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Christmas Past: but what about it’s future?

2018 January 11

NOTE: I started writing this post a little before Christmas, intending to post it on the day itself. Life got in the way, as it so often does, and I wasn’t able to finish it on time. Given the directions in which our country continues to move, though, I’ve decided not to wait until next year. So, here it is, slightly modified, but better late (I hope) than never…

I got an early Christmas gift on December 15th

I’d been up past midnight, drafting a post on how Adolph Hitler’s propagandists sought – pretty successfully – to twist Christmas into a celebration of Nazi ideology. I was hoping to imply (subtly, I thought) a parallel to today’s political realities. I had planned to quote extensively from Joe Perry’s Smithsonian piece of the year before, The Nazis Fought the Original War on Christmas. His article described the efforts of Nazi propagandists to appropriate traditional Christmas imagery as symbols of “Aryan” nationalism and superiority:

As the Nazi party grew in size and scope, committed propagandists wHitler2aorked to further “Nazify” Christmas…they hoped to channel the main tenets of National Socialism through the popular holiday. A vast state apparatus (centered in the Nazi Ministry for Propaganda and Enlightenment) ensured that a Nazified holiday dominated public space and celebration in the Third Reich…

In the morning, though, I opened the New York Times to find, on the cover page of the Sunday Review, Amy Sullivan’s article, America’s New Religion: Fox Evangelicalism, looking at Trump’s very own merry war on Christmas. Any need I might have felt for subtlety vanished. “Countless media images of invariably blond-haired, blue-eyed German families gathered around the Christmas tree helped normalize ideologies of racial purity,” Sullivan wrote. “The front cover of a 1935 mail order Christmas catalog, which pictured a fair-haired mother wrapping Christmas presents, included a sticker assuring customers that “the department store has been taken over by an Aryan!” The message was clear: only “Aryans” were invited to in the celebration – no Jews (or immigrants) need apply. Any parallels with Trump’s America are, ofNaziOrnament course, only partial. As Sullivan points out, the Nazis sought to suppress actual religious references, and to appropriate Christmas imagery. Trump and the American hard right, by contrast, have laid claim to the Christmas holiday and its symbols, and use them to demonize others – particularly immigrants, along with anyone holding religious beliefs other than Christianity. The right is also quite comfortable with the commercial side of Christmas – so long as the dolls are white and non-ethnic. NOTE: Despite the right wing’s agonizing over the “attack on Christmas,” it is already an official national holiday in the United States. In fact, Christmas is the only national holiday of a religious nature, unlike the holy days of any other religious group. Sullivan describes herself as “a progressive evangelical and journalist, covering religion,” but one who was slow to realize the full impact of Trump’s election. “I’m as guilty as any of not noticing what was happening,” she says. “We kept asking how white conservative evangelicals could support Mr. Trump, who luxuriates in divisive rhetoric and manages only the barest veneer of religiosity. But that was never the issue. Fox evangelicals don’t back Mr. Trump despite their beliefs, but because of them.” Sullivan quotes televangelist Billy Graham’s son, TrumpX4Franklin, saying that “God intervened in our election and put Donald Trump in the Oval Office for a great purpose,” and our leader has happily taken up the cross: “We’re saying ‘Merry Christmas’ again,” Trump has proclaimed: “Christmas is back, better and bigger than ever before.” A year earlier than Sullivan’s piece, also in the Times, Liam Stack had written that the War on Christmas, “has turned things like holiday greetings and decorations into potentially divisive political statements. People who believe Christmas is under attack point to inclusive phrases like ‘Happy Holidays’ as (liberal) insults to Christianity.” “For over a decade,” Stack says, “these debates have taken place mainly on conservative talk radio and cable programs,  But this year they also burst onto a much grander stage: the presidential election,” with Trump promising that someday “We are going to say ‘Merry Christmas’ again.” Stack points out that the “suppression” of Christmas in America was actually instituted by the 17th century Puritans. In a 2012 New York Times Op-Ed, Rachel N. Schnepper described the Puritan’s attitude toward Christmas: On their first Christmas in the New World, the Pilgrims at Plymouth Colony celebrated the holiday not at all. Instead they worked in the fields…The Puritans in the Massachusetts Bay Colony went one step further and actually outlaFatherXwed the celebration of Christmas. From 1659 to 1681, anyone caught celebrating Christmas in the colony would be fined five shillings… The Puritan War on Christmas lasted up to 1870, when Christmas became a legally recognized federal holiday. Until then, men and women were expected to go to work, stores were expected to remain open, and many churches did not even hold religious services. Stack also argues that the idea that Christmas is under attack took off when Fox News commentators – Bill O’Reilly in particular – hyped a sensationally titled book by radio host John Gibson, “The War on Christmas.” While Gibson now claims that his book was really only about efforts to ban symbols like Santa Claus and Christmas trees from schools, his subtitle gives it away: “How the liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday is worse than you thought.” Meanwhile, The American Family Association, in Mississippi, publishes an annual hit list of companies that “censor Christmas.” In addition to Barnes and Noble, Best Buy, and Victoria’s Secret, Stack notes, the list includes Starbucks – because its Christmas coffee cup designs show winter weather scenes, rather than Christmas imagery. And how should we be celebraGunSantating the real meaning of Christmas? Here’s one answer, from a company called “Pew Pew Tactical:” “This time of year is great for spending time with family…tis the season of gift giving, and what better gift to give than the sweet, sweet joy of supporting the 2nd Amendment? That’s right, after breaking every gun sale record on Black Friday, manufacturers and retailers are back with even more deals and sales.” Right, we should celebrate peace on earth by buying more guns…

Note: Trump as Christmas Tree ornament image from
New York Times, in conjunction with Amy Sullivan article.


 

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