Slog News & Arts

Line Out

Music & Nightlife

« Soy Makes You Gay, Now With Fo... | Meanwhile, In the War on Cars »

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The “War on Christmas” War Continues

posted by on December 19 at 16:40 PM

Apropos of all the “War on Christmas” nonsense that went on at SeaTac while I was away (shorter version of Josh’s column: Taking down the Christmas trees at SeaTac was a smart move because the Port of Seattle was implicitly endorsing Christianity; putting them back up was a wimpy capitulation to a rash of loud anti-Semitic, pro-Christian complaints), I’d like to offer a brief anecdote from my trip to Denver.

First, some context: Denver is drowning in a sea of Christmas: Lights, Christmas trees, carols, angels, and mangers as far as the eye can see. Still, I was somewhat shocked when I entered the Denver headquarters of the Regional Transportation District (the equivalent of our Sound Transit) and was hit with an onslaught of publicly funded Christmas cheer: A recording of explicitly religious carols played loudly in the foyer; Christmas decorations decked every surface; and Christmas cookies were piled to the rafters. After our interview, the light rail program director addressed employees, who were having a traditional Christmas potluck. Her first words? “Merry Christmas.”

Still, plenty of people continue to believe there’s a war on Christmas (fought mainly, of course, by pushy Jews who won’t keep their traps shut during the three-month-long Christmas onslaught). Take this editorial from AgapePress, the media mouthpiece of the American Family Association:

What I resent, and a whole lot of Americans resent, is when in the name of multi-culturalism, diversity and tolerance, we began to sacrifice traditions that have made America great in the first place.

For example, news services across the country reported this earlier in the week: “Zogby polling shows an overwhelming majority (95 percent) say they are not offended by being greeted with a ‘Merry Christmas’ while shopping, including 98 percent for weekly Wal-Mart shoppers. But greet them with a ‘Happy Holidays,’ and 46 percent say they take offense.”

The reason that 46 percent of those surveyed take offense is because they are Christmas shopping, not holiday shopping, and everyone knows this. Families don’t give each other presents on Thanksgiving Day. Kids don’t run downstairs on New Year’s morning seeing what awaits them under the holiday tree. The Christmas-gift buying season is what keeps the American retail business in business.

These numbers also mean that most citizens want Christmas to maintain the special place it has long held in the American heart. We don’t want to see Christmas melt into a generic “holiday season” or “winter celebration” some hard-core secularists and atheists want to see happen.

Now I am about to give you an example of how the political correctness / multi-culturalism movement seeks to remove the Christian message about Christmas from the scene. One of the things it has done recently is attempt to elevate Hanukkah and Kwanzaa as if they were equal to Christmas in American cultural relevance. They are not, but because we have been brainwashed with political correctness for a number of years now — and because we are fearful of being labeled racist or as anti-Jewish — many people in our country feel compelled to mention Hanukkah and Kwanzaa in the same sentence with Christmas. In America, Christmas — as a holiday — has always been in a league of its own. It points to the message of Christ and to our Christian heritage, and that is what the multi-culturalists and the politically-correct crowd want to change.

The editorialist goes on to repeat the most popular canard associated with this whole “Christmas”/”holiday” debate:

Another interesting fact here is that Christians do not consider the tree to have any spiritual significance. Especially in the same way a Jew looks at a menorah for instance. A Nativity scene would be the equivalent to the Christian. The tree is simply a traditional decoration that many Americans use to mark the Christmas season. Most people consider them just something nice to look at.

OK, it may be true that most people think Christmas trees are “nice to look at.” And it’s certainly true that Christmas is a bigger holiday to Christians than Hanukkah is for Jews. But whether Christians consider it to have religious significance or not, a Christmas tree is a CHRISTmas tree. It is, inevitably, a religious symbol—because it’s a symbol of a religious holiday. Symbols of Christmas are already EVERYWHERE—in our department stores, decked on our light poles, in our workplaces. Public spaces (like the airport) should be a bastion of secularism in the midst of our overwhelmingly non-secular society.

