The War on Christmas

Outrage. Our new national pastime. Not a day goes by that doesn’t see someone becoming outraged at some sort of perceived slight, typically delivered at-near light speed via the magic of the Internet. In fact, major news sites have taken to posting entire articles based solely on people’s social media responses to global happenings. Hahstags have become the social media equivalent of a protest sign, though with much less commitment implied.

So, it wasn’t a huge surprise to happen upon a post in my Facebook feed a few weeks ago decrying Starbucks for their 2015 holiday cup design: a simple red paper cup. Numb as I am to most whining on Facebook, I only skimmed the complaint in order to get the gist of it. Apparently, the lack of any other holiday branding or icons had lead the poster to believe that Starbucks was moving away from the celebration of the Christmas season. In truth, expecting a huge corporation to do anything except protect its own profit-generating interests seemed like kind of a silly thing, so I continued to scroll. As far as I could see, that was the end of the red cup controversy.

However, the next few weeks brought wave upon wave of new critiques, criticisms, and sarcasm relating to the Starbucks red cup controversy. The most popular claim was that there is no war on Christmas, and that any such suggestion is merely a figment of a paranoid majority’s imagination. In a meta moment that only the Internet could provide, I was witnessing outrage about the outrage. In one sense, I agreed with the latest sentiment. It really felt like the original complaint came from a person who was either looking for something to be offended about, or who was making a serious attempt at grabbing fifteen minutes of Internet fame using a hot button issue that was sure to incense, or at least interest, a large percentage of the Facebook viewing population.

The only problem is, of course there is a war on Christmas! There always has been, from the very first time a world leader perceived the birth of Christ as a political threat (Matthew 2:16). More importantly, there is, and always has been, a spiritual war waging between the spirits of God and Satan as described in many parts of the Bible, not least of which is a conflict referenced by an actual angel speaking to Daniel in Daniel 10. This passage, more than any other, brings the reality of the spiritual war into focus for me. It’s not just some generic term used to drum up special offerings by overzealous pulpit bangers, it’s a real skirmish, participated in by actual beings, the voices of whom are powerful enough to bring humans face-first with the sand of the Earth. If this war is constantly waging on the spiritual plane, why is it so difficult to accept that it might have some bearing on our physical reality, as well?

Historically speaking, it’s pretty hypocritical to complain about other holidays “piggybacking” onto Christmas and stealing its thunder, considering that the birth of Christ wasn’t celebrated by Christians until some 400 years after the original event, and then was placed on a date close to several other winter pagan festivals in order to increase its chances of adoption. With that in mind, isn’t “Happy Holidays” a more accurate greeting, after all? It’s not the date or iconography that Christians should be protective of, but the message of hope that the biblical Christmas story portrays.

The threat to this message comes from many angles, and is also nothing new. Violent attempts to stamp out Judeo-Christian beliefs are documented in both biblical and in historical accounts. More recently, especially in the west, the battle has taken a decidedly more cultural twist and is reflected in our seasonal entertainment. As recently as 1965, Charles Shulz used his A Charlie Brown Christmas television special to criticize the influences of consumerism and commercialism on the original message of hope through the birth of Christ. Even prior to that, Dr. Seuss explored the same in his classic How the Grinch Stole Christmas! in 1957, albeit without the biblical slant. The emphasis on consumerism (or, at least gift receiving) can also be seen in such revered holiday films as A Christmas Story (1983), Christmas Vacation (1989), and The Santa Clause (1994). In films where consumerism is not the primary focus, the true message of Christmas is often portrayed as time with family, charity, reconciliation, or just generally spreading holiday cheer.

Outside of films and television, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was essentially a marketing campaign for retailer Montgomery Ward in 1939, while Santa Claus was largely popularized by various New York City malls looking to attract shoppers in the mid 1800’s. I guess you could say that the real war on Christmas is perpetuated by Christmas, itself!

The Christmas message has been, and will always be, under attack (John 15:18). So, why all the fuss about the red cup? While I can’t be sure, I do know that the world continues to change. Perhaps the original poster was genuinely upset that his world is changing. Perhaps he’s upset that he will never again be able to experience Christmas through the expectant eyes of a ten year old. Maybe he’s just so focused on the celebratory traditions that he doesn’t realize that the true message will never change, as it comes from the one who is never-changing. But, I suspect it was just more Internet shenanigans, designed to illicit a response using the most popular vehicle of our day: outrage.

Is there a war on Christmas? Of course! But it’s nothing new.

(side note: In researching for this post, I learned that between the years of 1659 to 1681, celebrating Christmas was actually outlawed in Boston, MA, and anybody in violation was fined five shillings. Of course, this movement had more to do with anti-British sentiment and less to do with any religious objections, but it kind of puts the red cup thing in perspective.)

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