The Nation's Pulse

Merry Christmas as Hate Speech

The War over Christmas drags on into its second year.

By 12.18.06

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"The war over Christmas --Year 2," has been officially declared with secularists and non-Christians taking up the ballistas and battering rams and Christians manning the ramparts. In this campaign the weapon of choice is not the Kalashnikov nor the AK-47; it is that most loaded of all phrases: "Merry Christmas."

The secularist camp, lead by Tom Flynn, author of that Christmas classic The Trouble with Christmas, and editor of Free Inquiry magazine, charges that "Merry Christmas" is used to condemn and exclude non-Christians from the month or so between Thanksgiving and New Year's, a season that the Christians have hijacked, and with their traditions "poisoned the December air." Americans, says Flynn, "need to recognize that a war of sorts is genuinely in progress, a war to redefine American life...and it is desperately important that non-Christians win."

Trying to follow Mr. Flynn's twisted reasoning is like trying to follow a white line in a snowstorm. Christians, he claims, are attempting to redefine American life, and if they succeed America will be rendered all but unrecognizable. Worse, if the secularists are defeated, no one will be safe from Christmas carolers, Salvation Army bell ringers and Charlie Brown Christmas Specials. In a recent op-ed, Mr. Flynn equates the longing for the "bad old days" of Christmastime with Southern whites' pining for the days of lynchings and cross burnings. And Flynn is far from finished. Wishing someone a "Merry Christmas" may in fact constitute hate speech, equal in effect to cross burning:

[N]o Christian can wish a non-Christian "Merry Christmas" without the implied "Up yours" ringing in the hearer's ears. Addressed to non-Christians, "Merry Christmas" is now code for "All you non-Christians go to the back of the bus! This is a Christian country. We own the last two sheets of the calendar. We're number one! By the way, you're all going to hell."

Not even the late Madalyn O'Hair on her worst day went this far over the top. Doubtless the Merry Christmas = Up yours Jews/Muslims/atheists equation belongs in the Dubious Equation Hall of Fame along with High Taxes = Caring, and 2+2=6.

Who would have thought that one little phrase, one little wish for happiness and peace on earth would cause such hard feelings, such belligerencies?

Flynn, who is evidently angling for the same sort of enduring notoriety as the fictional Ebenezer Scrooge and the Grinch, is right about one thing. There has been a Christian backlash, an inevitability after a systematic campaign to dilute the Christmas holiday. For years Christians have been made to feel guilty for or outright forbidden from saying Merry Christmas because somewhere, some one might feel offended or excluded. In truth nearly 96 percent of Americans celebrate Christmas. That leaves roughly 4 percent who could possibly take offense, though most non-Christians are too sensible to be offended by someone wishing them "Merry Christmas."

The Christmas-haters couldn't be more wrong about the meaning of the backlash. Those of us who make a point of being politically incorrect and wishing "Merry Christmas" do not mean to say "Up Yours," rather we wish to say, "it is Christmas time and since nearly all Americans celebrate Christmas, and most non-Christians have no problem with Christmas, I am going to assume that it is okay to wish you a happy Christmas, because wishing someone a Merry Christmas is not hate speech. It is a good thing."

The fact is there would be no winter celebration at all without Christmas. The minor Jewish holiday of Hanukkah is hardly celebrated in Israel, and without Christmas to give it more significance most Americans would never have heard of it. Ramadan is about fasting, not celebrating, and as for the pagan holidays of HumanLight, give me a break.

Another sign of the backlash is Wal-Mart and Macy's recent decisions to lift their ban of the C-word. For the past few years retail stores have been systematically removing all mention of Christmas from their advertising, displays and greetings, even to the point of renaming Christmas trees "holiday trees." This year, bowing to boycott pressure, the MBAs at corporate must have realized that 96 percent of their clientele proudly celebrates Christmas and the considerable bad PR associated with nixing the C-word could cut into their profit margin. It is a rare instance of profit trumping political correctness. This naturally has outraged the militant secularists, who have had to beat a hasty retreat to the commentary pages where they have vowed to continue the battle.

Militant secularists like Flynn who celebrate nothing this time of year get terribly cross when someone wishes them 'Merry Christmas," though they are somewhat less annoyed when greeted with "Happy Holidays." According to Flynn, "Happy Holidays" is a step up from "Merry Christmas," but it still is far from satisfactory, as it still serves the same "dark purpose as merry Christmas." Mr. Flynn's holiday greeting of choice would be "Happy Holidays, if you're having any." Wouldn't that look lovely on a Hallmark card? Not only does it set the soul a-stirring, but it has a nice rhythm to it:

Happy Ho-li-days! If you're having any, any
Happy Ho-li-days! If you're having any, any

If only Irving Berlin were around to put those lyrics to music; if only Der Bingle were here to record them.

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About the Author
Christopher Orlet writes from St. Louis.