RSS icon Comments


Denver has lots of lights because it doesn't rain in the winter here. I put up lights a few times during my stay in Seattle and rain shorted them out.

Posted by Matt from Denver | December 19, 2006 4:52 PM

"And it’s certainly true that Christmas is a bigger holiday to Christians than Hanukkah is for Jews."

It is? Certainly true? Says who?

Hanukah is a very big holiday for (some) Jews. The difference is that they don't insist that it be a very big holiday for everyone else.

Posted by err? | December 19, 2006 5:06 PM

What's funny is that the "Christmas tree" is an appropriated pagan symbol. Hell, Christmas is an appropriated pagan holiday (celebrating the solstice).

Sheesh. I long for the good old days when Christians used to lecture us that the true holiday had nothing to do with shopping at all!

Posted by power forward | December 19, 2006 5:15 PM

Err?, Jews say that Hannukah isn't a big holiday for Jews. It's not. Our biggest holidays, referred to as the High Holy Days, are from Rosh ha-Shanah to Yom Kippur. Pesach is also a big one. The easiest way to distinguish our big holidays from our little holidays is that on our big ones, we're forbidden from working, as we are on both days of Rosh ha-Shanah, Yom Kippur, and the first two days of Pesach. During Hannukah, there are no prohibitions against working. Additionally, Hannukah is not a Biblically mandated holiday, so it ranks lower.

Posted by Gitai | December 19, 2006 5:18 PM

The Supreme Court evidently disagrees with you and believes a Christmas tree can be secular, as can a menorah.

Posted by pox | December 19, 2006 5:21 PM

Does anyone REALLY care that there are Christmas trees up on a public place such as an airport? Really? Isn't this yet another example of people freaking out over yet another stupid cultural clash? I know, I know, how dare someone put a religious symbol in public (of course as the person above pointed out it isn't even really a Christain symbol). Personally I don't think that trees are all that offenseive...can't we just let them have their trees and "Merry Christmas" move on to actually important things such as: the war, greenhouse gases, etc?

Posted by JackGreen | December 19, 2006 5:30 PM

I am an enthusiastic supporter of all things Christmasey, including trees, lights, cheesy music, gifts, cards, snowmen and reindeer in the yard, etc., even though -- because? -- I am an atheist. Ding dong merrily on high? Bring it on!

Posted by Fnarf | December 19, 2006 5:40 PM

Another atheist vote for Christmas. Anhyone who doesn't like it is a professional grump with some kind of ideological grudge against the concept of fun.

Posted by Art | December 19, 2006 5:44 PM

Yeah, the whole debate seems silly. The only reason people rebelling against all things Christians is because the most outspoken ones are asshats. (sorry mom, I love you but it's totally true).

For my family Christmas is a big deal. For me it's just a day off from work with pretty lights.

Posted by monkey | December 19, 2006 5:56 PM

Actually what the Court ruled was that a publicly-funded display of a menorah alone would be illegal. Toss in an elf or snowman, however, and everything's acceptable. The Court has also ruled that publicly-owned locations under certain circumstances may clearly display religious symbols. In Capitol Square Review and Advisory Board v. Pinette. the 6th U.S. District Court and the Supreme Court both rejected the State of Ohio claim that the Christmas tree & menorah were less sectarian than the cross. Further, the Court never declared a religious symbol to be secular, but was concerned instead with whether public displays of Christmas trees and menorahs violated the 'establishment clause' of the First Amendment. (Privately-funded religious symbols displayed alone on public property = OK; Publicly-funded religious symbols displayed alone on public property = NOT OK; Religious & Secular symbols mixed? Everybody's happy...)

Posted by Laurence Ballard | December 19, 2006 6:01 PM

they're called Xmas trees in my house!

