Sunday, December 1, 2013

It's that time of year again! The WAR ON CHRISTMAS!

Hello one and all! Erika sneaking out of hiatus early for a post! Did you miss me? I missed me you. Will should be back with the next round of Ender's Game posts next Sunday, but for today you get me! Today I want to write about something important to me, something I've written about before. Sort of. Let's talk about "The War on Christmas".

As I point out frequently, I live in Canada, and grew up in a small town. I come from a mixed background, and grew up celebrating both Catholic and Jewish holidays*. I've also had to work jobs that involve customer service. One of those was even in a boarding school cafeteria. As such, I have seen "first hand" what the war on Christmas actually looks like, even in the context of "What it's doing to our schools".

Growing up, I would see Christmas lights and Christmas decorations and signs that screamed MERRY CHRISTMAS and hear Christmas songs everywhere I went from November to January. I used to adore every minute of it, but I wondered, why were there no Hanukkah decorations? Why was half of who I was celebrated loudly and publicly, while the other half wasn't acknowledged, and even more rarely even remotely understood? Why did my teachers get nervous, and why was I mocked as a little girl by my peers (and sometimes their parents) when asking "What about Chanukah"?

I was a kid. I didn't understand things like minority oppression, I didn't understand that White Christian Straight Men were the default, I didn't understand antisemitism, bigotry, and privilege even as they all affected me. As I got older I found out the reason I saw no Hanuka decorations was because those houses tended to get vandalized. Like the synagog was several times over the years. I came to understand that being able to celebrate your culture and your religion openly was a privilege, not a right like I had thought. I realized the privileged people, on top of having no idea what sort of privilege they had, felt entitled to shoving their holiday and their tradition down everyone's throats. It's tradition, after all, and heaven forbid you mess with tradition. They would seize up and get panicky if you asked for change.

They didn't want to make room for other holidays and traditions. When token efforts were made, it was always with a smirk as they mocked the "Hernikah candle sticks" and sneered at "Jew beanies" (actual examples I have heard from adults). It wasn't safe to try to make space for our own culture in the main stream, and they didn't want to change theirs to be more safe, let alone inclusive, for us. It didn't matter what harm it did, it was their right to celebrate their own holiday in every way they wanted! They think if they say it is a right to practice and celebrate your culture and religion openly enough times, it will be true. They're willfully blind to how hostile it is for so many others. I used to believe that it was obliviousness, not willful ignorance, but when I see people get red faced and angry in discussions about it and change it back to their precious holiday being under attack so many times I no longer can. It is willful, deliberate, malicious ignorance, and nothing else.

This, by the way, is all the "War on Christmas" is. People who don't celebrate Christmas wanting to make room for their traditions that fall at the same time or year and do so safely, or people who are just exhausted of having to deal with the two month marathon of non-stop Christmas propaganda. Which is to say: there is no war on Christmas. There is a war on equality and inclusion.

Show of hands, how many among you wish people "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas" for what ever your reason? Now, show of hands, how many of you, when cheerfully wishing people joy, have acidly been told "It's merry Christmas" and had people demand you change your greeting**? All the same hands, huh? Who's ever been told to wish someone happy holidays instead of Merry Christmas? Because I have never had it go the other way. I use both, because I can't safely always use "Happy Holidays" though I die a little bit every time I do. I have never seen a cashier get reamed for wishing someone a "Merry Christmas" even in a school, and I've been watching and listening and waiting for five years. Never have I seen someone get told off for saying "Merry Christmas" only "Happy Holidays". We make it hard for people to be inclusive, and sometimes make it hostile for people trying.

People feel so entitled to have their culture catered to that they fight to protect that catering. They protect it by starting fights with someone offering a simple, kind greeting that they think will threaten the status quo. They protect it by silencing people trying to speak up when their own culture is being pushed out. They protect it by making other people too scared to put a Star of David in their window at Hanukkah because someone might break the window and scare the kids. They protect it by running propaganda saying that no, they're the little guys, and all those mean old ethnic people are threatening their way of life by celebrating their holiday, too!

The war on Christmas boils down to privileged people having their privilege challenged. I get it, no one likes being told that they're blindly causing harm simply by being born into a certain group of people and it's a normal human response to get defensive and double down when you're told that. I'm white, I've been chewed up over the guilt of my own privilege before before too. I get it. But you know what? I don't care anymore. I don't care that you feel icky. I care that there are people who suffer, who are mocked, who have their homes vandalized, who feel unsafe being able to practice and celebrate their culture and holidays because there's so little room for them because Christmas takes up so much. Then they have the gall to claim there's a war on it.

