The so-called “War on Christmas” began a few years ago when Bill O’Reilly of Fox News complained that some retail stores were instructing their employees to greet customers with “happy holidays” rather than “merry Christmas.” The perception of victimhood and persecution by Christians, some of whom insist that America should be declared a “Christian nation,” has been for atheists a topic of amusement ever since, even though a couple of years ago O’Reilly declared victory in the war.
Rather than cultural insurrection, it seems to me that one’s choice of seasonal greeting is a simple question of courtesy.
If I am addressing someone I know to be a Christian, or someone I see is engaged in Christmastime activities, I have no problem saying “merry Christmas” to them. If I am addressing a Jew, I might wish them a happy Hanukah. If I am speaking to a fellow atheist, I am likely to wish her a happy solstice, since atheists have widely embraced the ancient celebration. I would know that neither celebrates Christmas at all, so wishing them a merry Christmas would be pointless. If I do not know a person’s religious views, “happy holidays” seems to be an appropriate greeting. But Christians now sometimes declare “merry Christmas” for cultural bullying. They’re implying, rather, “I don’t really care what seasonal holiday you celebrate. I’m saying ‘Merry Christmas’ to let you know that you’re supposed to respond in kind.”
Of course there are incidents of this annual ‘war’ that are novel to 2016’s divisive political campaign. Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s former campaign manager, proclaimed that Trump had made it safe to say “Merry Christmas” again. In response, both Slate and MSNBC strung together dozens of clips of Obama during his presidency wishing “Merry Christmas” at public events.
To tweak the Christmas warriors, the Freedom from Religion Foundation and American Atheists have each started lampooning them annually in billboard campaigns. American Atheists even played on Donald Trump’s campaign slogan with a board that proclaimed “Make Christmas Great Again. Skip Church!” FfRF additionally has posted banners and
signs in public parks and government buildings in response to crèches and other religious displays. One implores “Keep Saturn in the Saturnalia.” A display in Des Moines included a whimsical Bill of Rights "nativity," showing Founding Fathers Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, along with the Statue of Liberty, gazing in adoration at a "baby" Bill of Rights. In some places the FfRF displays have been stolen or vandalized.
Meanwhile, here in Minnesota, the Todd Becker Foundation, a fundamentalist Christian group, drew outrage from secularists for religiously hijacking an assembly on November 30 at Caledonia High School. By deceptively promising presentations on secular issues of importance to teens, such as alcoholism and recreational drug use, they have tricked public schools into providing them a platform for hectoring students with their religious fear and bigotry. Their preferred tactic is to schedule a presentation at an assembly during the school day, at which attendance is mandatory, followed up by a voluntary event there after the school day. At the daytime assembly students are encouraged to attend the evening event, where they are subjected to fire-and-brimstone sermons. One Becker speaker declared to students at an evening assembly that “If you consume alcohol or drugs or have sex and are underage you are going to hell. If you are a homosexual, you need to come down from the crowd, get down on your knees and give your life over to Jesus, or you will go to hell.” Even the presentations at daytime assemblies are reportedly laced with proselytizing and homophobic rants, however, drawing complaints from students.
The school superintendent admitted that a better job of vetting the speakers should have been done. If readers should hear of any planned presentations by the Todd Becker Foundation, please contact one of the local organizations that supports the separation of church and state.
Minnesota Atheists can be reached by an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.