Sunday, December 04, 2005

Commercialize Christmas

Adam Cohen wrote in NYT/a> Religious conservatives have a cause this holiday season: the commercialization of Christmas. They're for it.

That is not precisely true. We would prefer that people recognize that the real reason for the celebration is celebrating the birth of Christ, but it unrealistic to expect that businesses spend their money to promote that. They are going to spend their money to try to get us to come to their stores to buy gifts. But if they want me to buy my gifts in their stores, I expect them to at least recognize that the holiday is called Christmas. By saying Happy Holidays rather than Merry Christmas they are secularizing the season, and I object to that. I have absolutey no problem if they also say Happy Hannukah, because that is also a recognition of the religious nature of the holiday season, for Jews. But if they dont have signs saying Merry Christmas, I will shop at another store that does. And if they really want to attract me to their store, they will have a Nativity Scene in addition to Santa Claus and reindeer.
The American Family Association is leading a boycott of Target for not using the words "Merry Christmas" in its advertising. (Target denies it has an anti-Merry-Christmas policy.) The Catholic League boycotted Wal-Mart in part over the way its Web site treated searches for "Christmas." Bill O'Reilly, the Fox anchor who last year started a "Christmas Under Siege" campaign, has a chart on his Web site of stores that use the phrase "Happy Holidays," along with a poll that asks, "Will you shop at stores that do not say 'Merry Christmas'?"
Good for them.
This campaign - which is being hyped on Fox and conservative talk radio - is an odd one. Christmas remains ubiquitous, and with its celebrators in control of the White House, Congress, the Supreme Court and every state supreme court and legislature, it hardly lacks for powerful supporters. There is also something perverse, when Christians are being jailed for discussing the Bible in Saudi Arabia and slaughtered in Sudan, about spending so much energy on stores that sell "holiday trees."

What is less obvious, though, is that Christmas's self-proclaimed defenders are rewriting the holiday's history. They claim that the "traditional" American Christmas is under attack by what John Gibson, another Fox anchor, calls "professional atheists" and "Christian haters." But America has a complicated history with Christmas, going back to the Puritans, who despised it. What the boycotters are doing is not defending America's Christmas traditions, but creating a new version of the holiday that fits a political agenda.

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