Antarctica might say something like (Here, watch these crazy birds in tuxedoes as you freeze to death!)
Since Iâ€™m in Minnesota and we have four distinct seasons, I suppose the seasons would say something like this:
Spring: Do you like mud and slush? If so, youâ€™ll enjoy March and April!
Summer: Go fishing and drink beer in the sun while you still can!
Fall: Watch out, Iâ€™m going to throw leaves at you!
As Christmas occurs in winter, â€œMiseryâ€ doesnâ€™t seem like an appropriate tagline for such a joyful season, so Iâ€™d say skip this term.
That leaves us with Happy Holidays. To me, Happy Holidays seems the most accurate phrase. Letâ€™s face it: there are several widely celebrated holidays toward the end of December. So itâ€™s always accurate, itâ€™s got that nice alliteration, and it helps one avoid being too presumptive in the company of strangers. As marketing campaigns are designed for the general public, this makes sense for major retailers to use.
Most importantly, the whole â€œMerry Christmasâ€ fight seems to be diverting attention from the theological problem I think Christians should be more attentive toâ€”the commercialization of Christmas. I mean, weâ€™re talking about a guy who seems to be pretty anti-wealth.
The Gospel of Mark (10:25) comes to mind:
It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.
Itâ€™s a bit hard to marry that verse up with Black Friday and customers sprinting through stores for the latest electronic gadget. Then again, I suppose thatâ€™s a topic for another letter.
P.S. After a break, I'm back at the letters to President Obama. Here's the deal: I write him a random, zany letter, then I send it. Here's to hoping to getting a response. Read them all at this link: brettsletterstothepres.blogspot.com
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