Idol Chatter

Beginning its article with “Attention, culture warriors,” Time magazine briefly recounts the history of the War on Christmas in this week’s issue, noting that while the Puritans were not so big on celebrating the coming of the Christ child, their descendants–especially those who work at Fox News–have made a lot of hay (and good money, no doubt blowing it on gifts under the tree) excoriating those who would take the Christ out of Christmas.
Time cites Fox News host Bill O’Reilly for his annual segments, starting in 2002, on the siege against Christmas. O’Reilly once called the unmerry greeting “Happy Holidays” the first step on the slippery slope toward “”legalization of narcotics, euthanasia, abortion at will, gay marriage.” And Americans have backed O’Reilly up. By 2006, the piece says, 68 percent of Americans “agreed that the holiday was under assault.”

Now, call me Scrooge, but I notice that 68 percent is some 40 to 20 percent greater a percentage of Americans than the percentage that attends church on a weekly basis. Figures specifically for Christmas season attendance aren’t easy to come by, but if we can extrapolate the 10 percent attendance bump churches get this time of year in Britain, we can comfortably guess that barely half of all nominal Christians show up for Yuletide services–including Christmas Eve, because as Time pointed out last year, nobody goes to church on the 25th anymore. (Even when they go to church, people refuse to let it interfere with the true object of the holiday: the presents.)
I’m not suggesting that everyone should get to church this Christmas, only that the concerns about the welfare of Christmas are misplaced. To borrow a currently popular argument for gay marriage, those who wish to defend the sanctity of an institution should first ask themselves whether we as a country treat that institution as something worth defending.
Another disclaimer: I’m all for store clerk wishing customers “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays”–store clerks are always portrayed as the press-ganged foot soldiers in the War on Christmas. The clerk, after all, is already surrounded by tinselly trees and Santas, with carols blaring over the P.A. For me, the question is why the typical Christmas scene is taking place in a store in the first place. Why is it so important what incantation is uttered over a retail counter?
The answer, and my point, is woefully obvious: Christmas, like the humbled American economy, is focused on shopping. According to the National Retail Federation, Americans will spend $437.6 billion on Christmas this year alone–one half of the estimated toll of health-care reform over the next decade.
Now that’s a war on the true spirit of Christmas. If Americans want to stop it, they need not insist that department stores put Christ in Christmas. All they have to do is take Christmas out of the department store.

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