*I use all Jewish holidays and examples because that is my own lived experience. I just want to acknowledge that Hanukkah isn't the only one, and I'm still talking from a position of privilege.

**I opt to smile sweetly and wish them a happy Chanukah when they do this.


  1. Here's my "War on Christmas" story:

    When I was little (in the 70's) there was a large vacant lot in the center of town, the place where when the carnival came into town they would set up--every town has that spot, I think. Anyway, every year the city would set up a "living nativity" set, basically a manger set up with dummy people but live animals. We went every year at least once because, hey, petting zoo!

    Then there came before the city council a petition to include a menorah also in the lot, because it was a large space and there was room for everyone, right? After a few years, the menorah went up. And then the complaints really started up, that became lawsuits... from atheist groups objecting to ANY religious setup on city property, because separation of church and state.

    Back and forth it went. Eventually, meaning a few more years later, the city pulled a Pontius Pilate and washed its hands of the headache: they sold the land to a developer who, instead of allowing the displays on now private (and therefore exempt) property, decided to put up a building instead and so there's no display at all of any kind.

    This is in Northern California, btw. Progressive ground zero, you'd think. You'd be wrong.

    as an aside, also, I've been dinged both for saying "Happy Holidays" and "Merry Christmas." My new policy is to wait till the other person says something and then say "you too."

    (disclaimer: white athiest who owns a nativity set and puts it up every year because a) it was my mother's and therefore part of my childhood tradition and b) every time I bring it out I hear Crow T. Robot intone "Action Jesus! Manger sold separately.")

  2. I'm so tired of Christmas. As the "season" has stretched on and on, and especially towards high school and then my early 20s when I was working in retail, these last 15-20 years, I've become increasingly unable to handle it all. I used to have total meltdowns as a kid on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day because of the sensory overload (Asperger's girl here), but it seems like the constant barrage of music and whatnot weren't so bad in the 90s.

    I've been pretty good the last few years about handling sensory overload and everything, but it's been a rare Christmas that I don't end up in meltdown of one kind or another, even when I actually make an effort to enjoy the day. It's got to where I don't even like coming across cute Christmas-themed drawings on Tumblr or decorations on Twitter because the negative associations are so deep for the symbols and the red/green.

    Thus, I wish the war on christmas all the luck and success, though mostly in hopes of taming it and making it cozy again, not this current mess of noisy eye-searing consumerism.

    Also, speaking of token efforts to make room for other holidays, I laughed pretty hard when I pulled into a nearby strip mall's parking lot today to visit the grocery store. There were Christmas decorations freshly installed all over, with green and red and gold tinsel wreath things attached to the light poles. The shapes were bells, trees, ornaments, the usual. And then one lonely blue/white Star of David. It was so pathetic, and the Hannukah and Christmas holidays don't even really overlap this year (there are 3 more nights, but it's pretty far apart compared to other years). It's such a reflection of the idea that Hannukah is simply the Jewish Christmas, and, well, we'd better include it or else, because we don't want to offend the Jews, even if we don't even know when it is or what it's about.

  3. CN: mention of anti-Semitic slur

    I grew up in a half-Catholic half-Jewish *town*, and to this day most of my psyche is convinced anti-Semitism died with Hitler. Nobody has ever aimed anti-Jewish bigotry at me, and if they started I think it would take several occurrences for me to stop responding with condescending amusement ("oh, how cute, they don't know what century they're in"). I still remember watching The Butterfly Effect (not a very good movie), hearing the protagonist defend himself to a bloodline-obsessed prison gang with "well, at least I'm not a kike", and laughing at the anachronism. (I learned the word from history books.)

    So, if we'd been an isolated village with no contact with the outside world, we would've been equal (though people who did neither Christmas nor Hanukkah would still have been out of luck). However, the Christians had mass media and Christmas creep on their side. You don't even *need* bigotry: that was enough to make me bitter. (And it didn't help when I moved to a more heavily-Christian area. Still no bigots, but lots more well-meaning-but-clueless people.)

    The War on Christmas is over. We lost.

    I don't grok people who *don't* despise Christmas, although I realised last Valentine's Day--when I saw several fellow aromantics being bitter about that in a very similar way--I could kind of understand it by analogy. (In my household, Valentine's Day has always been primarily about familial love as expressed through gifts of chocolate. Since I can totally get behind that*, I like Valentine's Day.)

    *Admittedly, I was lucky enough to be born into a family of decent people.

  4. Ah, the joys of having over-commercialism on one side and religious fanatics screaming about their One True Way on the other. Makes the season merry and bright.

    One of these days, I will have the gumption to wish people a lovely Sol Invinctus and point out it's the historically accurate holiday, based on the decorations and such.