Posted by terry miller | December 19, 2006 6:04 PM

Thanks, Laurence.

I'm an atheist in favor of letting people display their superstitious gew-gaws wherever they like, as long as everyone gets to play.

Posted by pox | December 19, 2006 6:08 PM

I keep wanting to remind people that Christmas isn't the biggest holiday on the Christian calendar. That would be Easter. (And, no, Christmas doesn't even get No. 2 status for Catholics, the world's single biggest group of Christians: Hello, Pentecost!)

In many (most?) ways, Christmas long ago ceased to be a sacred holiday with secular components and instead became a secular holiday with a sacred history

Except even that is a little suspect, if you start digging into the reasons why we celebrate Jesus' birth in December. (Kinda fishy, that, since he was probably born in spring and the date of December 25 is awfully close to some pagan holidays.)

This whole controversy is pointless. If these angry Christians were so serious about their faith, we'd have Easter lilies and little flame stickers everywhere on the more important holidays. What we really have here is something that's been with us since the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock: anti-Jewish vitriol. (Well, there's also the assimilation and subsequent eradication of the minority by the misguided outrage of a theocratic society, but that's another topic for another day.)

Posted by GrammarCop | December 19, 2006 6:11 PM

And yet another atheist for Xmas. I'm a bit tardy this year, but I like my twinkly lights outside of my house- it cheers me up during the dreary weather season. Call em' whatever you want, but I think it's nice.

As for the rampant consumerism- yep, my partner and I dropped a solid grand on our nieces and nephews this year. It's a way of payback- if I knew I could fill our sibling's kids full of candy and make them happy with toys, AND then give them back to their parents to deal with... I would have never tortured my little sister (or my partner his two sisters) as a child. We also give clothes to one sibling's kids who don't have anything at all- which is the spirit of giving and I ain't tying any religious crap to that.

Let's face facts. We're not in a secular country. We live in as much a theocracy as some countries in the middle east. Haven't the past 6+ years shown exactly that? I agree that we should keep the theocrats and churchies in their respective cages, but the fact remains that we are in this country "one nation under God" Whatever God is... or isn't.

Posted by Dave Coffman | December 19, 2006 6:12 PM

As someone who doesn't practice either version of "christmas" (the "christ is born" sect and the "consumeristic orgy" sect), I don't mind others going hog wild, as long as it is in private places and funded by private money. I strongly believe in a constitutional separation of church & state, and do not want my publicly funded buldings decorated with publicly funded religious symbols. That's the distinction the American Family Association and others fail to make. They want thier version of christianity to be a state-sanctioned and enforced religion.

Posted by i love ipa | December 19, 2006 6:19 PM

Oops, I meant buildings and their.

Posted by ilove ipa (and i can't type and spell at the same time) | December 19, 2006 6:23 PM


The Court's on your side. Publicly-funded property cannot SOLELY be decorated with publicly-funded religious symbols. You have to toss some secular symbols into the mix. (Note: Christmas trees & menorah's need not apply.)

The larger question as to whether your tax dollars should be supporting *any* kind of seasonal/quasi-religious decorations on *any* publicly-funded buildings is another issue.

Posted by Laurence Ballard | December 19, 2006 6:38 PM

This is so dumb. Why can't public places have 'holiday' or 'CHRISTmas' stuff displayed. As if it doesn't exist? I totally disagree. If some airport workers want to make the airport more festive with Christmas or Xmas decorations, let 'em. If you don't like it, wear sunglasses, close your eyes, go to a different airport, or walk to where you're going (isn't that better for the environment anyway? I thought ECB was the one championing the Surface street option to reduce car emissions)

Posted by him | December 19, 2006 6:42 PM

Another Atheist here, who doesn't share the same level of enthusiasm as some of my fellow non-believers. Christmas, in any of its incarnations is a pretty stupid excuse for a holiday, IMO.

