• Justin Friedberg

The War on Christmas

The age of evangelical America is on the decline. According to NPR, a Gallup poll from March of 2021 shows that “Fewer than half of U.S. adults say they belong to a church, synagogue or mosque….” Though more and more Americans are choosing not to be associated with formal religion, the percentage of Americans who continue to celebrate Christmas, according to another Gallup poll, remains high at over ninety percent. However, reflecting the dwindling religious population, “fewer today (71%) than a decade ago (82%) say it is a strongly or somewhat religious holiday for them.”


For many, Christmas has shed its religious significance and has merely become a tradition of gift-giving and general celebration. But to the uber-religious crowd, this sounds like a threat. Enter the War on Christmas. Their weapons are bumper stickers and lawn signs, and their leaders are right-wing pundits and televangelists. Their objective: “Put Christ Back in Christmas”, or so the popular phrase goes. According to this theory, popularized in the early 2000s by Bill O’Reilly, there is an active effort to secularize Christmas. As Fox News commentator John Gibson put it, “Every time a supermarket checker or store clerk greets you with [‘Happy Holidays’] instead of ‘Merry Christmas,’ you have met another soldier in the War against Christmas.”


This is one of the most prevalent examples used to prove there is a War on Christmas. According to the History Channel, the usage of ‘Happy Holidays’ can be traced back to the 1860s but gained popularity in the twentieth century. Interestingly, Presidents all the way back to Eisenhower and including conservative icon Reagan used Happy Holidays in their greeting cards to include people of other religions. It wasn’t until President George W. Bush in the early 2000s omitted the word ‘Christmas’ in his card that Conservatives started to cry foul.

As is common in today's world, views on ‘Happy Holidays’ run along party lines. According to a poll conducted in 2016, “66 percent of Democrats said that stores and businesses should greet customers with “Happy Holidays,” “Season’s Greetings” or some other generic well-wishes, rather than “Merry Christmas,” as a show of respect for different religious faiths; only 28 percent of Republicans felt the same.”


Another alleged attack on Christmas was seen in Starbucks' decision in 2015 to remove holiday imagery from their coffee cups and just make them red. An evangelist posted online accusing Starbucks of “hating Jesus”. Then-Republican-candidate Donald Trump supported the evangelist by claiming, “If I become president, we're all going to be saying 'Merry Christmas' again”, and calling for a boycott of Starbucks. Tensions over the issue ran so high that, in the same year, a Republican representative introduced House Resolution 564 calling that the House: “(1) recognizes the importance of the symbols and traditions of Christmas; (2) strongly disapproves of attempts to ban references to Christmas; and (3) expresses support for the use of these symbols and traditions by those who celebrate Christmas.”


So why is any of this important? There is clearly no War on Christmas, and there never has been. As Jeff Schweitzer of The Huffington Post put it, "... the idea is absurd at every level. Those who object to being forced to celebrate another's religion are drowning in Christmas in a sea of Christianity dominating all aspects of social life. An 80 percent majority can claim victimhood only with an extraordinary flight from reality." Though it doesn’t exist, it’s important because it serves as another example of the kind of demagoguery that has become all too common in today's political landscape.


As evangelical Christians are a large part of the Republican base, with 8 in 10, according to NPR, supporting the party. In taking advantage of their already present fears of dwindling numbers, Republicans have effectively created a savior complex for themselves. They view themselves as the ones saving evangelical Christian values from the woke left.

This is not to say that Republicans are the only guilty ones. All political parties and figures, Democrat and Republican alike, from every period are guilty of taking advantage of emotions and fears running high. But the War on Christmas is a unique and, to echo Schweitzer, absurd example of how far people and parties in the modern political world are willing to go for votes.