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The Pel Mel

The War on Christmas

Ben Glickman, Junior, Co-Editorial Editor

If Americans were asked what the greatest threat to the United States is, there would undoubtedly be a variety of answers. Some might say nuclear war, others might say killer robots. However, a small group might say anyone who says “Happy Holidays.” In recent years, there has been widespread controversy over the use of the phrase “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” around the holiday season. This has led some, including President Donald Trump, to claim that liberals are waging a “War on Christmas” around the nation, or some sort of conspiracy to force all Americans to say “Happy Holidays.” However, the idea of a “War on Christmas” brings to light an important question about the centrality of Christmas in our society. The fact that there is a considerable backlash against the idea of not saying “Merry Christmas” shows that Christmas is already considered a staple in our society by many. In fact, Christmas should not be as central as it is now because of the secular nature of our society and the adverse effects of a widespread religious celebration.

The separation between church and state is written in the First Amendment. The Establishment Clause asserts that “Congress shall make no law respecting an established religion.” Many of the specifics of the Constitution were included to prevent the tyrannical power of a king, and the Establishment Clause serves a similar purpose. At the time of our nation’s founding, the majority of the great nations of the world had a state religion. A plethora of conflicts, most notably the Spanish Inquisition and the Jewish Diaspora, were a result of religious persecution and a lack of acceptance. To preserve the freedom of its citizens, the Bill of Rights guarantees freedom of religion; the separation of church and state is essential to this. The endorsement of a particular religion by the government inevitably leads to favoritism towards that group.

It is true that, in the word of law, Christmas is not favored over other holidays. In fact, multiple other celebrations from other religions are national holidays like Christmas. However, favoritism in our society is just as harmful. According to a Pew Research Center study from 2013, approximately 92% of all Americans celebrate Christmas. Christmas, a religious holiday at its heart, has become widespread to the point that it is institutionalized in our society, and this is dangerous. The same principles that are in our laws should apply to our society. A society that treats one holiday as more important than others is not a secular one. Although Christmas being treated as a universal holiday is not on par with religious persecution, it opens the door to a dangerous path. For example, a small gesture like saying “Merry Christmas” to all, regardless of their religion, can send the message that people’s personal beliefs are irrelevant and that only one person’s beliefs matter. This, in essence, is intolerant.

An inevitable result of the special treatment of Christmas in our society is that some will take advantage of it. In Puritan Massachusetts in the 17th century, Christmas was banned. Stephen Nissenbaum is a Pulitzer Prize winning historian specializing in early American history and author of The Battle for Christmas. On the topic of Puritan Christmas practices, Nissenbaum said, “Puritans believed Christmas was basically just a Pagan custom that the Catholics took over without any biblical basis for it.” Incidentally, these Pagan customs involved feasting, drinking, and gambling. In short, the Puritans outlawed Christmas because of the unnecessary practices which deviated from the holiday’s religious roots and became customary. Today, we have similar practices. The sale of Christmas themed merchandise and expensive gifts around Christmas time is at an all-time high. According to Forbes, in 2016 Americans spent over $1 trillion during the holiday season (November to January). In addition, the average American spent $419 on gifts during the holiday season in 2016. The huge influx of purchases related to Christmas allows for corporations to profit. With so many around the country celebrating, this makes sense. This treatment of Christmas as universal in the US inevitably contributes to this greed. The larger the sales from Christmas shopping, the more the companies will want to increase these sales. Thus, a vicious circle of profits and increased prices is formed. To limit the greed of corporations, we as a society should limit the centrality of Christmas traditions.

Admittedly, it would be far too extreme to outlaw public celebration of Christmas like the Puritans did in the 1600s. However, small changes to make Christmas celebrations less central in our community would go a long way in bettering our society. Saying “Happy Holidays” sends a message of acceptance and reinforces the values upon which our nation was founded.

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