Modern-day Christians are idiots for not remembering their predecessors simply appropriated a hodge-podge of mid-winter traditions and rituals from dozens of pagan religions, then tried to skew them to fit into their own particular mythological chronology, and couldn't even do a decent job of that. Engage a Christian in a simple Socratic argument by asking questions such as: WHY were Mary & Joseph traveling to Bethlehem? (A: to be counted as part of the Roman census). WHAT was the purpose of the census? (A: to ascertain the number in each household, and the extent of their holdings, including herds & flocks, for taxation purposes), and WHEN was the census conducted? (A: in the spring, after lambing/calving season, in order to include newborns in the headcount), and eventually you might have the pleasure of either seeing abject doubt creep into their eyes - or watch their head explode.

In fact, early Christianity got the date so wrong in their effort to co-opt and assimiliate the older pagan traditions that many of the more conservative sects (ironically the precursors to most of the fundamentalist groups that today are the holiday's staunchest supporters) refused to even celebrate it (Hellooooo Pilgrims!).

Still, they've made their bed, and so are forced to lie in it, even though the holiday itself hasn't even the remotest bearing on the event for which it was created; namely the birth of the alleged "son of God".

And don't even get me started on all the commercialism.

All that said, I can certainly tollerate the once-a-year orgy of consumer spending on the one hand, and ridiculous religious caterwauling over something that should more correctly be celebrated roughly four or five months later in the year, but what the heck.

I happen to think the lights are pretty too. Now, if only everybody would just stop with the bitching, moaning, buying, and the castigating, and just enjoy the pretty colored lights - things would be much nicer this time of year.

Posted by COMTE | December 19, 2006 6:47 PM


But you CAN display holiday and Christmas "stuff" in public places. The Court ruling referenced above specifically allowed the KKK the right to display a cross in the public square next to the Ohio State Capitol Building! The key point to the Court was in the funding. Was it public or private? Since the KKK was footing the bill, and not the taxpayers of Ohio, it was allowed. Same rule applies for Christmas decorations at Sea-Tac. If any Port Official had taken just a few moments to conduct a fairly rudimentary web search, this whole ridiculous affair would not have happened, and a menorah would be accompanying the Christmas trees for the enjoyment of holiday travelers.

Posted by Laurence Ballard | December 19, 2006 6:57 PM

@ 20: So, if the local megachurch wants to fund an elaborate nativity scene in the terminal, it could do so (provided it met other Port safety standards)? Is the Port obligated to accept the display; is it under threat of lawsuit if it doesn't accept?

Posted by i love ipa | December 19, 2006 7:08 PM

Count me as another Christian who considers Christmas to be an example of how "embrace and extend" existed centuries before Microsoft. Christ's birth was of such little importance that it was not mentioned in the earliest New Testament books written (Acts and various epistles) and is included in only 2 of the 4 gospels. But co-opting existing winter festivals and their celebrations of rebirth - that was IMPORTANT - at least after Christianity became an Officially Good Thing where at least one ruler (Constantie) was concerned. :) Of course, in the Reformation, the Protestants dismissed Christmas as Popery. So the Roman Catholics added yet more excess to Christmas. And so on. Those Pilgrims people love to celebrate at Thanksgiving DID NOT celebrate xmas. Of course, Jehovah's Witnesses don't celebrate Christmas either...but I digress.

I think how religious decorated trees, wreaths, candy canes, snowmen, and so on "really" are is in the eye of the beholder. To me it's a reminder to stay away from stores and malls til January. To others it's religious.

Now, if only we could require that any $$ spent on such seasonal decorating crap must be matched by $$ to a 501(c)(3) charity, then we might be onto something useful....

Posted by JenK | December 19, 2006 7:18 PM


Search me; I ain't an attorney. I just play...

To make a guess - you bet. (Which - other than charges of anti-semitism - is probably what really,finally caught the attention of Port bureaucrats: a lawsuit by a menorah-packing Rabbi.

