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The Christmas wars:

Introduction to the conflict

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The players:

As December approaches in the U.S. and Canada, the annual conflict over Christmas surfaces -- a dispute that appears to be increasing in intensity in recent years.

This type of quarrel is generally portrayed as being two-sided -- between the good guys (your side) and the bad guys (the rest of the population). Humans have a propensity to look upon conflict in this way. However, there appear to be at least three main actors in this particular war:

bulletTraditionalists who want to preserve late December as a celebration only of Christmas. They view any attempt by a store, school, municipality, etc. to recognize Chanukah, Diwali or any other religious holiday in this month as an attack on their Christian heritage. Some are willing to resort to economic boycotts to enforce their position. They want to force retail outlets to wish their customers the exclusive greeting "Merry Christmas" in place of the generic, inclusive "Happy Holidays."

Allen Wastler quotes one 2006 reader of his CNN Money column who is pleased that Wal-Mart has returned to the practice of wishing everyone a "Merry Christmas," whether they be a Christian, Jew, Muslim, a person who follows another religions, or a person who follows no religion. The reader wrote:

"I just want to commend Wal-Mart on their current/new standing regarding the term 'Merry Christmas,' It has been a long time since I have been in a store that has used this term freely. I think it was an absolute 'smack in the face' that we have been robbed of our tradition [by stores that wished their customers 'Happy Holidays']." 1

From the rather angry Emails that we have received on this topic, many people who object to "Happy Holidays" take an attitude of Christian triumphalism -- the belief that Christianity is superior to all other religions, that the U.S. is a Christian country, and that non-Christians should not expect their faith to be considered or recognized at Christmastime or at other times of year.

bulletNon-Christians who want their own religious or secular holidays to be celebrated in addition to Christmas. They are called "grinches" by the Family Research Council. Many promote the inclusive phrase "Happy Holidays." Another reader of Wastler's column wrote:

"I think that Wal-Mart is wrong, wrong, wrong in going back to 'Christmas Holiday' in their ads. Christmas is a religious holiday. I respect people's right to celebrate it. But I am not a Christian. I am offended by the fact that my religion is not represented in their displays as prominently as Christmas is." 1

bulletThose who are dedicated to the principle of separation of church and state. They are concerned that governments and schools sometimes promote religion as superior to a secular lifestyle, or promote Christianity over other religions at this time of year. There are lots of opportunities to do this at Christmas time -- from singing Christmas carols in schools to erecting Christian-only displays on government properties.

In a letter to Jerry Falwell, a leading fundamentalist Christian pastor, Americans United wrote:

"The First Amendment of our Constitution ensures every Americanís right to observe religious holidays or to refrain from doing so. ... I think we all know whatís really going on with your campaign. You want an America where there is no separation of church and state and where your rather narrow interpretation of Christianity is forced on everyone. If you can convince Americans that their cherished Christmas traditions are under fire, you think maybe they will join your nefarious crusade to tear down the protective church-state wall that guarantees our freedoms. 2

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Concerns:

The conflict was particularly intense in 2004, perhaps because of the political gains made by religious conservatives in the 2004-NOV elections. It continued in 2005 and appears to be intensifying, partly because of economic boycotts by religious conservatives. We seem to be on-track for another serious end-of-year conflict in 2006. The Alliance Defense Fund, a fundamentalist Christian legal defense group, is mobilizing over 950 attorneys across the U.S. to combat attempts to restrict Christmastime faith expression. 3

The Christmas wars are creating a great deal of animosity, inter-religious friction and intra-religious conflict in the U.S. and Canada. This is a region of the world that has been noted for widespread religious peace and tolerance. If too much hatred and animosity is created, a tipping point may be reached. North America could follow the path of religiously-motivated conflicts, murder, mass murder and genocide as has been seen in Northern Ireland, Bosnia Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Cyprus, Nigeria, Sudan, Middle East, Iraq/Iran, Afghanistan, India, Sri Lanka, Philippines, etc.

The conflict probably generates an significant financial support for the groups who are promoting various sides in the conflict. It also maintains a higher level of anxiety among their supporters. Thus, it is probable that the Christmas wars will continue and may possibly intensify in the future.

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A welcome sign by The Bay in Canada:

We noted the following sign on the outside doors of The Bay department store in Kingston, ON Canada. The Bay is one of the Hudson Bay Company (Hbc) family of stores. Hbc was founded in 1670 "and has grown with Canada [to] ... become the nation's largest department store retailer." 4

The sign was posted in late 2006-NOV. It is an example of an inclusive approach to the holiday season. The central image of the rose picks up a theme seen in other posters at The Bay.

Ramadan, Diwali, and Chanukah are Muslim, Hindu and Jewish celebrations. Missing from the list are the Wiccan celebration of Yule, the Atheist and Native American celebration of the Winter Solstice, the Buddhist celebration of Bodhi Day, and the Zoroastrian observation of Zartusht-no-diso.

Reaction will probably be mixed, because it is apparently impossible to find a win-win situation at this time of year:

bulletMany Christian traditionalists will probably be angry at this sign, and regard it as an attack on their faith because it recognizes religions other than their own. It is far more specific than the generic "Happy Holidays;" it names other religions and their holidays by name.
bulletMany followers of minority religions will probably be pleased because it includes their religion on a par with Christianity and other faiths.
bulletAtheists, Wiccans, and followers of religions not included on the sign will probably be somewhat displeased, because there is clearly room for a few other religions and their symbols to be shown. Perhaps next year future versions of the sign will be even more inclusive.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Allen Wastler, "And Merry Christmas to you, Wal-Mart. Pleasing your customers isn't a wrong move. But you'll get some backlash," CNN Money, 2006-NOV-10, at: http://money.cnn.com/
  2. "An open letter to Jerry Falwell," Americans United, 2005-DEC, at: http://www.au.org/site/
  3. "More than 950 attorneys nationwide ready to combat attempts to censor Christmas. Fourth annual Christmas Project declares, 'Merry Christmas. It's okay to say it'," Alliance Defense Fund, 2006-NOV-15, at: http://www.alliancedefensefund.org/
  4. Hudson's Bay Company home page at: http://www.hbc.com/

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Site navigation:

Home > Religious information > Christmas > Conflict > here

Home > Christianity > Beliefs, practices, etc > Holy days > Christmas > Conflict > here

Home > Religious hatred & conflicts > Specific conflicts > Xmas conflict > here

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Copyright © 2004 to 2006 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted: 2004-DEC-04
Latest update: 2006-NOV-30
Author: B.A. Robinson

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