December 22, 2005

"The whole business becomes more vile and insufferable — and in new and worse ways — every 12 months."

Christopher Hitchens takes on Christmas:
It was at Thanksgiving this year that, making my way through an airport, I was confronted by the leering and antlered visage of what to my disordered senses appeared to be a bloody great moose. Only as reason regained her throne did I realize that the reindeer—that plague species—were back.
It goes on from there. Very amusing. Of course, he takes on FOXNews with its absurd "War on Christmas" theme. You know, I've come to see the "War on Christmas" fanatics as having a much worse effect on the spirit of the season than the bland folk who say "Happy Holidays." Personally, I like to say "Merry Christmas," but yesterday, when some shopkeepers said "Happy Holidays" to me and I said "Merry Christmas," I had the disgusting feeling that we had just engaged in a political argument! If those "War on Christmas" fanatics hadn't made such a big deal out of the seasonal greetings, I wouldn't have noticed anything. As I left the shop, I imagined the people talking about me: I guess she's some big FOXNews right-winger.

51 comments:

griffin d. politico dog said...

What I don't understand is why saying "Happy Holidays" is waging war on Christmas. 'Happy Holidays' means 'Merry Christmas and Happy New Years' all in one. It's as if they are accusing the left of making 'Happy Holidays' into some code that means 'I hate Jesus, Christmas, and happiness.' While I have never had a problem with saying 'Merry Christmas,' I now avoid it because of all the political allegiances it implies-one thing I think should not be part of Christmas. The right wing always accuses lefties of politicizing everything, but they have politicized Christmas.

Pete said...

Dearest Ann, have you even been following the "War on Christmas" stuff on Fox? Or are you just responding to what you've heard or read about it? Quite simply, both you and your ex-husband are prime examples of what Fox's point is all about: few, if any, people are offended by the term "Merry Christmas." Yet merchants and local governments - oh, and let's not forget the contribution of the ACLU - seem to bend over backwards to appease these few, thereby offending an overwhelming majority. Now, certainly, we Christians could use a little more practice in the forgiving and forgetting areas of our lives but the point remains: there are institutions out there who have responded to this holiday in an extreme, if not warlike, fashion.

And there are worse things than being mistaken for a FoxNews Right Winger.

Ron said...

Maybe you should respond in "jive" like Barbara Billingsly in "Airplane!"

Just for the holidays...I'm sure your colleagues would love it!

Paul said...

You are right, I have the same feelings as I wish someone unrelated a Merry Christmas. To me they have always been two, distinct Holidays, Christmas and New Years.
After Christmas I begin to say Happy New Years. That has been my way since childhood and will always be even if society passes me by, forcibly or not. Which I think is happening; people are being shamed, humiliated, made racist even by holding on to this innocous habit and well meaning wish.

the pooka said...

But you are a big FOXNews right-winger.

(smile)

Happy Holidays, Ann.

ShadyCharacter said...

But it's not simply that people are exercising the ancient tradition of saying "happy holidays" to encompass both Christmas and New Years. It's that store employees are being told, you will be fired if you say "Merry Christmas" because .001% of the people you interact with will get offended to hear the "Christ" in "Christmas". You then have schools and institutions playing orwellian games with our language and culture in an intentional effort to whitewash the "Christ" out of the season.

SippicanCottage said...
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Selesai said...

Many Americans celebrate Christmas. The end result is a retail-controlled, materialistic season infused with Christian symbols, and from which a non-Christian cannot escape.
I agree that the "happy holidays"/"merry christmas" debate may be a little too p.c. However, perhaps the larger point is that, as a country and as individuals, we should be more sensitive to those with different religious beliefs who do not partake in the Christmas season.

Ann Althouse said...

Pete: Did you even follow the point I made? Apparently not. Reread it and think about it. I totally understand your point, which is nonresponsive to mine.

SteveR said...

The War on Christmas is this month's Natalee Holloway. Its funny that so many people are upset about FNC's (really Gibson and O'Reilly's) stance. If there were nothing to the idea that some institutions are trying to de-emphasize Christmas for whatever reason it should be easy to ignore them.

To his original point, the whole months long Holiday celebration does get tedious. The Charlie Brown Christmas Special was on Dec 6th (7th) I believe. Its hard to stay high for a month.

Ann Althouse said...

This thread is reminding me that I need to back away from the computer and do some Christmas shopping! (I've done 0 so far!)