I'd hazard we're just a skip and a heartbeat away from a Prayer Warrior Creche in the North Satellite...

Posted by Laurence Ballard | December 19, 2006 7:22 PM

Clearly, Christmas means different things to different people. It's religious significance is in the eye of the beholder.

Posted by Sean | December 19, 2006 7:32 PM

Kawanzaa was the shit. Not as good as Napster was but it workled in a pinch.

Neither beats Bitlord though.

Posted by For Real | December 19, 2006 8:20 PM

But whether Christians consider it to have religious significance or not, a Christmas tree is a CHRISTmas tree. It is, inevitably, a religious symbol—because it’s a symbol of a religious holiday.

THANK YOU. christmas trees are really pretty. i do like seeing them around during the holiday season. i even have fun helping friends decorate their trees in their homes. but a few years ago, my roommates and i got into a really heated discussion about whether or not to have a tree in our apartment. one of my roommates and myself are both jewish. the idea of having a christmas tree in our home made us uncomfortable. our other roommate, who was catholic, really wanted a tree. in the end, we put a couple of jolly ranchers in, on and around the bonsai, because that was the most secular compromise we could come up with.

Posted by Back East | December 19, 2006 10:14 PM

I'm a Christian (Catholic) who hates all the Xmas shit because it isn't what Jesus was about. I also hate the ignoration (my favorite made up word) of Hannukah as part of the "holiday" season.

I agree with others that Christmas is not a major "Christian" holiday, so in keeping with the recognition of minor holidays during the winter season the menorah should be up with the tree. Or better yet both should be gone from public space.

All the shopping and excessive spending makes me ill. I hate the trees in public places although I'm always excited when my neighbors do lights. I also have a special place in my heart for people who put out nativity scenes on their own property.

I love Winter Solstice celebrations and many other old time pagan things. However, I can't get behind the sickening consumerism supposedly in the name of Jesus. I give books to the kids in my life, that's it. Also, for those of you that don't know, Kwanzaa is all about homemade gifts. It is one of the many reasons why I love the cultural, non-religious celebration.

Posted by Papayas | December 19, 2006 11:04 PM

Seems like those responsible for public places could side step this controversy by allowing other groups to put up decorations. Say, they just have to apply for spaces set aside for the purpose...

Nevermind, that's an awful idea. They would have to reserve the right to veto displays to avoid controversy, and that would cause controversy too. The Port and government property managers everywhere are just fucked.

Posted by Noink | December 20, 2006 12:43 AM

"one of my roommates and myself are both jewish. the idea of having a christmas tree in our home made us uncomfortable."

Lots of Jewish folks living with or married to goys like to ban Christmas trees in the home. Can you imagine the goys trying to ban menorahs? That kind of attitude seems petty, narrow-minded, and lame to me.

My wife and I are atheists, but our house has a Christmas tree and a menorah, and our kids get lots of gifts.

Posted by a goy married to a jew | December 20, 2006 7:19 AM

"a Christmas tree is a CHRISTmas tree"

Actually it's pronounced CHRIStmas tree.

Posted by Art | December 20, 2006 8:13 AM

Another Atheist Chiming in....

This is a sticky mess, but IMHO, I don't care what people put up as long as my tax dollars don't fund it. Some religious group wants to put up a manger at the airport? Fine. A Jewish family wants to make a 100 foot menorah and set it up? Sure. As long as there is no public money in it, I could care less. Does that mean that I would see more religious symbols? Yep, but it doesnt bother me. That's just my opinion though, regardless of the lawsuits it would spawn. Gotta love America!

Posted by Monique Webb | December 20, 2006 8:44 AM

I wish that I had a picture of my Channukah tree to share. Aside from that, who gives a flying fuck? The commercialization of the entire winter season as one big shopping extravaganza is more oppressive than the lyrics of Silent Night. Of course, admittedly, I don't get why people get their panties in a bunch over tossing Adam Sandler's Channukah song into the mix, either.

