One would think that an all-inclusive seasonal greeting emblematic of our nation’s religious diversity would be embraced by us all with two simple words — Happy Holidays!
For the past decade now, when this season rolls around we can always count on a yearly kerfuffle concerning this holiday.
Last year ‘The Kelly File’, Fox News Channel host Megyn Kelly ignited a conflagration when she stated that both Jesus and Santa Claus are white.
Kelly’s assertion was a response to Aisha Harris’s (African American, and Slate culture blogger) contestation that the commercial image of Santa Claus, in this day and age, should no longer be a white man, but rather a penguin.
‘Two decades later, America is less and less white, but a melanin-deficient Santa remains the default in commercials, mall casting calls, and movies. Isn’t it time that our image of Santa better serve all the children he delights each Christmas?
‘I propose that America abandon Santa-as-fat-old-white-man and create a new symbol of Christmas cheer. From here on out, Santa Claus should be a penguin,’ Harris wrote in her blog.
While Kelly backpedaled on her assertion that Jesus is white, she remained, however, both unwavering and unapologetic in her claim about Santa.
‘For all you kids watching at home, Santa just is white.’
For Kelly the incontrovertible evidence she cited was the 1947 Hollywood classic Miracle on 34th Street, and the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. But the real St Nicholas (the Christian saint who inspired Santa Claus) hailed from Turkey.
The kerfuffle concerning Christmas is also right here in my backyard.
In 2012 the Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) in Braintree, MA had to take down their Christmas ornaments when an irate customer complained. The customer stated it was insensitive of RMV, who services people of all religious faiths, to highlight only Christmas.
Also that year the governor of Rhode Island, Lincoln Chafee, tried to avoid the controversy he generated (calling the state house Christmas tree a ‘holiday tree’) by having a surprise holiday tree lighting. His office gave just 30 minutes notice.
The Daily Mail reported, ‘The governor defended his decision by arguing that it is in keeping with the state’s founding in 1636 by religious dissident Roger Williams as a haven for tolerance – where government and religion were kept separate.’
The decorated evergreen coniferous tree that has come to be known as the Christmas tree began in 16th century Northern Germany. And Martin Luther, the 16th-century Protestant reformer, is the first to add lighted candles to the tree.
But traditions are hard to let go of or to modify or even to expand to include our present-day religious landscape. For example, in 2005 when Nova Scotian tree farmer Donnie Hatt gave Boston its tree, Hatt told the Boston Globe that he ‘would rather have put the tree in a wood chipper than have it named a “holiday” tree… Ever since I was born, a tree was put up for Christmas, not for holidays, because if you’re going to do that you might as well put a tree up for Easter.’
Is there really a war on Christmas, some ask?
Well, it depends not only on whom you ask, but which type of Christian you are.
Some see the war on Christmas as an assault on Christianity. It feels to these Christian holiday revelers that the country, in its effort to be political correct, is moving toward religious intolerance.
A friend from North Carolina wrote me ‘It’s a Xmas tree for me and holiday tree doesn’t cut it. This PCness feels like it’s over the top. Next will be the word ‘Easter’… And what about ‘Saint’ as in St Patrick Day… a big deal in Boston.’
Christian evangelist Pat Robertson said on his 700 Club television show that the problem is Muslims. ‘If people don’t like America and the traditions that made America great, let them go to Saudi Arabia, let them go to Pakistan. Yeah, they can go to Sudan and find a wonderful Muslim holiday.’
Truth be told, Muslims, secular progressives and Jews, atheists have never been the folks trying to abolish Christmas. Instead, it was once an extreme group of Protestants – yes, the Puritans. With the date of 25 December deriving from the Saturnalia, the Roman heathen’s wintertime celebration, and with the date found nowhere in the Bible stating it as the birthday of Jesus, the Puritan Parliament banned Christmas from 1659 until 1681.
The intolerance of a multicultural theme for this holiday has little to do with a heightened renewal of the birth of Christ or the fading of an American tradition. Instead, it has much to do about a backlash toward a country growing more religiously pluralistic.
As a Christian, I know that the central message of this holiday is the embrace and celebration of human differences and diversity. And it is with this message that I know all people – religious and non-religious, straight and queer, black and white – can be included to enjoy and to celebrate and to acknowledge this season with one simple greeting.