DJ Ninja said...

In partial response to Pete and shadycharacter, to echo selesai, and to add my own two cents, I hope to stress the now tired and trite observation that there are more than two winter holidays. In New York, where I live, people don't walk around wishing each other Merry Christmas in part because of the astronomically good chance your well-meaning wishes will fall on someone who doesn't celebrate the holiday.

I think this whole crazy debate would take on a different flavor if the focus weren't on the "minority" as constituted by the PC-obsessed-atheist-ACLU crowd (however one might wish to characterize them) or whatever, and instead on the minority whose cultural or religious traditions differ from (and don't include) majority Christian tradition.

One of the most poisonous things that has come out of this whole War on Christmas debate is the increasing indignation and resentment expressed by some at the idea of accommodating (or even recognizing) minority cultures. "Who the hell cares about them" has been a subtext that seems to have gained urgency and traction. What used to be a defining feature of America has, in my opinion, begun to notably recede and with great acceleration during this otherwise festive season.

When you wish someone "Merry Christmas" without any knowledge of their relgious or cultural practice, you're saying "it is my assumption that you are just like me." Now, in many small towns (like the small town where I grew up in Wisconsin), this assumption is largely justified, at least statistically. But that doesn't mean your assumption is correct. Just try to think to yourself: What if the person is Jewish?

Ann Althouse said...

My idea is to bring back Advent. We should be observing Advent, not celebrating Christmas. I want people to get passionate about the war on Advent.

Richard Dolan said...

Ann: Lighten up and relax. Happy Holidays! or Merry Christmas! -- take your pick, no big deal. Those who prefer the latter, and are wont to express their preference loudly, are not necessarily "fanatics." Some may be just cranks, others may see some deep significance in the choice of the greeting that others don't, others yet may like the old-fashioned-ness of MC!, whatever. We all have our verbal tics. For example, the propensity of some writers to split infinitives, or their refusal to use the possessive case before a gerund, makes me grind my teeth. But my colleagues just thinks I's obsessing about nothing -- a holdover from having had nuns in grammar school. Perhaps for the same reason, I'm definitely in the MC! camp, but (unlike infinitives and gerunds) don't have much invested in the HH! vs. MC! fight.

As for the "fanatic" stuff, one could just as easily conclude that only a fanatic would internalize all of this into the too exquisite concern that responding to HH! with MC! is a form of "political argument." Perhaps that's a not-too hiddgen clue to the real curse of the academic life, where one spends lots of time and mental energy on issues, often ultimately rhetorical or polemical, that the more practically oriented would never fuss about.

So Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and HoHoHo.

DJ Ninja said...

Two final points: 1. To drive the matter home, shadycharacter, for some this season has nothing to do with "Christ" one way or the other, and 2. This whole debate often forces Jews (like myself) into an awkward position whereby they feel the need to elevate the otherwise minor festival of Chanukah to a level of importance it doesn't deserve so that it may "compete" (at least rhetorically) with Christmas. I'll say this: Christians, I know this is really _your_ season and I'm happy to let you have it. Just don't assume it's mine, too.

Pete said...

Ann,

Which of your points in your post do you think I didn't address?

1.) Christopher Hitchens wrote an amusing anti-Christmas piece,

2.) The FoxNews “War on Christmas” theme is absurd,

3.) The “War on Christmas” fanatics are having a much worse effect on the season than those bland “Happy Holidays” sayers,

4.) The disgusting feeling you get that you might be engaging in a political argument when you say “Merry Christmas” and a shopkeeper says “Happy Holidays,”

5.) Those awful fanatics who have made you aware of this issue, or

6.) The awful feeling you have that you may have been mistaken for a FoxNews right-winger.

I think I responded to all but points 1, 4 and 5. I didn’t address those points because I didn’t read the Hitchens piece but I’m sorry for your feeling of disgust and about those awful fanatics. And I apologize if I was otherwise non-responsive. I promise to do better.

bill said...

Just reminds me I need to pick up a couple of Hitchens' books. He has a rhetorical style that is just invigorating to read. If he wrote an essay claiming my family was worse than Kissinger and Mother Teresa combined, I'd probably email it to everyone telling them it was a fun read.

Merry Gravmas, y'all

nypundit said...