  5. My brother and I have already taken up Sol Invictus as our response to Merry Christmas, and so far only delight and confusion have resulted, sometimes at the same time.

  6. This emboldens me.

  7. As a lifelong atheist, I don't so much have a dog in this fight, but the rudeness of these "Christmas only" people? Especially when they point it at service-industry workers who are under strict corporate guidelines to stay neutral? They can fuck right the fuck off. Especially given that there are multiple holidays we recognize; pretty sure everyone's on board with the New Year (Not to exclude traditions that use the lunar calendar, just to say that the transition from December 31 to January 1 happens for everyone). So they're being rude about someone wishing them a great deal of prosperity and happiness. And I swear to Zod, the next person who attempts to correct me-- as I'm not currently in the service sector-- is going to get a, "Well then, Merry Christmas and a terrible New Year, you appalling ingrate."

    On an unrelated note, The Onion A.V. Club wrote a spectacular blurb on the Fifty Shades casting:

  8. Wow Erika, so very well put, and I couldn't agree more!!

    Christmas is way too commercialized, and in my opinion, way too much about shopping and not enough about being kind to others and being with loved ones. I flatly refuse to listen to x-mas music, decorate, shop for, or acknowledge Christmas before December, and don't tend to wish any kind of greeting (outside of sending cards) until the week of the 25th itself, and then only in response to their tidings.
    I like to think of the "Holidays" as more of a time frame that includes Hanukkah (usually), Kwanza, Winter Solstice, Christmas, and the New Year, so saying Happy Holidays seems more appropriate, culturally sensitive, and all-encompassing to me anyway. But then, I'm not religious, and Christmastime has never been about religion to me, but rather togetherness, charity, tradition, pretty decorations, spreading love, and giving those you care about something that will make them smile. Consumerism be damned, I'll take the less-is-more approach and support the War on Christmas!

    **As a side note, I wanted you to know that I just TODAY finished with that god-awful 50 Shades series. I read it because of your blog (sorry to tell you) making me curious to see if I'd hate it as much as you do, and I think it's safe to say we're on the same page, as the 2nd and 3rd books made me want to kill people. UGH I hated it so freaking much!! I may read the Twilight series next, just to get the taste out! ;)

  9. Erika we missed you!!! ( I'm assuming this is your first post since you got back. I haven't been checking in lately).

  10. Aw, thank you. And it is, but I'm not officially back until the January 2nd when I launch a new decon series.

  11. I'm pleasantly surprised to hear that there are areas where it's "clueless but well meaning" because in my (admittedly limited) experience no matter where I've gone I've gotten some level of shit for it if I talk about it. Even in the more Jewish areas I've been (like certain parts of Montreal) I've never seen much in the way of decorations for Hanukkah.

    As for the "Christian Grey is not as sexy as a balloon man" that was a tag I used very early on and when Will was digging through the existing tags found it, hadn't been around when it was first used and was delighted and confused. We both just slip it onto random posts now. This is the first time anyone has noticed.

  12. The Christian locals' attitude towards Judaism can in both cases be summed up by how they deal with the problem of chametz.

    Cherry Hill, New Jersey [in a situation where each family takes turns being the one to bring the snack]:
    Parent: Well, I *think* I know what to bring that would still be kosher, but I don't want to risk getting it wrong. I think we should switch weeks with one of the Jewish families, to be on the safe side.

    Kitchener, Ontario [in a situation where each family brings a snack to share]:
    Parents: We made sure to get non-bready food so you could eat it!
    Us: That ice cream contains corn syrup and soy lecithin, and the apple turnovery-things were made with regular flour, not matzah meal. Plus they have corn syrup in them too.

    Them: *confused* But...there's no yeast in them.
    Mom: *Passover 201, Ashkenazi-style*
    Me: *sighs, eats sunflower-oil potato chips brought by own family*

    (One of the parents in the latter case later reported that their daughter had gotten exotic-cool points amongst the other students in her comparative-religion class for having been to our seder.)

  13. My greeting at this time of year is "hello". I've never felt any need to change it seasonally (though I must say the "Merry Christmas and a terrible New Year" line is appealing).

    I was brought up Jehovah's Witness, and am now an atheist, and have never celebrated Christmas. Furthermore, I was brought up Jehovah's Witness in Ireland with English parents and an English accent. As a young kid, I loved the Christmas decorations, but was always uncomfortable with the well-meaning strangers who thought that asking "What's Santy bringing you?" was the best way to start a conversation with a small child. How can a seven-year-old explain that they don't do Christmas, and, furthermore, don't miss it? I never did miss it, I must say.

