Where we once had the War on Poverty and the War on Drugs, we can now look forward to an entirely new beast altogether: the War on Christmas.
This Christmas, like every other Christmas in recent years, will present us with the gift of the “Merry Christmas” versus “Happy holidays” debate, a most divisive issue that tends to throw a wedge in our cultural unity. What this battle boils down to, essentially, is whether customers should be greeted with the religiously charged “Merry Christmas,” as opposed to the religion-neutral “Happy holidays.”
Pretty frivolous war, right? Well, not so much.
The War on Christmas, which many say has been exaggerated by the religious right to get a political point across, has come to symbolize a growing divide between those who advocate a larger role for religion in our schools, government, and overall society, as opposed to those who wish to preserve the secularist makeup on which this nation was founded.
As the San Francisco Chronicle reports, this battle has snowballed with conservative legal groups, such as the 800-attorney-member Alliance Defense Fund, taking the issue to court. As Mike Johnson, a Louisiana attorney for the Alliance Defense Fund, laments, “It’s a sad day in America when you have to retain an attorney to say ‘Merry Christmas.’ ”
Other religious groups have opted for a tactic reminiscent of the 1960s Civil Rights movement, boycotting stores that don’t greet customers with a “Merry Christmas.” Although, where one group of people used this tactic to claim constitutional rights denied to them because of something as arbitrary as skin color, the other group is just concerned with the lack of commercialization of Christmas. Put in this light, one might readily conclude that the Christmas boycotters are on the cutting edge of absurdity.
In the secularist camp, advocates, such as the Americans Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), have cited that not all customers are Christians and that enforcing “Merry Christmas” greetings amounts to the ramming down of Christianity down everybody’s throat.
However, the “Happy holidays” choir is looking at an uphill battle. A CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll found that, in 2005, 69 percent of Americans preferred being greeted with a “Merry Christmas” over 29 percent preferring “Happy holidays.” That 29 percent figure was up 12 points from the previous Christmas. While these stats are from years past, they are indicative of a culture that is increasingly more receptive toward a “Merry Christmas” greeting.
Usually, I take issue with the religionization of society, believing that there is an appropriate realm for religion and that it is in the general public’s best interest to refrain from allowing religion to trespass into realms outside its scope. Religiosity, in moderation, can be a positive force; however, when taken to an extreme it can amount to horrors of an unparalleled dimension.
In the “Merry Christmas” versus “Happy holidays” debate, I tend not to care one way or another. Both greetings are, in fact, religiously charged when one does a little research on the etymology of “holiday.” According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, holiday comes from halig or “holy” and daeg or “day.” Therefore, this so-called War on Christmas is really more like a civil war where two competing religious terms (i.e. Christmas and holiday) square off.
Maybe, before we start launching wars, we should figure out what we are fighting against in the first place. It may turn out that our problems are just a matter of semantics and nothing more.
Luci Storelli-Castro is a junior political science and philosophy major. Her column appears every Thursday in the Collegian. Replies and feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.