Posted by DEWsterling | December 20, 2006 9:26 AM

My girlfriend and I spent a whole lot of money on 'Xmas' gear and our power they say our power will beout till after the 25th. Oh well, there is still 12 days of 'Xmas' to celibrate afterwards.
what I've learned about Xmas this year, is that we take a whole lot of our power and energy for granted.

Posted by sputnik | December 20, 2006 10:03 AM

#29, my catholic roommate did ban the menorah from the public space in the apartment, which my jewish roommate and i thought was perfectly fair. each night, we light the candles and said the blessing over them in my bedroom.

Posted by back east | December 20, 2006 10:43 AM

Re: #7, etc...

A blazing 1,600 light, 10-foot Christmas tree helps this atheist celebrate a very Merry-Fucking-Xmas! No way some azz-backwards religious BS takes away my favorite inherited cultural/family tradition... I'll take a double helping of Xmas cheer - just hold the baby Jesus, please.

Posted by High-Rise | December 20, 2006 11:15 AM

I resent overly sensitive Christians.

Posted by keshmeshi | December 20, 2006 1:14 PM

University PressWire (UPR)
Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Hand Gesture Conveys New Message

Sociologists at the University of Okoboji have determined that the meaning of a hand gesture common in North America has undergone a recent, dramatic shift. Semioticians, who study signs and symbols, and how their meanings are constructed and understood, have theorized the possibility of what is called "sudden denotative shift," but only a few considered it a real possibility.

"We have vindicated the SDS (sudden denotative shift) theory," said Peter Watson, a member of the UO research team that conducted the study. "These new findings should open up completely new avenues for research."

Watson likens his team's efforts to recent work in evolution, which had long been thought to move so slowly as to be nearly undetectable. "Just as Hoffman at Melbourne showed a species can evolve in as little as 20 years, we have shown that the meaning of a gesture can evolve--but even faster," Watson said.

Watson was referring to the work of Ari Hoffman at the Center for Environmental Stress and Adaptation Research at Latrobe University in Melbourne, Australia, who determined that the Australian fruit fly had adapted to global warming in the last 20 years. His findings were published in the journal Science.

James Pike, a statistician and member of Watson's research team, said that gestures, like languages, were also assumed to move very slowly. "Population dynamics and stable communication media, such as the printed word, audio and video recording, were thought to make SDS nearly impossible," Pike says. "Their value as media depend on a stable substrate of meaning. However, meanings are constructed by humans as an abstract process, making them susceptible to nearly arbitrary changes."

To ensure the objectivity and quantifiability of their study, Pike and Watson, along with a group of student volunteers from UO, collected data on the frequency of a gesture involving the use of a raised middle finger at local shopping malls and parking lots during the year, and correlated the data against weather variables, times of day, days of the week, and finally, to days of the year.

"The strongest statistical association between use of the RMF (raised middle finger) came out in the final correlation," Watson said. "In fact, time of the year was the only statistically significant correlation with changes in the rate of the [RMF] gesturing."

Because of this, the researchers conclude that use of the RMF no longer denotes "opprobrium or disrespect," but something more positive in meaning. "Use of the RMF now actually denotes, or conveys, 'Happy Holidays' in the most general sense," Pike says. The gesture was found to have a generic meaning, rather than an association with a particular sectarian holiday, during follow-up interviews with gesturers. The RMF was used in nearly equal proportions by Christians, Jews, Wiccans and atheists.

Watson does not believe this signals a wider cultural use of the RMF. "Since the RMF now denotes 'Happy Holidays,'" he says, "we predict that its use will merely become increasingly more prevalent during the holiday season."


Posted by Eric Baumholder | December 21, 2006 7:46 AM

Comments Closed

In order to combat spam, we are no longer accepting comments on this post (or any post more than 14 days old).