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The racist idea of a 'war on Christmas'

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As fall fades into the "holiday season," for years now we in North America have been forced to endure right-wing commentators, TV personalities and talk radio shows droning on-and-on about the supposed "war on Christmas." It is such a farcically and transparently false idea and yet it persists.

The "war" that is alleged is usually, according to the narrative, being fought on a few crucial fronts. The schools, where allegedly Christmas is "not allowed" anymore; workplaces, where allegedly people are being "forced" to say "happy holidays" and hide their "beliefs"; the retail stores where Christmas has been banished; and the government, which apparently is behind it all and is going to one day ban Christmas altogther.

All of this is total nonsense. It is so ludicrous that it flies in the face of even the blatant evidence of walking down an American or Canadian street of any kind. The side streets abound with houses adorned with Christmas lights and decorations and the main streets with stores and retailers, large and small, engaging in very fierce and very explicit competition to part you from your Christmas dollar. Christians can rest assured that the private sector's lust to profit from the birth of Jesus remains totally unabated.

In Toronto, as I am sure is true in other cities, an entire radio station turns itself over to playing Christmas music 24 hours a day for weeks. They even describe themselves as the "official" Christmas music station! (To the best of my knowledge there is no, for example, six-week, 24-hour-a-day Hanukkah music station, so at least on this front Jesus is still clearly winning). Others increase the nauseating inclusion of Christmas songs on playlists more and more as the grand Holy Day approaches. In the week before Christmas it reaches a saturation point that is totally unavoidable.

"Christmas specials" are on every channel and are done on many TV series, Christmas trees are everywhere, including public spaces, and, of course, Christmas is a national holiday with schools taking a long break to correspond to it. This, needless to say, is not done for the major religious holidays of any other religion.

The idea that schools and workplaces "ban" Christmas is completely false, and while holiday concerts may not be explicitly religious, so as to include the millions of Canadians who are not religious Christians, they do, of course, occur in the lead up to the Christmas holidays and they do include primarily Christmas carols and jingles. The office Christmas party remains a time-honoured  tradition of drunkenness and inappropriate behaviour, the only real threat to which is legal liability as opposed to Satan worshiping "politically correct" atheists or non-Christians.

The entire war on Christmas idea has been demolished and mocked in many forums. Rob Boston recently wrote a piece in Salon that both took apart its proponents' arguments very effectively and labeled it a conspiracy theory. Which to a degree it is.

Yet, the reality is that exposing the notion as false is simply not enough. It is not just the misguided musings of people with an overly nostalgic fixation on a glorious past that never really existed. It is not just false. It is also racist and bigoted and is an attempt to help to create a backlash against immigration, diversity, inclusion and multiculturalism. This so-called war is held up as an example of "reverse racism" and to support the claim that it is now the Christians who are oppressed and being discriminated against.

It is hard to put an end to the imbecilic yearly incantations of this ideological fiction for precisely this reason. Racist conspiratorial ideas withstand intellectual scrutiny among their devotees because they are articles of faith, not logic. They are part of the foundation of a world view, not a description of reality.

All one has to do to see this is to listen to any call-in radio show on the matter. As an example, CBC Radio's Ontario Today had a Christmas at Work episode recently where a caller, "Chris from Woodbridge," at around 16 minutes into the program began to espouse the points you always hear. Talking about how "people can't respect Canadian traditions and Canadian life as we have had it for centuries," referring to "these people," talking of Christmas as a "recognition of religious belief in the Christian country of Canada" and bluntly stating that "we are overly tolerant to the detriment of Canadians and our traditions."

Yet "these people" he is referring to are also Canadians and Canadian citizens just as he is, Canada is not a "Christian" country historically in the sense that Chris and others like him mean it, and non-Christians have been in Canada since before its inception as a nation. People of Jewish, Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist and many other religious beliefs have been a part of what is "Canadian" and of Canada for, in many cases, generations, and are just as "Canadian" as any other Canadian. Canadians who are Christians do not even, of course, broadly agree on what Christianity is or even when Christmas should be celebrated, with Orthodox Christians, for example, celebrating it January 7, 2014 and therefore not even in the same year technically. Never mind that we have built our "nation" on land stolen from the non-Christian First Nations and aboriginal peoples whose home this was and whose traditions have been entirely disregarded.

The point is that the people who promote this myth do not really mean "Canadians" at all. They mean Christians. They are fundamentally opposed to the growing complexity, tolerance and secularism of Canada and see this, correctly, as a threat to their vision of an evangelical nation organized around Christian fundamentalism. They hold up a racist mythology about a past that never was to help to build a future that will include only citizens of their beliefs and of their racialized view of what a "Canadian" is.

Critical to this narrative, as with all religious fundamentalist or racially supremacist narratives, is the notion that the "community" is under threat from outsiders who would seek to subvert it from within. The "threat" from these "others" is used to rally the community to fight harder to exclude other ideas and beliefs as being "dangerous." Additionally, in the case of the evangelical and religious right, the "threat" is used to seek to justify a theocratic notion of the role of Christianity within North American "tradition" so as to help to undermine its actual tradition of a large degree of separation of church and state.

The fact that fighting the fake "war on Christmas" is part of a broader political movement's objectives was made clear by, among others, Sarah Palin, who on December 10, told a Christian "news" site that:

"This war on Christmas is really the tip of the spear when it comes to a greater battle that's brewing... And that battle  that's brewing is those who would want to take God out of our society,  out of our culture, which will lead to ruin as history has proven."

For extremist movements and ideas, if these threats do not really exist, it is necessary for them to be invented.

For secularists of all stripes it is critical to understand that the idea of a "war on Christmas" is not simply false. It is part of a radically right-wing, evangelical and racist agenda to build a "Christian" North America. 

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