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The Christmas "wars"


The nature of, causes of, and
reaction to the "Christmas wars"

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Nature of the conflicts:

The main conflicts at Christmastime seem to be concentrated in the commercial sector:

bullet Whether salespeople should wish customers the Christian-specific term "Merry Christmas," or the more generic term "Happy Holidays." The former insults some non-Christians who feel that their special days at this time are belittled. The latter insults some Christians who feel that only Christmas should be acknowledged at this time of year to the exclusion of all other religions.
bullet Whether stores should allow the Salvation Army and other religious groups to solicit funds outside their front door.
bullet Whether their displays can indicate the diversity of religious and secular observances in late December, or whether they should be restricted to observing Christmas.

But there are also conflicts elsewhere:

bullet Whether municipalities can display a religious manger scene by itself, or whether they should be required to create a cultural display involving a manger scene flanked by a menorah, Frosty the Snowman, Santa Clause, or other secular and religious symbols.
bullet Whether public schools can continue with their Christmas parties or must rename them to something like Winter festivals.
bullet Whether the school break in December can be called the Winter Break or December Holidays, or whether they should be called the Christmas Break or Christmas Holiday.

Cause of the conflict:

At the root of of these conflicts is a fundamental religious shift in North America: the transition from an almost exclusively Judeo-Christian culture to a more religiously diverse society with a substantial and growing secular component. 1 The U.S. is generally regarded as the most religiously diverse country in the world. Southern Ontario, where our website office is located, is generally regarded as the most religiously diverse region of any country. However, no basic cultural shift can happen without conflict.

Over the past decade, the percentage of American adults who identify themselves as Christians has dropped almost one percentage point per year. Meanwhile, the percentage who identify themselves with non-Christian religions or with no religion is gradually increasing. The result is a more secular and far more religiously diverse culture. The effect on the culture over a single year is trivial. But over the last decade of the 20th century, it was quite significant....and it is continuing.

The winter solstice occurs in late December each year -- typically DEC-21. Many religions of the world have seasonal celebrations that are either linked to the solstice or just happen to be at about the same time as the solstice. A number of secular and other celebrations have recently been created for late December.

The core question is whether Christmas should be considered the only celebration in late December, or whether Christmas should be considered the main celebration, along with many other festivals.

How people react to the "Christmas wars:"

bullet Some Christians are unhappy with the generic greeting "Happy Holidays" which is replacing "Merry Christmas." They object to their Christian traditions no longer being given exclusive status at this time of year. They balk when the celebration of the birthday of their savior is replaced by what they view as some kind of a politically correct, faith-free reference to winter or holiday festivals. They interpret these trends as an attack on their religion. They feel that recognizing a variety of celebrations under the title "Happy Holidays" is censoring Christmas by pushing it into obscurity. A number of fundamentalist and other evangelical Christian groups have organized economic boycotts of stores that acknowledge other celebrations.
bullet Some followers of non-Christian religions object to having their faith group's religious celebrations ignored and swamped by the attention given to Christmas. They welcome efforts to recognize their own celebrations in late December, and those of other groups.
bullet Some NOTAs (None of The Above's) -- secularists and other individuals who do not identify themselves with any religion -- object to being bombarded with what they view as over a month of high-intensity commercialized religious propaganda each winter.

References used:

  1. Robert Wuthnow, "America and the Challenges of Religious Diversity," Princeton University Press, (2007). Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store

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Copyright 2007 & 2008 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted: 2007-DEC-05
Latest update and review: 2008-DEC-30, a bit late for Christmas
Author: B.A. Robinson

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