DJ Ninja, good point about Chanukah it is a minor holiday that happens to be at the same time as Christmas and it doesn't bother me if people wish me a Merry Christmas or not. For the most part, I will often just respond in kind to what ever the person wishes me. So in the immortal words of Krusty the Clown on the Simpsons:
"So, have a merry Christmas, a happy Hanukkah, a kwaazy Kwanza, a tip-top Tet, and a solemn, dignified, Ramadan. And now a word from MY god, our sponsors!"
I think that covers everyone :)

SippicanCottage said...
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Selesai said...

Well, and one more thing. Just because you're not Christian does not automatically mean you're Jewish!!!

Pogo said...

Bah, humbug!

Sorry, but really, someone had to say it!

SWBarns said...

How can I get John Gibson's job? Dash off a book and then spend a month on a national cable ‘news’ program promoting it. I have never been a Gibson fan but he is insufferable on this book promotion.

Don't get me wrong, I'm a big supporter of Christmas and remembering the birth of Jesus of Nazareth but having the greeter at Wal-Mart say Merry Christmas doesn’t appeal to me. It rings of ‘Welcome to Wal-Mart, please celebrate the birth of the Christ Child by buying worthless junk that you will throw out in a few months.’

Elizabeth said...

Doesn't John Gibson have a book out on the so-called "War" on Christmas? That being the case, it's sleazy journalism for him to report day in and day out on the subject; it's an obvious concoction to flog his book sales and create controversy. He was reporting this war before the season even began; this means he was anticipating news. How can we take seriously a journalist who promises before Halloween that a war on Christmas is coming, and he oughta know 'cause he wrote a book on it, and then sure enough, posts daily "news" reports on said war.

O'Reilly participates because he's loudmouth idiot. Say Merry Falafel to him, and be done with him.

Lance Burri said...

"...yesterday, when some shopkeepers said "Happy Holidays" to me and I said "Merry Christmas," I had the disgusting feeling that we had just engaged in a political argument!"

That's how I feel about it, too, Ann. Unfair suppression of Christian expression does happen in our country, but this "War on Christmas" is beginning to take on a very Jesse Jackson poor-oppressed-me identity politics feel.

Freeman Hunt said...

When you wish someone "Merry Christmas" without any knowledge of their religious or cultural practice, you're saying "it is my assumption that you are just like me."

That's not true. It's an expression of good will. I get holiday cards from other countries for holidays I don't celebrate quite often. The people who send them aren't trying to convert me into celebrating their holidays. I always think it's quite thoughtful. "Merry Christmas" is the same kind of thing.

PatCA said...

I swear this is the last thing I'll say on the subject. I think it's unfair to put the underpaid sales clerk in the middle of this pissing contest, but saying Merry Christmas is NOT an assumption that you are like me! By your logic, I as a lapsed Irish Catholic should no longer say L'Chaim as a toast or respond to the Namaste of the yoga teacher. Or I guess I could go to my nephew's bar mitzvah and sit in the corner and pout.

I dated a man from Israel who was deeply offended by said sales clerks and their horrid Yuletide assumptions. I don't blame Jews for being nervous in a Christian country, but so far in the US so good, right? Merry Christmas is a wish to SHARE the sentiments of the season with everyone. You know, peace on earth, good will to men? Er...humans?

chuck b. said...

Shit! It's Christmas already?!

Uncle Buck said...

Lance: "Unfair suppression of Christian expression does happen in our country..."

Uhh....what country do you live in, Lance? Certainly you can't be talking about the US.

Doug Sundseth said...

"When you wish someone "Merry Christmas" without any knowledge of their relgious or cultural practice, you're saying 'it is my assumption that you are just like me.'"

Why would a difference in religion alone imply that you are not just like me in every important respect? It's not 1635, after all.

If someone were to say, "Have a Merry Christmas or I'll see you burned at the stake like the miserable heretic you are", I might understand the problem. If someone were to reply to "Happy Holidays" with a snarl, I might understand the problem.

As far as I can tell, the vast majority of people who say "Merry Christmas" are trying to be nice. It seems a bit churlish to not honor* their intent.

Oh, and by the way I'm not a Christian.

* The split infinitive is a special seasonal gift for Richard Dolan. Couldn't resist; sorry.

Palladian said...

