It’s hard to get into the season when it feels like Christmas is just the time of year when Christians try to shove their beliefs down your throat, says Lynn Beisner.
It is the time of year when liberals everywhere get accused of waging war on Christmas. We don’t, of course, but pointing out that fact does not seem to silence the yearly accusations. It seems to me that if I am going to get into trouble for starting a fight, I might as well throw a punch.
So, I am tempted to declare war on Christmas. Here is why:
When I lived in the rural South, Christmas was the season for shoving your religion down the throats of everyone—even those of the same faith. Cashiers remind you to have a “Blessed Christmas” and lawn signs shout out, “Jesus is the Reason for the Season.” The creepiest sight for me, one that is incredibly common in the South, is a nativity scene overshadowed and backlit by a cross of red lights. Worst of all, your most religiously inclined family members feel that Christmas gives them free license to hijack a family celebration and turn it into a tent revival.
Every year we were required to attend a Christmas gathering for my step-father’s family. Despite the fact that it was never held at his home, and that he was not the oldest person there (just the oldest male), he took it upon himself to make everyone wait to open presents until he finished conducting the Christmas devotion: a halting reading of the story of Christmas from the King James Bible, a devotion, a long-winded prayer, but also a humiliating puppet show that he put on even during the years when there were no children present. In this annual puppet show, a female character named “Mrs. Flapjaws”—because, like most women, she had a hard time keeping her mouth shut—was schooled in the true meaning of Christmas by Mr. Donkey. We sat through this hour-long exercise in misery and embarrassment because one person of the more than 40 in attendance wanted it. For the life of me, I have never understood why no one said, “We won’t be doing that this year.”
But, that one hijacking of the holiday was not enough. Every year when my parents got together with my family to exchange gifts, we would have to suffer through the entire thing again. It was difficult to get children to sit through a seemingly interminable sermon for the second time in a week while they were sitting inches from their gifts. And there was no sensitivity to the idea that our family practiced a different form of Christianity than they did. In fact, this was the occasion when my faith was belittled with impunity. Even the year that my Jewish sister-in-law was visiting our home, she was never asked if she wanted to participate in this religious service—they simply treated her as a captive audience.
There was something so arrogant about the assumption of my step-father that he had the right to command us all to engage in his religion with him. There was also something incredibly insulting about his assumption that we needed to be sermonized by him—a man who had taken indecent liberties with more than half of the women in the family. The entitlement of gender and religious dominance could not have been more obvious.
After about five years of unquestioningly bowing to this order of things, I revolted at the second, smaller family celebration. First, I held it at my house. While we ate Christmas dinner I put it to a vote: “All those who would rather skip the Christmas devotional this year, say ‘aye,’” Without thought, all of my family raised their hands and enthusiastically said “Aye!” My step-father walked out of my house, carrying the family’s presents with him. My mother followed behind crying, apologizing to him, and scolding me for rocking the boat. In order for my children to receive their gifts, I had to agree to be sermonized. And you can bet your last dollar that was no short sermon.
The following Christmas brought tense negotiations. My step-father had to be allowed to sermonize, no matter where we met. It felt like allowing him to lift his leg and pee all over me.
Three years ago this week, I decided to take a break in my relationship with my mother and I have yet to resume it. It all started when my mother tagged me in a post saying that if I did not repost some mindless bit of drivel she had posted, I am obviously ashamed of Jesus. The drivel was another long-winded account of how Christians are discriminated against at Christmas.
I responded by reminding my mother that the only religious holiday observed by our nation is a Christian one, and by reminding her that absolutely no one has come into her church in the last couple of hundred years and demanded that they stop singing Christmas carols. Her response echoed the theme repeated thousands of times over my life, she defended some half-baked pseudo-Christian idea rather than her daughter. And if I wanted my children to have presents from them, I had better allow my step-father to exert his dominance in my home.
Let’s face it: The alleged “War on Christmas” is nothing more than a demand that we allow our fellow Americans to offer us unsolicited religious platitudes and advice. It is a demand that we accept religious proselytizing in song as the cost of being in public, that we allow religious icons in every space, and that we accept the surveillance and conditional benevolence of one of two white guys—the immaculate baby Jesus or Santa Claus.
I won’t, of course, declare war on Christmas. I really love our family traditions. I remember how magical it felt when I was younger, and some day I want my grandchildren to feel the same way. I loved it for its inherent nostalgia and for the wonderful feeling it could evoke. I am a Christian, and I enjoy celebrating the sacredness and magic of the day in my own way.
But here is where I will draw the line. When someone says “Merry Christmas” as a challenge, daring me to wage war on Christmas by answering “Happy Holidays” or demonstrate my loyalty and answer “Merry Christmas to you as well!” I will answer not with what I want to say, which is “Really, you want to take a traditional greeting of good will and turn it into a club-house password?” Instead, I will kindly and calmly respond: “Thank you, and I hope you and your family have a wonderful holiday season.”