*Despite what some conservatives would have you believe, Christmas is not under attack.
What is really going on is an increase in the recognition of non-traditional holidays. And of course conservatives are all about tradition. But what really needs to be understood is that holidays especially in a secular society like ours, are not a zero sum proposition.
Christmas was first celebrated by early Christian communities to commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ. But as Christianity converted more and more people and culture groups, Christmas took on more and more pagan elements (Christmas tree, Yule log, gifts). Of course Christian authorities have always been able to use some element of Christianity to explain the extra-Biblical stuff, so no harm no foul. During the Victorian era, as “civilization” and middle class norms pervaded western society, Christmas became a sanitized version of its former self. Gift giving took center stage, its familial aspects were highlighted, the religiosity was downplayed.
The bottom line is that Christmas has had multiple versions, even within American culture, and to try point to the traditional version is to necessarily engage in an exercise of selective memory. Conservatives today are thinking back to the Christmas of their youth when the holiday may have seemed purer and more religious. But those thoughts are most likely possible because the adults that were making Christmas of the 1950s and 1960s are not around to educate everyone about the struggle and secular elements behind the scenes that made those great memories possible.
Conservatives feel Christmas is under attack not only because it doesn’t look and/or feel the way it did when they were growing up, but also because other holidays from other cultures are gaining recognition. News coverage of the Chinese New Year or Ramadan make it seem like people are having their attention diverted from the correct holidays. It doesn’t really work this way though. Holidays are generally stand alone days that society gears up for and then once the date has passed, we start looking ahead to the next one. Christmas is slightly special in this manner because it generally has a month of build up. Nevertheless the Christmas season has lost no steam with the emergence of the more multicultural society that the United States has become. In fact the Christmas season continues to expand: Black Friday has no spilled backward into Thanksgiving with Thursday night sales and Christmas offers are made in late October for the shopper that likes to finish early. American society can acknowledge Cinco de Mayo and have enough energy and attention to make Christmas as big as its ever been.
Conservatives also claim Christmas is under attack as part and parcel of Christianity in general being under attack. But here we have a basic misunderstanding of the idea of being under attack. I would not deny that less people regularly attend church than did in past generations, but most people in the United States still identify themselves as Christian. So no one is trying to kill or hurt Christians, no one is trying to stop churches from being built or congregations from forming. Where exactly is the attack? We must acknowledge the difference between altering the way we relate to the Bible and its teachings and the person of Jesus (what is actually happening) and trying to stop the spread of Christianity (what conservatives claim is happening). What is actually happening may be a problem and can be dealt with but it shouldn’t be overstated.
Christmas is evolving just as it always has. And its evolution is not a result of hostility; it’s a function of the changes in society.
Trevor Brookins is a freelance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War. His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at [email protected] or be disappointed in his lack of output on Twitter @historictrev.