I have a problem with the word "merry". Where did this phrase originate? From the sound of it, Victorian England (and by extension Victorian America), where so much of our other stock Christmas imagery originates: sugar plums, sleigh-bells, rosy-lipped angels, santa and reindeer, top-hatted carolers. While certain of these traditions have their roots in earlier sources, it seems to be the Victorian style of interpreting them that has congealed, like white sauce on a foul plum pudding, sticking us forever in a nostalgic world that has little relevance to modern American life or to the religious meaning of the holiday. You would think that, at the beginning of the second millenium since the first and most humble of Christmases, we would have broadened our aesthetic palette past the mid-19th century. I have no problem with "happy holidays" as long as it isn't imposed as the only acceptable greeting by fiat, since it simply broadens the expressive choices available to us beyond "merry". I know that there are some seasonal greetings that become traditional, and "merry Christmas" is certainly one of them, but I dislike when phrases become codified and automatic to the point that no one examines what they are expressing or how they are expressing it; who says "merry" in any other situation than "merry Christmas"? "Merry" is a perfectly nice word I suppose, but clearly it would be basically dead in modern usage if it weren't attached to the linguistic life support system of the word "Christmas".

I suggest, for variety and clarity, adopting the words of another famous Victorian whose reputation is pretty much welded to this holiday, Clement Clark Moore: "Happy Christmas to all, and to all a goodnight".

(when I was trying to find an online copy of that poem to link to, I Googled the last line "and to all a goodnight" and Google suggested something rather sinister: "Did you mean: "and to alla good night". Alla(h) good night? Whoa, what could be more current and edgy than that? What was Clement Clark Moore really trying to say?!)

wildaboutharrie said...

Yes re: Advent. At Mass last week our priest forgot to light the candles on the wreath. How disappointing.

"Merry Christmas" is for Christmas Eve, Christmas day, and the week after. Prior, you can say "I hope you have a merry Christmas" - but "happy holidays" is easier.

I don't care what the Walmart greeter says, I just want my crap.

Ann Althouse said...

Pete: #4. And the way FOXNews infected a perfectly nice interchange with political controversy.

Palladian: I think if Merry Christmas is allowing the word "merry" to stay alive, it would be mean to withdraw the life support. To me, "merry" sounds too giddy for anything religious. It emphasizes the rowdy fun (and drinking), to use a word that is more used than "merry": "merriment."

Ann Althouse said...

If we wanted to be religious, we'd say "Joyous Christmas."

Hazy Dave said...

Why not speak up and tell him to (get his mind off the altar boys and) light the damn candles? Well, life is full of little disappointments. Happy solstice, Ann, the days are getting longer! In about a month it'll be noticeable! Woo hoo!

SippicanCottage said...
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Pastor_Jeff said...

Ann, Wild: Yes. 'Appy Advent to everyone.

Sippican: Aaaargh! Next time give a warning about the music, willya? You're making Hitchens' point for him.

Word verification: gfoxhwd. Gee, a subtle ad for an old Disney movie?

Hazy Dave said...

Whoa, word verification as a revenue stream? Excellent concept! Or suppose you could require commenters to type, for example, "iheartgwb"? Oh, the fun to be had...

SippicanCottage said...
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XWL said...

I guess Mr. Hitchens was getting an early start on his Festivus airing of grievances.

And according to tradition around here for Festivus Eve, I'm polishing my pole.







(aluminum pole, you perverts, what were you thinking?)

Pastor_Jeff said...

Sippican: It's just an annoying midi file of Jingle Bells - which is surprising, since I didn't think the French really went in for that kind of music. Anyway, no harm done. If you like cheesy, though, you'd like that site - even if it doesn't have The Nutty Professor.

And Merry Christmas to you, too.

Hazy: That's exactly what I thought! All it needs is a business model and a little technology. It could be the next Bumper Stumpers!

reader_iam said...

Now we're starting to beat up on the word "merry," for crying out loud?

That's it: I'll just stick to "Have a good weekend" as go about my final errands in the next day. That should cover just about everyone, right?

(By the way, the most negative reaction I ever got to a standard celebration-related greeting was when I wished "Happy Birthday" to someone whom I'd known for years that had, unbeknownst to me, become a Jehovah's Witness. That's what happens when you make assumptions, dontcha know?)

Unknown Pundit said...

The "Friend or Foe of Christmas Campaign" should be renamed to "Wish me a Merry Christmas, or else! Campaign". Sheesh.

ChrisO said...

