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Culture Wars and the Last Christmas

The War on Christmas merely reflects dying belief.

By Petrarch  |  December 24, 2013

It's Christmastime again, and for every Christmas this millenium, that's meant yet another round in the "War on Christmas."  Social conservatives complain that the dominant liberal culture is attempting to trash and destroy that most meaningful of holidays, while the left protests that everybody loves Christmas and there's no war on it at all.

Yet somehow, every year, the ground being fought on is just that little bit further to the left.  First, it was over the relative prevalance of "Happy Holidays" vs "Merry Christmas," both phrases having been around for lifetimes.  Then there were complaints about nativity scenes being banned from public edifices, a concern artfully resolved by the Supreme Court which has ruled that religious icons of national holidays are OK as long as multiple religions are represented and there are secular icons as well.  Stick a Santa and his sleigh next to the Three Wise Men and give Joseph a menorah to hold, and you're fine.

Then there's this year: for the first time, Santa himself - today, a purely secular symbol although rooted in the medieval Saint Nicholas - is abruptly under assault by a delusionally far-leftist writer who claims the jolly old elf's maleness and whiteness are inherently offensive to those who are neither.

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?

Hence, the proposal that Santa should be replaced by a penguin - a bird which, notice, is both black and white.  This idea was greeted with the derision you'd expect, with news anchors insisting that "Santa just is white."

Which is clearly the view of the vast majority of Americans, and should be the end of the discussion.  Santa is white.  So are Luke Skywalker, Indiana Jones, and the Tooth Fairy.  The Easter Bunny is a rabbit of indeterminate color.  None of them exist, so let's move on.

Or not: In pointing out that "Santa is white," Fox's Megyn Kelly observed that “just because it makes you feel uncomfortable, doesn’t mean it has to change.”  This seems like a textbook definition of personal liberty: we're all offended by things that other people do, but that doesn't give us the right to force them to stop doing it as long as it's not on our own property.

Not only doesn't the left agree with this premise, they condemn it wholeheartedly: Jon Stewart called out that statement as "the official slogan of oppression."  In other words - if somebody is offended by something you believe, and you refuse to change, then you're the oppressor - not the person who's trying to force you to change your beliefs!

Yes, there clearly is a war on Christmas.  Equally clearly, this war is being won by the anti-Christmas side.  But why, when nearly everybody loves the holiday?

Culture Wars Are Won From The Bottom Up

The answer can be found by looking back at the history of Christmas itself.  Most people know that many of our "Christmas symbols" have nothing to do with Jesus Christ or Christianity; they're left over from earlier pagan rituals that people liked and hung onto after they ditched the old idols.  Holly came from the Druids of Britain; decorating trees from the times of Odin and Thor in Northern Europe.  The feasting, partying, and decorating that take place at Christmas, well, that harks back to the old Roman Saturnalia festivals.

In fact, the very date of Christmas in the dead of winter isn't found in the Bible at all; Jesus could have been born almost anytime in the year.  December 25 was picked because of the existing holiday of Saturnalia; everyone was already celebrating at that time, so Christians could party right along with everyone else but in their own way.

As the old Roman gods lost their cultural force and Christianity moved through persecution, into tolerance, then prominence, and ultimately became the official religion, it's easy to imagine grumpy pagan priests protesting "Keep Saturn in Saturnalia!"  The politicians, who probably didn't believe in actual gods any more than today's politicians do, probably said the Latin equivalent of "Can't we all just get along and have a good party?"

Over the decades, Saturn and the rest of the pagan deities slowly vanished from the holiday until they only appear in obscure trivia questions.  The "War on Saturnalia" ended in total defeat for them.

Why?  For a very obvious reason: people stopped believing in Saturn and his buddies.  Most human beings need no excuse for a party, so the celebrational aspects of the religion stayed around long after the religion itself was powerless.  The new religion hung onto the festivities and eventually its name took over.

Modern secular humanism doesn't have gods, and so hasn't come up with a replacement name for Christmas; the generic "Happy Holidays" doesn't work so well.  That's just about the only reason the "War on Christmas" even can be expressed, because otherwise, Christmas has the exact same problem as Saturnalia: fewer and fewer people believe in the underlying religion.

A recent Pew poll underscores the magnitude of the problem:

Nine out of 10 Americans do Christmas and three-quarters believe in the biblical account of Jesus‘ birth — but only a little more than half actually regard the holiday primarily as a religious celebration.

More than one-third say it’s more a cultural holiday, a new poll from Pew Research’s Religion & Public Life Policy found.

It's actually even worse than that when you look at the demographic breakdown:

Younger adults generally see the holiday through less religious lens than older Americans. And those under the age of 30 are far less likely to attend a religious service as part of the holiday celebration... About 74 percent said they attended religious ceremonies during their growing up years to celebrate Christmas. Only 54 percent say they will do so now.

Growing up in the 50s and 60s, the vast majority of Baby Boomers went to church regularly with their mostly devout parents, the Greatest Generation.  When raising their own families, many Boomers were not nearly so devout, but on symbolic occasions like holidays and major life events, they still had this feeling that church was the proper place to be.  Thus the "CEO Christians," who show up for services on Christmas and Easter Only.

Their kids, though, only ever went to church on Christmas and Easter.  For some, that's part of the tradition.  For others, it just gets in the way.

Their kids, in turn, hardly ever went to church at all, see no reason why they should, and feel no particular need for religion to have any part of the celebration of Christmas.  What's the true meaning of Christmas?  As Jim Carrey's Grinch put it, "Presents, I suppose."  Or possibly drinking and carousing.

Demography is Destiny

To sum up: yes, there is a war on Christmas, but it's not a war fought by two equal sides.  It's a rearguard action being waged by cultural Christians and traditional Americans - what Sarah Palin called "the real America" - who get older and fewer in number every year.

The culture wars are mostly over and lost because the conservative side has become too small and politically weak to effectively fight anymore.  Christmas still has cultural trenchancy, but every year it will have less and less as true believers die off, then those with fond memories and associations of church with the golden Christmases of their youth, then... nothing.

We see this effect in voting results.  If the voting demographics of America in 2012 had been the same as in 1980, Mitt Romney would have won in a Reagan-style landslide.  American politics has changed for the left because Americans have changed to the left; Christmas is changing towards the secular and anti-Christian because Americans are changing for the secular and anti-Christian.

Unless Christians do something about the lack of Christians, there's no point in fighting the "War on Christmas;" they'll just irritate the increasing majority of pagans.  Unless conservatives do something about the lack of people who hold to conservative views, politics can only ever be a holding action delaying inevitable changes to the left - and thanks to Harry Reid's ending of the filibuster, even that is now nearly impossible.

For good or ill, America is a democracy, and in the long term, that means its culture and politics will reflect what the majority of the people believe.  The majority of Americans, particularly the young, feel no affinity for Jesus Christ so naturally they won't be inclined to keep Him in Christmas; He doesn't belong there as they don't want Him in their lives anyway.  Whether or not there was a Moral Majority at one time, there certainly isn't now; religious leaders can't even pay the bills on their edifices anymore.

Mr. Obama understands the political implications very well, showing contempt for loser Republicans with a dismissive "I won."  He's right: he did, and so is his side winning on all fronts across the board.

Until conservatives, Christians, traditional constitutionalists, and Sarah Palin's "real America" can truthfully ram the same derisive observation in the face of the Left, none of this will change - or put another way, everything will change, and in ways we find appalling.