This year, like every year, the war on the "war on Christmas" rages on. Catch phrases like, "It's not Happy Holidays. It's Merry Christmas," "Jesus is the reason for the season," and my personal favorite, "Calling it Xmas is trying to take the Christ out of Christmas," have taken their annual places at the top of our Facebook News Feeds. Christian vigilantes all over the Internet have made it their mission to ensure that everyone they come into contact with knows that they will not be forced to recognize any holiday other than Christmas during this season because doing so would be giving in to those who are trying to destroy the celebration of Jesus' birthday.
This kind of rhetoric is very troubling to me for a lot of reasons. Not only is it extremely insensitive to the countless people who celebrate holidays other than Christmas this time of year, but it also presents an image of Christians that is simply unflattering. On the one hand, war-on-Christmasers want to claim that they are victims of a systematic agenda of secularizing the holiday season and removing Christmas from the picture. On the other hand, they want to function as dominant, almost brutal, leaders who force their values and worldview on everyone else, Christian or otherwise. Neither of these images is positive, and neither one is realistic.
The misconception behind the so-called war on Christmas is rooted in what is called Christian hegemony. In simple terms, hegemony refers to the phenomenon of an entire culture taking on the attributes of the culture's dominant group (at least on a surface level). Hegemony often implies that the dominant group is forcing minority groups to conform through suppression of cultural identity or other means. For example, when Alexander the Great conquered most of the known world, he used the process of Hellenization, forcing the Greek language and customs on conquered peoples, to solidify his empire. This would be considered Greek hegemony.
Christian hegemony has existed in the United States since the country was formed. Because most (but certainly not all) of the original citizens of the United States were Christians and almost all of the founding leaders of the United States were Christians, Christianity naturally became the dominant cultural force in this nation, and this hegemony has continued into the modern era. This is why many people refer to the United States as a "Christian nation" although we have no official state religion. Judaeo-Christian principles became the moral standard, and Christian holidays became the national holidays. Even U.S. citizens who are not Christian have been living under the influence of this Christian hegemony for generations.
But here's the thing: Christian hegemony in the United States is slowly but surely crumbling. The United States is a multicultural, multiethnic, multireligious nation, and voices outside of Christianity are beginning to be heard. Christianity is losing its monopoly on cultural influence as people are starting to realize that the United States is not a Christian nation but a secular nation made up of people from many backgrounds. In short, Christianity isn't the only voice getting a say in the United States anymore. And many Christians have come to understand this as persecution.
I, however, would argue that this phenomenon is actually the exact opposite of persecution. Hegemony is in and of itself oppressive to all non-dominant groups in a culture, so the destruction of it is a good thing, regardless of which group is benefiting from it. Sure, it's nice when your group is in charge, but isn't it terrible when your group isn't? Wouldn't it be a much more fair way of doing things if everyone had a voice? If every U.S. citizen was allowed to be themselves and celebrate their culture without having to conform to some other group's imposed values? To me, that sounds a lot more like the image of an ideal United States of America that our forefathers set out for: a land of freedom for all, not just the dominant ruling group.
So no, I don't believe there is a war on Christmas. I believe that what war-on-Christmasers understand as the war on Christmas is actually just the fading away of Christmas hegemony. Other voices and traditions are coming forward out of the shadows and demanding to be recognized, and I support it 100%.
I'm not saying that all ideaologies are equally valid and acceptable. I do believe there is a true threat to Christmas that Christians have allowed to slip in as they've been fighting the "war on Christmas," and that's commercialism. Christmas has become so focused on the gifts, commercials, films, and pop songs that Christians—not secularists—have lost sight of what Christmas is truly about. If Christians want to defend Christmas against something, let's defend it against that and focus on what Christmas really means to us: the celebration of Christ's incarnation, birth, and presence with us.
And as we celebrate Christmas, let us recognize that we do not own this time of year. Many cultures and traditions have understood this season to be sacred (often longer than Christians themselves have), and the truth is that there is plenty of magic and joy to share. In fact, when we show God's love to others by respecting and honoring them, we are actually being more true to the spirit of Christmas and to the Christ who humbly came to earth as a baby than we are when we're posting angrily on Facebook.
So feel free to wish those around you a merry Christmas. I'm sure they'll smile and thank you. And if someone wishes you a happy holidays or some other holiday greeting, feel free to smile and thank them as well, resting in the fact that they aren't attacking your holiday and beliefs but simply expressing their own. So Merry Christmas to you and yours. And happy holidays as well. May God bless you and your loved ones as we celebrate this season and all that it means to each of us.