By Susan Johnson
“Taking Christmas Back” was the topic of a lecture at The Rockford Institute Thursday evening, Dec. 6. Guest speaker was Tom Piatak, an attorney from Cleveland, who was introduced as “the man who fired back the first shot in the War on Christmas.” He is the author of the first article published in Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture, in December 2001, about the left’s campaign against the Christmas holiday. He has since written many other essays.
“One of the signature features of Western politics in the last few decades is the rise of cultural Marxism, also known as political correctness,” said Piatak. “A hallmark of this is what is called multiculturalism but is actually anti-culturalism — an attempt to strike at Christian values at the roots and leaving nothing in its place. This has resulted in Christmas either being watered down, renamed or obscured by other festivals.”
Piatak remembers his family Christmas celebrations but also the public ones. They sang Christmas carols in school. In junior high school, he was introduced to Bach’s Christmas Oratorio and Pietro Yon’s “Gesu Bambino.” “Merry Christmas” was a universal greeting, and carolers went throughout the neighborhood. Department stores got into the spirit with their Christmas decorations. Local radio stations would air Christmas music throughout December. TV was filled with Christmas specials, and even the secular programs featured some hallowed carols.
“We now have holiday cards, holiday trees and holiday greetings. Many Americans are content to keep silent about the day of Christmas, and sometimes you have to think twice about wishing someone a Merry Christmas,” said Piatak.
His first introduction to anti-Christmas feeling was in college. They put up a tree, and students were told that the creche had to go because some students who were non-Christians might be offended.
The desire to suppress Christmas is hardly confined to higher education; even in the Detroit school system, teachers are forbidden to talk about Christmas — they teach about Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. Some students participated in a “winter pageant” — no mention of Christmas or even Santa Claus. Contrast this with a TV program beloved by Americans — A Charlie Brown Christmas.
The hallmark of the War Against Christmas is an aggressive multiculturalism; this includes Bodhi Day (a Buddhist celebration), Ramadan and Chinese New Year. The reason they observe these is their closeness on the calendar to Christmas. Kwanzaa was invented in 1966. These faux Christmases are now treated as equals to the real one. New York City public schools ban nativity scenes but will include menorahs, the Islam crescent, Kwanzaa and Diwali. “The birth of the most important figure in history has no standing in New York City,” said Piatak.
Yet, the War Against Christmas is part of a broader movement. Columbus, Ohio, schools actually banned a performance of Handel’s Messiah, which would have violated the district’s religious music policy, as dictated by the ACLU. In the English-speaking world, the writer most closely associated with Christmas was Charles Dickens, but the writer who clearly foresaw the situation today was George Orwell. In one school, a seventh-grader was labeled an anti-Semite and a Nazi for calling the decorated tree a “Christmas tree” instead of a “holiday tree.” He was told he must not wish anyone a “Merry Christmas.” The school that threatened the student for calling a Christmas tree by its proper name was a private school, not a public one.
The First Amendment has proved to be a valuable weapon for these attempts to obliterate any public mention of Christmas. Some defenders have suggested a counter-attack. The Eighth Circuit Court recognized that carols have a place, and the Fifth Circuit Court recognized that most choirs included carols. We cannot shield Christians from the fact that they are being discriminated against. Children should not have to participate in customs with which their parents disagree.
Nor is it fair to exclude Christmas on educational grounds. This is a holiday that most of the country observes; however, the emphasis has been on other holidays than Christmas. Some say the date of Dec. 25 actually celebrates the winter solstice, but this is not the case. Historian William Tighe wrote that the Church chose Dec. 25 as the date of Christmas because of the ancient Jewish belief that prophets of Israel were conceived on the same date they died, and Christians in Rome had, by the time of Tertullian, calculated the date of Christ’s date as March 25 — so Christmas should fall on Dec. 25.
Another indication that the attack on Christmas is intentional came in 2007 when the Daily Mail reported that a Labour think tank had urged that Christmas be “downgraded” as part of an “urgent and upfront campaign” to promote a “multicultural understanding of Britishness.” Part of this campaign was the elevation of non-Christian holidays that were in close proximity to Christmas.
Stephen Bloom, a journalism professor at the University of Iowa, wrote an essay describing his hatred of Christmas. He felt that rural America was too white and too Christian; he also disliked nativity scenes. He instructed his students not to use the greeting “Merry Christmas” but substitute “Happy holidays.” Christmas has been sanitized for fear of offending anyone, so that it becomes a generic celebration of multiculturalism.
But this is not irreversible. Some simple steps could be taken to restore its significanace. We need to let movie studios, school boards and politicians know that we value the true celebration of Christmas. Boycotting bad movies works. Recently, Hollywood released The Golden Compass, a movie based on atheist Phillip Pullman’s children’s trilogy. Once word got out about who Pullman was and what he believed, the movie tanked at the U.S. box office, and it is unlikely the two planned sequels will be made.
We can start wishing people “Merry Christmas” again and buying cards that reflect the true spirit of the season. We can buy the religious Christmas stamp and let the Post Office know why we prefer it to the generic “Season’s Greetings.” We can support local choirs and orchestras that perform each year. At a deeper level, we need to cultivate the traditions that make Christmas special in our own homes, such as beautiful music.
But the main point of Christmas is the Incarnation, the Word becoming flesh. St. Francis of Assisi is credited with constructing the first creche, using live animals and straw to depict the nativity scene. “He asked a question that was historic — What would it have been like to be there? In the town of Greccio on Christmas night in 1223 were born the arts as we still know them,” said Piatak.
A generation later, Giotto painted that scene in fresco in the basilica built to commemorate Francis in Assisi, and the first Christmas is also depicted in his frescoes in the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua.
If the War Against Christmas is to be won, it will be won by remembering who we are and how we got here and by courageously defending the great legacy we have.
From the Dec. 12-18, 2012, issue