The "War on Christmas" that Fox is flogging has nothing to do with individuals wishing each other Merry Christmas. To the point that someone is offended by that, fine, but to me that's a person who's walking around waiting to be offended. The actual arguments about Christmas have more to do with institutionalizing a Christian holiday. I'm not a Christian, and I'm not particularly offended by the whole thing, but my wife and daughters are Jewish, and there is such a thing as feeling marginalized in society. There's certainly a point to be made that stores can wish their customers Merry Christmas, but it trivializes the whole debate to portray it as a case of individuals being criminalized for saying Merry Christmas on the street.

And as for store clerks being put in the middle, I think it's a little dramatic to portray it as "Say 'Happy Holidays' or we'll fire you." Stores mandate all kinds of greetings from their employees, and the employees are expected to follow suit. Somehow it doesn't seem like quite as much of a pressing social issue if the boss is saying "Say 'Welcome to Macy's where we offer everyday low prices' or we'll fire you."

Freeven said...

Wow. You perceive a "Happy Holidays-Merry Christmas" exchange to be a "political argument?" I don't blame you for feeling disgusted by that, but I think it says a lot more about you than it does about Fox News. You say, "If those "War on Christmas" fanatics hadn't made such a big deal out of the seasonal greetings, I wouldn't have noticed anything." Wow, again. I'm not a Christian, but I certainly recognize attempts to undermine Christmas (and Christianity, in general). Examples abound (as for instance in my local school district, where menorahs are displayed, but Christmas trees are forbidden). Maybe you've taken the time to review these many examples and have concluded that nothing of importance is going on. But when you label those who catalog these examples fanatics and dismiss their efforts as simply making "such a big deal out of the seasonal greetings," it strongly suggests otherwise. When you go on to whine that you, god forbid, actually NOTICED--the nerve of these fanatics!--it comes across as snide and insulting to those who feel they have legitimate concerns. Your getting so worked up as to feel disgusted and to infer political argument over something you obviously consider trivial speaks a bit of fanaticism itself.

PatCA said...

"...my wife and daughters are Jewish, and there is such a thing as feeling marginalized in society."

I understand completely, and it really is the crux of this matter. I'm sure it's not always comfortable to be of a minority religion, but what's the remedy for that?

Madfish Willie said...

meh... Merpy Christkwanzahanamas!

Kathy said...

I love Advent. I've got small children, and we celebrate Advent with gusto. As for the greeting, I think a little tolerance is in order. Happy holidays is not offensive; retailers have to be sensitive to the few who get offended, and I don't see how it helps to get offended back. I don't think, though, that anyone should be offended at a merry Christmas. The greeting is given to send good wishes, not to suggest that you must also celebrate the holiday. Otherwise we'd all have to walk around with a sign indicating religious affiliation so we could know what greeting to use for each person. Some people have no holiday to be greeted for at this time of year; what do we do with them if we can't use a greeting not specific to the recipient? Let's try not to be Grinches!

Freeven said...

"As for the greeting, I think a little tolerance is in order. Happy holidays is not offensive..."

No, it's not. But you've misstated the conflict. The offense isn't over the use of "happy holidays." It's over (in part) the effort to ban references to "Christmas." The federal holiday is called Christmas. The tree is called a Christmas tree. Yet people are being told they can't even use the word to refer to the holiday or the tree.

As you say, "a little tolerance is in order," and forbidding someone from wishing another a "Merry Christmas" isn't very tolerant.

onelmom said...

Sippican: "They're welcome to all the good humor, love for your fellow man, and hopes for peace and brotherhood that's in it. There's no questionaire to fill out to see if you're eligible."

If only "they" understood it that way! Those who do (and did) weren't part of this "war" until the FoxNews forced them to choose sides.

I'm lending my support to the campaigns for Advent (can we please not call it a war?) and Little Christmas.

Peace on earth. Goodwill to man.

knoxgirl said...

I can't stand John Gibson or Bill O'Reilly. And I also have experienced the same exact sensation that Ann describes, where I'm afraid that when I say "Merry Christmas" it's interpreted as some political statement.

With that said: I think that people who complain that "Merry Christmas" is not inclusive enough are being foolish. It's like moving to Chinatown and complaining about all the Chinese restaurants. Christmas is just part of the culture. Anyone who takes offense is just being a wet blanket, imho.

Ann Althouse said...

I turned on FOXNews this morning and the heading was "Will the war on Christmas hurt stocks?" The talking heads were all riled up about this topic. It was crazy! They must have poll numbers showing that this theme is playing well. But it's really making FOX seem rabid and weird to me.