    As I got older, I began to notice more things, and to feel angered by the school Christmas tree, by the crib in the town library. I suppose the fact that I don't have my own traditions for the time of year made this a rather different feeling to yours: Christmas wasn't overshadowing anything of mine, it was just something other people did. And did with institutional approval.


  14. I am late to the game, but relevance! I am in a client-focused job, though not retail. I told a client I was Jewish during a casual conversation, and she responded by complaining about how Jewish kids are "allowed" to wish everyone "Happy Hanukkah" in school, but Christian kids aren't "allowed" to say "Merry Christmas!" I desperately wanted to ask her who told her that, and if she could give some source other than "I heard it on Fox News" but I decided against it. War on Christmas indeed!

  15. Yes, thank you, totally agree! I live in a small very overly-Christian country, but I still usually (try to) go for Happy Holidays, because you never know, especially when someone's not from my country. And I have been told that it's 'MERRY Christmas' once or twice. Personally, I don't like it, because Jesus was not even born in the winter. I've heard fall or spring, but not winter. Christmas was just the Christians renaming the pagan Winter Solstice. It's such a made up holiday and people get defensive about it?! What the...

  16. What I'd love to see, is room for all of it. Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, Winter Solstice, all of it. I agree that there's no War on Christmas, and I've never gotten an ounce of flak from anyone for saying Merry Christmas. Or Happy Holidays. Maybe I've been lucky. I'd hate to see a world where we eliminate all mention of any hint of a trace of a chance that someone might have a traditional day that is meaningful to them. I WANT to see Americans celebrating, not stifled. Basically, if that means that nobody gets to get huffy if someone says Merry Christmas or Happy Chanuka or Happy Holidays or they get a smack in the lip, then I think it's worth it.

  17. I work in food service, and I just tell people to have a nice day, like I do every other day of the year. Unless they have Christmas lights in their car, or antlers, or tree earrings, or some sign that they celebrate Christmas. We get too many "no bacon no seriously NO BACON and is there pork in your chili?" customers to just wish everybody Merry Christmas. The weird thing is when customers wish ME a merry Christmas. I work in food service. I don't get a Christmas whether I want one or not.

    (I know this is late but I've been reading your backlogs and this latest Christmas season ["holiday season" BULLSHIT "Holiday" is just code for Christmas; you can tell because Hanukkah was during Thanksgiving (sorry, I'm U.S. American, we have dumb holidays) and you still saw "holiday" everywhere.] was especially frustrating. I'm still mad. Grr.)

  18. I feel you on "I work in food service, I don't really get Christmas" (or weekends) which always makes those generic "HAVE A GOOD (insert holiday you're working on)!" wishes sting just that little bit. I opt for "Happy Holidays" (although when I'm hitting the high point of holiday burnout, I'll switch to "Have a good day!") myself because while Hanukkah fell earlier this year (and I used it in the article because it's the one I have first hand experience with), there are actually a lot of holidays in December! Off the top of my head*:

    Pancha Ganapati, a holiday started by Hindu's living in the US to try to resist Christmas celebrates the patron of arts and guardian of culture
    Kwannzaa, an African holiday that also started as a way to try and maintain their own culture through Christmas (well, more specifically colonization of culture, but given that it falls in December and was started in the 60ies I don't think pointing at Christmas as the specific there is a stretch)
    Bohdi, day of enlightenment for Buddhists
    So many winter solstices, with varying meanings and importance to different cultures
    New years! A bunch of 'em!

    So while "holidays" is sometimes code for "Christmas" for people celebrating the myriad of other holidays, or simply not doing Christmas (we all do New Years, one way or another in North America) it just takes that little bit of extra stress off of them.

    *Slight cheating in the off the top of my head since this is something I've looked into in the past.

  19. Jewy-Jew here. Hello! Maybe it's just because my family has been on this continent for less time, but we never took Hannukah that seriously. In Judaism it's seriously not a big holiday at all, and Jews in other, less Christmas-laden part of the world don't make such a huge deal out of it. It's mostly North America (I used to say the U.S. but I wasn't considering Canada, was I?) where it is the biggest holiday of the year. Seriously, my Israeli fiends don't even get/give presents on Hannukah. *GASP* It was just to holiday closest in the calendar to Christmas so people figured "We'll make it a Jewish Christmas!"

    So, while I am also very weary of Christmas songs and Christmas decorations and Jesus Jesus Jesus Santa, I never read much into the lack of big flashy hanukiot (NOT menorot. Look it up), I would give many things to never again be corrected when I don't say Merry Christmas and not get awkward looks when people see my Star of David necklace and don't know what seasonal greeting ot fling my way.

  20. *Israeli FRIENDS
    That was quite a typo!
    *THE holiday closest
    *greeting TO fling

    Wow I can't type today.